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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 volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.