Fukushima: thyroid growths in children spark concern

Following disturbing findings of thyroid growths in children of Fukushima prefecture, Japan’s Environment Ministry this week began thyroid gland tests on children in Nagasaki prefecture, across the central island of Honshu to the south. Those children will serve as a control group for kids undergoing similar tests in Fukushima prefecture. Fukushima’s prefectural government one year ago launched what it intends to be a lifelong thyroid gland test program for 360,000 children who were aged 18 or under when the disaster began in March 2011. The Fukushima screening have been conducted on 115,000 children—about one third of the total number of children that will require testing. In July, it was revelaed that over 35% of the 38,114 then screened were found to have abnormal thyroid growths.

The big majority, slightly over 35%, had cysts 20 millimeters or smaller, and were classed as “A2.” A further 0.5%, totalling 186 youngsters, had nodules larger than 5.1 millimeters. Parents protested lack of transparency on disclosure of the results. Parents had to explicitly put in requests to receive copies of thyroid images from the tests. Some parents of “A2” children are expressed concerns that the next round of tests for their children won’t happen until after two years. 

The program draws on the finding that cases of thyroid cancer soared among children after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. That survey found that 40% of some 96,000 children for whom test results are available developed thyroid gland problems, such as nodules, or lumps, and cysts. One child was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Officialdom espoused the requisite denialist platitudes. “Yes, 35.8 percent of children in the study have lumps or cysts, but this is not the same as cancer,” said Naomi Takagi, an associate professor at Fukushima University Medical School Hospital, which administered the tests. “We do not know that cause of this, but it is hard to believe that is due to the effects of radiation. This is an early test and we will only see the effects of radiation exposure after four or five years.” (Asahi Shinbun, Nov. 20; Japan Daily Press, Nov. 7; The Telegraph, July 19)

Australian pediatrician and anti-nuclear advocate Dr. Helen Caldicott acknowledged that the high rate of abnormal growths is very anomolous, as it usually takes five to 70 years for the medical implications of radiation to manifest. But she insisted that this was all the more reason for the international medical community become involved. She told Business Insider, July 19: “The data should be made available. And they should be consulting with international experts ASAP. And the lesions on the ultrasounds should all be biopsied and they’re not being biopsied. And if they’re not being biopsied then that’s ultimate medical irresponsibility. Because if some of these children have cancer and they’re not treated they’re going to die.”

  1. Radioactive mushrooms in Japan

    From Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 21:

    Wild mushrooms far from Fukushima show high levels of cesium
    Wild mushrooms, a seasonal delicacy in many parts of Japan, have lost their magic.

    Tourism industry officials and restaurant operators have been aghast to learn that wild mushrooms picked far from the site of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture last year are showing high levels of radioactive cesium.

    Last year, only wild mushrooms picked in Fukushima Prefecture were found to have cesium levels that exceeded legal standards.

    This year, however, wild mushrooms from as far away as Aomori, Nagano and Shizuoka prefectures, all more than 200 kilometers from Fukushima, have been found to be contaminated with cesium.

    The central government has asked 17 prefectural governments in eastern Japan to test wild mushrooms for cesium…

    For example, "chichitake" mushrooms picked in Towada, Aomori Prefecture, in October were found to have cesium levels of 120 becquerels per kilogram. Towada is located 350 kilometers north of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

    Under the Food Sanitation Law, the legal standard for cesium is 100 becquerels per kilogram…

    One reason for the increase in such restrictions this year is a lowering of the legal standard for cesium from 500 becquerels per kilogram to 100 becquerels.

    As of Nov. 16, officials said 93 municipalities in 10 prefectures, including Fukushima, had a shipment restriction in place…

    Very good that the government has raised the legal standard. Some very grim quotes from traditional wild mushroom harvesters whose economy and way of life could be wiped out by this development…

    1. Mushroom radiation levels
      Asahi:  for a little context, bananas naturally emit at an average rate of 130bq/kg and brazil nuts emit nearly 450bq/kg.  while an increase in radioactivity is always worth further study, the rates being reported here are perfectly safe for human consumption –

      1. Go argue with the Japanese Health Ministry
        You provide no link or source for your claims about bananas and Brazil nuts. Seems very hard to believe the Japanese Health Ministry would set a standard of 120 bq/kg if your figures were accurate.

        1. take a look at
          take a look at http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/natural.htm – for conversion’s sake, 1 pCi = 0.037 Bq

          i’d also recommend taking a look at http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/53939/radiation-exposure as it provides figures for several natual food sources, as well as explanations of conversions, and how to calculate dosage rates like sieverts from emission rates like bequerels.

          one more fun fact:  the new japanese food standard of 100bq/kg (lowered from 500) is also the rate at which human tissue emits!

          1. Quack quack
            Right, you’re not an apologist for the nuclear industry, yet you cite a website sponsored by Siemens, a titan of the nuclear industry. You’re not a duck, you just quack like one.

            You are engaging in the most base obfuscation, exemplified by industry propaganda. As honest sources note (e.g. Green Road blog, or this factsheet on a PDF at the site Fukushima 311 Watchdogs), there is no comparison between radioactive cesium and the potassium in bananas in terms of how they are absorbed by the body. The best deconstruction of your BS that I was able to find online is on  Washington’s Blog, under the headline “There Are NO Background Levels of Radioactive Caesium or Iodine,” dated shortly after the Fukushima disaster began (March 26, 2011). Whatever the blogger’s politics may be, his sources check out…

            As the EPA notes: “Cesium-133 is the only naturally occurring isotope and is non-radioactive; all other isotopes, including cesium-137, are produced by human activity.”

            So there was no “background radiation” for caesium-137 before above-ground nuclear testing and nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl.

            Japan has already, according to some estimates, released 50% of the amount of caesium-137 released by Chernobyl, and many experts say that the Fukushima plants will keep on leaking for months... The amount of radioactive fuel at Fukushima dwarfs Chernobyl

            There are, of course, naturally occurring radioactive materials.

            But lumping all types of radiation together is misleading … and is comparing apples to oranges…

            [C]esium-137 and radioactive iodine – the two main radioactive substances being spewed by the leaking Japanese nuclear plants – are not naturally-occurring substances, and can become powerful internal emitters which can cause tremendous damage to the health of people who are unfortunate enough to breathe in even a particle of the substances, or ingest them in food or water. Unlike low-levels of radioactive potassium found in bananas – which our bodies have adapted to over many years – cesium-137 and iodine 131 are brand new, extremely dangerous substances.

            Speaking of “apples and oranges,” eh? It’s like arguing with a climate change denialist. Maybe you’re on that vile bandwagon too.

            Go away.

  2. Apples to oranges
    While a quick perusal of the numbers may make it sound as if the scope of thyroid problems is near Chernobyl’s, it’s worth remembering that these tests used much more sensitive technology than the tests in the wake of Chernobyl.  The high resolution ultrasound technology used in this study was not available in 1995 when the Chernobyl study was conducted, and growths in the size range of the A2 group would not have been included – indeed, the A group as a whole represents those who show no significant cause for concern, as growths of that size would not even be biopsied and tested under normal circumstances – estimates of their prevalance in the general population range as high as 67%. 
    A much more valuable comparaison would be against the B group, whcih is contains growths considered large enough to merit further monitoring, and which only represents 1% of the total, meaning the Chernobyl figures are about 40 times worse;  indeed, the rates seen in the B group show no noticable increase over normal rates.  Regardless of what Caldicott might think, it’s only growths in this range or larger that would normally be biopsied in clinical practice.  It’s also worth noting that the C group, those with growths large enough (or potentially malignant enough) to merit medical attention currently has a population of 0.
    Based on the numbers currently available, there’s actually no evidence of radiation-induced illness or injury.  Of course, as further research is done, it’s certainly possible problems will be discovered, but the cause for alarm at this time has been seriously overstated.

    1. Go argue with the mothers of Fukushima
      Getting the answer you want by asking the wrong question. It is less relevant how the figures compare with those from Chernobyl than how they compare to the general populace that hasn’t been impacted by a nuclear disaster. Is 35% a normal rate of thyroid growths in children? Nope. While that rate is within the normal range for the elderly, Wolters Kluwer Up to Date medical news site informs us that the normal rate for children is 2%.

      Furthermore, as noted, it took much longer for the results from Chernobyl to manifest, so we may only be looking at the begiining in Japan.

      Finally: Go argue with the mothers of Fukushima, OK? Neither you nor the Tokyo Electric Power Company have any right to recklessly gamble with the future of their children. A mass popular movement has emerged in Japan in response to Fukushima demanding an end to nuclear power. All we need is so-called “leftists” in the United States serving as unpaid propagandists for the nuclear industry.

      Go away.

      1. Nodules and cysts are different things
        You’re right, the rate of pediatric thyroid nodules is around 2%. However, the rate of thyroid nodules in the current Fukushima tests was 1%.  It’s the distinct phenomenon of thyroid CYSTS that make up the other 35% of observations;  this isn’t that unusual, as thyroid cysts are common enough to be the leading cause of neck swelling other than trauma.

        I’m no apologist for the nuclear industry, or any private industry for that matter.  The simple fact is that at this time, based on all available data, the rates of thyroid growths we’re seeing in Fukushima show no statistically significant increase over normal rates.  That may change over time – indeed the number of nodules will certainly increase, as their incidence increases by about 1% per year of the patient’s age, but so far, there’s nothing to indicate anything out of the ordinary.

        For all the nuclear hysteria, the Japanese government actually did a pretty good job mitigating the effects of the disaster – evacuation of the surrounding area was quick and thorough, an exclusion zone was put into place, and containment was pretty good considering the scope of the disaster compared to the design limits of the safety systems.

        1. Clarity and obfuscation are different things
          Wolters Kluwer indicates that nodules are a larger category that includes cysts. So I assume (you again provide no documentation) that your 1% refers to non-cystic nodules. This militates against your assertion that “the rates of thyroid growths we’re seeing in Fukushima show no statistically significant increase over normal rates.” So does the above quote from Naomi Takagi of the study team. I challenge you to post a link to any expert opinion that backs up your assertion. We’ll be waiting.

          Not an apologist for the nuclear industry? OK, maybe you aren’t a duck, you just quack like one.

          Yes, the nuclear boosters have been making the hideously perverse argument that the Fukushima disaster paradoxically vindicates nuclear power because of how effective the response was. First—go ask the residents of Fukushima how effective the response was, and you will get a very different story. Forgive us if we place more weight in their words. But much more to the point: If tsunamis, earthquakes and human error are inevitable, this is an argument against nuclear power, not for it. 

          I want a world where people don’t have to worry about being evacuated from a radioactive “exclusion zone” and having their homes forever poisoned in the event of an earthquake. If you can make light of this, we are on opposite sides. Adversaries, not allies.

          Go away.

          1. An english translation of the
            An english translation of the Fukushima report is available at http://fukushimavoice-eng.blogspot.jp/2012/07/thyroid-examination-by-fukushima.html
            Of 38,114 patients tested, 386 had solid nodules, and of those, only 184 were over 5mm.
            The American Thyroid Association’s Professional Guidelines state in their Thyroid Nodule Guidelines at http://thyroidguidelines.net/revised/nodules that
            “Generally, only nodules >1 cm should be evaluated, since they have a greater potential to be clinically significant cancer”

            I can’t read the Wolter’s stuff, as I don’t have a login, but if they’re including cysts in their definition of nodules (the distinction is more often made in research than therapy) the only way those numbers make sense is if they’re referring to palpable nodules;  in adults, the rate of palpable nodules and cysts is 4 to 7%, whereas ones too small to detect without ultrasound is around 19% to 67%! (http://www.springer.com/cda/content/document/cda_downloaddocument/9781441908568-c1.pdf)

            if how people feel about the response is an objective measure of how effective it was, presumable the most effective response would be to cover up the problems and not evacute anyone.  after all, people are going to be upset about exposure to radiation, no matter how small.

            Earthquakes and tsunamis may be an argument against building nuclear power plants on coastlines in earthquake-prone regions, but not in general.  the truth is, this quake and tsunami were much stronger than what we would normally expect for the region;  a “normal” earthquake would not have caused the damage we saw at fukushima, and the reactor would likely have not even needed to be shut down – the whole complex was massively overengineered to survive huge earthquakes, this was just bigger than history led them to anticipate.

            Of course I want safety and security for people, but the dangers posed by nuclear power, and radiation in general are poorly understood by most ordinary people.  As scary as this incident has been, the truth is that this disaster’s effect on the long-term health of the population is probably much smaller than would have been caused by the airborne pollution of a coal plant of equal wattage in the same location.  Nuclear power is a tradeoff;  when disasters occur, they tend to be much worse than other forms of energy, but they also tend to be much less likely.  Waste is much more dangerous, but there’s a lot less of it.  It’s far from a perfect technology, but it’s still one of the cleanest ones we have for large-scale generation of power.   I’d much rather live next to a nuclear plant than any fossil fuel one!

            1. If you are going to be a regular here…
              …please read our Posting Policy, and start giving your posts titles. (You are also, of course, more than invited to go away.)

              The Wolters material is available to me without a login.

              You have yet to provide any evidence, or any quote from an official or expert, to indicate that the findings fall within the normal range. 

              I said earthquake, tsunamis and human error, Mr. Cherry-Picker.

              Your glib dismissal of “how people feel about the response” is beneath contempt. Yes, people are going to be upset about exposure to radiation—as well they should be. You should be on their side, and not that of corporate irresponsibility.

              As we have repeatedly pointed out, posing the question in terms of nuclear power or fossil fuels is a false dilemma. One would hope that someone such as yourself, who apparently considers himself a Marxist, would understand that the capitalist system is predicated on endless waste and limitless growth. While this life-destroying system persists, it is obscene to talk about “tradeoffs.”

              Go gamble with your own shirt, thank you.

              Will you please stop wasting our time?

            2. You really are wasting your time here.
              From long experience I’ve learned that Bill is just not willing to be objective about a large range of subjects.
              He’s a great reporter, but a bad philosopher.

              Having written that, let me point out that your statement about the Fukushima reactors being over-engineered and just sort of having a bad day with an excessively strong earthquake is like General Turgidson in the movie, Dr. Strangelove, saying that he doesn’t think the psych evaluation program for Air Force base commanders should be criticised simply because one man went crazy and ordered an attack on Russia, said attack being in progress at the time!

              The entire point is that unexpected natural disasters take place even though experts regard them as highly unlikely.
              Look at Hurricane Sandy.
              Yes, only one out of IO,OOO car trips will you need your airbag – if ever, but, boy, are they handy when you have an accident!

              That business about coal fired plants causing more pollution than nuclear ones really hurts your case.
              Yes, they cause more pollution during NORMAL OPERATION, but the whole point is that earthquakes, tsunamis, giant storms, huge forest fires, and terrorist acts are the dangers.
              You can’t build a tunnel for the average or typical width of the vehicles passing through it.
              You have to build it to accomodate the greatest width allowed on the road.
              Nuclear power is just too inherently dangerous on the odd occasions when something goes wrong for us to tolerate.

              As to the incidence of abnormal thyroid growths in the Fukushima area, I’ll buy that things aren’t frightening – yet.
              However, the fact that mushrooms 2OO Km from the plant are showing radiation levels – perhaps levels they didn’t show earlier in the disaster – suggests the contamination may not be remaining in place, but spreading through water runoff.
              That’s not something to be complacent about..

              1. The “objectivity” bugaboo
                Pretty funny that you had to lead with a gratuitous diss, when you largely agreed with me.

                No, I am not “objective” about nuclear power. I am on side of humanity and against that of corporate power. (Or the same ethic of techno-hubris in pseudo-socialist guise, thanfully today a mere nuisance to my blog rather than a menace to humanity.)

                1. If that’s your stance and everyone knows it,, then okay.
                  It’s one thing to reject nuclear power for subjective reasons.
                  It’s another to refuse to try to be objective in evaluating data relating to it.
                  Both the Left and the Right present or create very biased information for their arguments.
                  Much of the cancer controversies of recent decades is based on bad science.
                  Many cancers have widely varying incidence depending upon country; strongly suggesting that diet & other cultural environmental factors are to blame rather than industrial pollutants as so many claim.
                  Along with the consequences of long term exposure to low levels of radiation, it is a field rife with controversy.
                  That doesn’t mean it should be ignored, but that all claims on these subjects should be viewed carefully.
                  There are many natural sources of radioactivity (remember the radon scare a decade or two ago?).
                  It is neither practical, nor helpful to insist that all radiation exposure be limited to some artificially set background level.

                  Air pollution of all sorts, including nuclear fallout, has been over-emphasized by comparison to water pollution.
                  Many more persons have died from bad water than bad air throughout history.
                  Part of the bias is probably due to the fact that we have a better sense of smell than of taste.
                  I’d wager that the constant chlorination of many municipal water supplies – including N.Y.C.’s – has a deleterious effect upon those who use it, but in a subtle way.
                  We have, generally, objected to preservatives in our foods, but have ignored the posionous preservative in our water.

                  Similarly, the argument over fallout from Fukushima goes on and on while there is not even discussion about the effects on the sea.
                  The reactors were cooled down with untold tonnes of sea water.
                  Most of this sea water did not remain at the plant, but ran off back into the Pacific ocean.
                  The burning and exploding reactors belched much radioactive fallout into the air, but the sea water was in driect contact with the reactor cores.

                  As many now know, radioactive elements don’t just disperse into the sea, but are frequently taken up by plants and animals, becoming increasinly concentrated as they go up the food chain until creatures at the top of the food chain – frequently large fish – can be quite contaminated.
                  These fish are the very ones which are most likely to be on human menus.

                  Even though I called research into low levels of radiation into question at the beginning of this post, I doubt anyone would recommend eating fish contaminated with IOOs of times the normal amount of radiation.

                  I suggest you both stop fighting about the minutia of thyroid growths – which may actually support the establishment in the end – and concentrate on finding out where most of the radiation actually ended up.
                  I’m willing to bet there’s a whopping, big news hole into which the ocean date has disappeared.

                  1. objectivity bugaboo redux
                    You still don’t get it. There is no “objective evaluaiton of the data.” The entire notion of an “acceptable risk” or “tradeoff” already betrays pro-nuclear assumptions.

  3. Fukushima thyroid growths: don’t worry, be happy

    We are apparently supposed to be comforted by a Dec. 1 report in Asahi Shimbun finding:

    The percentage of children with thyroid gland cysts is about the same in Tokyo and Fukushima, indicating that radiation from the nuclear accident has not affected the rate in the disaster-hit prefecture, doctors said.

    Kenji Iwaku and other physicians at Ito Hospital in Tokyo reported their findings at an annual meeting of the Japan Thyroid Association on Nov. 30. They compiled records of 2,753 children, age 15 and under, who underwent ultrasound thyroid gland tests at the hospital between 2003 and August this year.

    They said cysts were found in 36 percent of the Tokyo children.

    But this is still way higher than the global average, as noted above, and raises the question of why the figure is so high. Fukushima Voice, a sort of citizens' clearing house for such research, notes:

    However, it is not clear how many of the 2,753 children were actually tested in the eight-year period from 2003 up to March 11, 2011, as opposed to the seventeen-month period from the accident up to August 2012.  As thyroid ultrasound examinations are rarely conducted in children under normal, non-radioactive circumstances, due to the rarity of thyroid disease in children, it is difficult to think the 2,753 can be evenly distributed from year to year as in 300 per year.  According to this article, Ito Hospital did not seem to specifically provide pre-accident findings…

    It is beyond our comprehension why this hospital would not provide more accurate data for comparison.  If they did provide it, why wouldn’t the newspaper cover it more accurately?    Does the data provide conclusive evidence of the impact of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident?

    Even if the Tokyo samples were mostly post-disaster, similar findings from heavily irradiated Fukushima and less directly impacted Tokyo seems anomalous. All we can do is echo Helen Caldicott's call for an international investigation into these findings. Until then, we are not going to join the rush to exculpate the Fukushima disaster. 

    Meanwhile, Energy News on Nov. 25 noted a delegation of Japanese activists and disaster survivors to Geneva, which included Mayor (Katsutaka) Idogawa of Fukushima prefecture's Futaba township. In Geneva, Idogawa revealed that he too has thyroid cysts, indicating the radiation has not only affected children. He said he was too intimidated to speak out about this in Japan. Kazuko Kawai, Fukushima residetn and founder of Voices for Lively Spring advocacy group, which organized the delegation, said, "I'm very scared."

    Progressives around the world need to stand with Kawai and Idogawa and their fellow survivors, and raise pressure for a serious international effort to monitor the long-term health impacts of the Fukushima disaster.

  4. Official complacency on radiation risks: consider the source
    From the AP via science site PhysOrg, Dec. 7:

    AP Exclusive: Japan scientists took utility money
    The potential conflict of interest is revealed in one sentence buried in a 600-page parliamentary investigation into last year’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant disaster and pointed out to The Associated Press by a medical doctor on the 10-person investigation panel.

    Some of these same scientists have consistently given optimistic assessments about the health risks of radiation, interviews with the scientists and government documents show. Their pivotal role in setting policy after the March 2011 tsunami and ensuing nuclear meltdowns meant the difference between schoolchildren playing outside or indoors and families staying or evacuating their homes.

    One leading scientist, Ohtsura Niwa, acknowledged that the electricity industry pays for flights and hotels to go to meetings of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, and for overseas members visiting Japan. He denied that the funding influences his science and stressed that he stands behind his view that continuing radiation worries about Fukushima are overblown.

    “Those who evacuated just want to believe in the dangers of radiation to justify the action they took,” Niwa told the AP in an interview.

    File under “cynical gambling with someone else’s shirt.”

    The official stance of the International Commission on Radiological Protection is that the health risks from radiation become zero only with zero exposure. But some of the eight Japanese ICRP members do not subscribe to that view, asserting that low-dose radiation is harmless or the risks are negligible.

    The doctor on the parliamentary panel, Hisako Sakiyama, is outraged about utility funding for Japan’s ICRP members. She fears that radiation standards are being set leniently to limit costly evacuations.

    “The assertion of the utilities became the rule. That’s ethically unacceptable. People’s health is at stake,” she said. “The view was twisted so it came out as though there is no clear evidence of the risks, or that we simply don’t know.”

    The ICRP, based in Ottawa, Canada, does not take a stand on any nation’s policy. It is a charity that relies heavily on donations, and members’ funding varies by nation. The group brings scientists together to study radiation effects on health and the environment, as well as the impact of disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. In Japan, ICRP members sit on key panels at the prime minister’s office and the education ministry that set radiation safety policy…

    Niwa, the only Japanese member to sit on the main ICRP committee, defended utility support for travel expenses, which comes from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan through another radiation organization. Costs add up, he said, and he has spent tens of thousands of yen (thousands of dollars) of his personal money on ICRP projects and efforts to decontaminate Fukushima. All ICRP members fly economy, except for long flights such as between Argentina and Japan, he said.

    The Federation declined comment.

    Yeah, we’ll bet.

  5. Fukushima fallout may be causing illness in US babies: study
    From The Lookout blog, Yahoo! News, April 5:

    A new study from the Radiation and Public Health Project found that babies born in the western United States as well as other Pacific countries shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011 may be at greater risk for congenital hypothyroidism.

    Babies born in places including Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington shortly after Fukushima were 28 percent more likely to suffer from the illness, according to the study, than children born in those same regions one year earlier. The illness, if untreated, can cause permanent handicaps in both the body and brain.

    According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “If untreated, congenital hypothyroidism can lead to intellectual disability and abnormal growth. In the United States and many other countries, all newborns are tested for congenital hypothyroidism. If treatment begins in the first month after birth, infants usually develop normally.”

    MSN’s Healthy Living blog explains the Fukushima explosions led to clouds of radioisotope iodine-131 that “floated east over the Pacific Ocean and landed through precipitation on West Coast states as well as other Pacific countries.”

    In Japan, the health effects associated with Fukushima are obviously much worse. The mortality rate of elderly people who were in retirement facilities near the nuclear plant has reportedly tripled. There has also been reported increases in the number of children with flat feet, thought to be the result of kids playing on radiated soil.

    Experts suggest that parents of children born in the western United States or Pacific regions in March or April 2011 get their children checked by a pediatrician for congenital hypothyroidism.