A set of statements from the UN on the potential health outcomes from Fukushima have been making the media rounds. A number of quotes from these stories are quite flawed and misleading. One making the rounds via major news agencies is titled “No big Fukushima health impact seen: U.N. body chairman”
“Weiss said Japanese experts attending the meeting had told him that they were not aware of any acute health effects, in contrast to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine,”
The two disasters are quite different in detail even though both are listed as “7” on the disaster scale. At Chernobyl part of the reactor core was ejected during the explosion. Conscripted soldiers were made to hand shovel debris from the ejected core off the roof back into the hole from the explosion. This manual work caused many soldiers and workers on site to get very high exposures and this took many people to do so more “workers” were highly exposed.
At Fukushima most of the work was done at a distance sparing workers worse doses. A number of workers at Fukushima were needed to do highly dangerous tasks that caused them to be exposed to more than 250 mSv of radiation. How much more is not told to the public, nor is the current condition of these workers. One such worker went into unit 3 to manually vent the reactor from the torus room. It was so hot his boots began to melt to the steel catwalk. He was one such worker that received a high dose. The two control room operators that stayed in the Unit 1-2 control room during the worst of the disaster also received high doses, including internal exposure. They were listed among the higher exposures. There were many other cases of such things early in the disaster. Chernobyl and Fukushima simply are not direct comparisons using just worker exposures due to the details of the disaster.
““What we have seen in Chernobyl – people were dying from huge, high exposures, some of the workers were dying very soon – nothing along these lines has been reported so far (in Japan),” he said. “Up to now there were no acute immediate effects observed.”
“Several thousand children developed thyroid cancer due to radiation exposure after the Chernobyl disaster in the then Soviet Union, when a reactor exploded and caught fire and radiation was sent billowing across Europe.”
Weiss said a few workers at Fukushima had received high radioactive doses, but “so far the initial medical follow-up of these workers who had high doses, as far as the Japanese colleagues told us, was OK.“”
Worker doses are not comparable to childrens doses or outcomes. They are also not taking into consideration the latency (time for cancer to develop after exposure). Thyroid cancer in children after Chernobyl had a short latency period of about 4 years or longer. This is the quickest latency, many other types of thyroid tumor and other cancers have much longer latency periods with some being decades. Declaring children in Fukushima are not at risk is an extremely premature statement.
The UN statement also does not clarify between external and internal exposures. There is a well established body of evidence that internal exposures can have considerable long term risks exceeding that of external exposures. One of the biggest concerns in Japan has been the contamination of the food supply. Food was a considerable vector for internal contamination of children after Chernobyl.
It is simply too early to declare some form of “all safe” on the health risks from Fukushima.
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