A new report by The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) finds that there is no evidence to support the idea that the nuclear meltdown that occurred in Japan in 2011, following a magnitude 9 earthquake, will lead to an increase in cancer rates or birth defects.
In a press statement from the UN, Dr. Carl-Magnus Larsson said that the study has thus far found no immediate radiation-related deaths among 25,000 workers at Fukushima. UNSCEAR expected fewer effects in the population at large, due to the Japanese government's high evacuation rates and other protective actions.
Children and Exposed Workers Need to Be Monitored
Larsson did nonetheless urge the international community to proceed with more caution when it comes to children, due to the difference in the ways that atomic energy affects children, compared with adults. Chair of the UNSCEAR study, Dr. Fred Mettler, said in the release that following the Fukushima disaster, the Committee had stepped up its efforts to examine the special effects of radiation on children. It had found that children were about five times more sensitive to radiation than adults.
“A major thyroid screening program of 360,000 children had been enacted in Japan, and although there were increased rates of detection of thyroid cancers and abnormalities, those were indistinguishable from cancers due to other causes and were compatible with similar screenings in locations not affected by the accident,” according to the press release.
The Committee also concluded that while no discernible increase in cancer or other diseases is anticipated, the most exposed workers will receive regular health checks.
West Coast Keeping Tabs on Possible Fallout in Ocean
Meanwhile, here at home, California researchers are concerned that radioactive fallout from Fukushima could reach the U.S. later this year.
In an effort to keep tabs on any possible danger to the public, California State University Long Beach has launched the Kelp Project. With help from scientists along the California coast, they will monitor kelp radiation levels. Kelp, or “sentinel seaweed,” can absorb tiny remnants of radioactive isotopes.
Steven Manley, a biologist at California State University Long Beach, discovered tiny amounts of the radioactive isotope iodine 131 in kelp off Southern California in 2011, according to The State Column.
Chad Nelsen, environmental director for the Surfrider Foundation, told The State Column that while there has been confusion over detected levels of radiation and those that are harmful, there are currently no levels that are a real threat.