On the same day that Japan's prime minister declared the country would re-start nuclear reactors shut down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima power-plant disaster, the World Health Organization released a major examination of the meltdown's lingering health effects — and it may say more about cancer in general than cancer from a nuclear accident. The 172-page report from the WHO concluded that the predicted risks from radiation at Fukushima's Daiichi plant "are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated." That's "based on a preliminary dose estimation," but that's good news? Here's the baseline takeaway:
In terms of specific cancers, for people in the most contaminated location, the estimated increased risks over what would normally be expected are:
- all solid cancers - around 4% in females exposed as infants;
- breast cancer - around 6% in females exposed as infants;
- leukaemia - around 7% in males exposed as infants;
- thyroid cancer - up to 70% in females exposed as infants (the normally expected risk of thyroid cancer in females over lifetime is 0.75% and the additional lifetime risk assessed for females exposed as infants in the most affected location is 0.50%).
So that's 4 to 7 percent increased cancer risk across the board, and you'll notice the 70 percent jump in thyroid cancer risk — that sounds large, but as the WHO explains, thyroid cancer is extremely rare (.75 percent lifetime risk), which makes a 70 percent bump still just over a 1 percent chance. That's the sobering part of this whole thing, that cancer risks remain high, nuclear disaster exposure or not: "In Japan, men have about a 41 per cent lifetime risk of developing cancer of an organ while a woman's lifetime risk is about 29 per cent. For those most hit by the radiation after Fukushima, their chances of cancer would rise by about 1 percent," reports the AP. So, essentially: If you live in Fukushima, your chance of getting other non-Fukushima-induced cancers dwarf the cancer risk from the biggest nuclear disaster of the past 20 years. "These are pretty small proportional increases," one of the report's authors told the AP, and the context is kind of sad.
Later on Thursday, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe announced plans to get those idled nuclear reactors up and running, though no timeframe has been scheduled yet.