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Thyroid Cancer in Young People Surge in Fukushima Since Nuclear Meltdown

Thyroid Cancer in Young People Surge in Fukushima Since Nuclear Meltdown

The impact of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown on the region's young people is starting to add up.

104 of the area's 300,000 young people who were under 18 at the time of the disaster have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shinbun reported yesterday. This form of cancer has been linked to radiation exposure.

A Japanese child in the area affected by the Fukushima meltdown has her thyroid check. Photo credit: Fukushima-Diary.com

But, government officials in Fukushima say they do not believe the cases of thyroid gland cancer diagnosed or suspected in the 104 young people are linked to the 2011 nuclear accident.

It helps their denial that experts disagree on whether these cases of thyroid cancer can be traced back to the meltdown, which released radiation over a large area. While the slow-developing cancer only appeared in young people four years after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine, radiation biology professor Yoshio Hosoi told The Asahi Shinbun that better tests allow earlier diagnoses.

“Many people are being diagnosed with cancer at this time, thanks to the high-precision tests,” he said. “We must continue closely examining the people’s health in order to determine the impact of radiation exposure on causing thyroid tumors.”

Whatever the government believes at this time, scientists and public health experts are calling for ongoing studies.

The Ashai Shinbun reports:

Hokuto Hoshi, who chairs a panel that discusses matters related to the prefectural survey on the health impact from radiation on Fukushima’s residents, said the panel’s subcommittee will soon analyze the test results to determine the impact of the accident on the thyroid tumor rate. The prefecture also plans to continue medical checkups on residents in the prefecture and use the test results as a basis for comparison in the future, prefectural officials said.

"The rising number of thyroid cancer cases in Fukushima area children exposed to the meltdown is disturbing," says Joseph Mangano MPH MBA, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project. "The 104 cases either confirmed or very likely to be confirmed is far greater than the expected number of seven for a population of children that size over a three year period. Thyroid cancer is only one of the many diseases whose risk increases after a meltdown, and researchers must conduct studies, both in Japan and other affected nations."

The full extent of the risk from exposure to very high levels of radiation exposure is unknown. The high level of secrecy and denial over those impacts followed both the Chernobyl meltdown and the 1979 Three Mile Island  meltdown in Pennsylvania made the true human cost of the disasters hard to map.

"The massive releases of Iodine 131 spewed out by Fukushima guarantee a skyrocketing thyroid cancer rate among the children in the region," says Harvey Wasserman, editor of Nukefree.org and author of SOLARTOPIA! "A parallel tragedy has been unfolding at Chernobyl for nearly 30 years, and at Three Mile Island since 1979. There is no doubt people—especially children—have been maimed and killed by these releases. But the nuclear industry has been very good at covering them up. Hopefully at Fukushima independent researchers can tell us the real story."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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