Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Linked To Its First Cases Of Throat Cancer

Control room for Unit 3 of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station pictured after the disaster on Mar 22, 2011. Image courtesy of TEPCO

At least two cases of throat cancer have been directly linked to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that hit the coast of Japan 10 years ago.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has recognized that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster played a direct role in two men developing laryngeal cancer. One of the men, who was in his 40s, died after developing the illness, Japanese state broadcaster NHK reports.

The two men worked on the clean-up efforts following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in March 2011 and fell ill in 2018. A panel of experts recently ruled that the workers had been exposed to significantly more than the safe levels of millisieverts (mSv), a unit used to measure ionizing radiation. The pair have been exposed to approximately 85 and 44 mSv. For context, the average annual exposure in the US is around 6.2 mSV and the annual exposure limit for nuclear industry employees in the UK is 20 mSv.

It's the first time laryngeal cancer has been recognized as an occupational accident following Fukushima. However, other cancer cases have been linked to the nuclear disaster. As per NHK, at least six other Fukushima workers have developed leukemia, thyroid cancer, or lung cancer.

The nuclear disaster occurred on March 11, 2011. After being struck by an earthquake and a 15-meter (49-foot) tsunami in 2011, three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan suffered catastrophic meltdowns, in what became the most severe nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl event. Due to the harmful radioactive isotopes that were spewed into the surrounding environment, nearly 160,000 residents were promptly evacuated and Japanese authorities implemented a 30-kilometer (over 18 miles) exclusion zone around the power plant.

A report from earlier this year argued that these measures managed to save the public from a significant amount of the radiation and their radiation doses were actually lower than first suspected. As such, they concluded that the disaster was unlikely to significantly raise cancer rates.

Back in 2016, scientists at the University of Fukushima began screening local children for early signs of thyroid cancer and found a staggering uptick in cancer rates. Understandably, this caused some concerns, but it was later concluded that this was not the result of radiation exposure.

Nevertheless, as these two cases of laryngeal cancer clearly show, some of the workers who helped clear up after the nuclear disaster have been affected by radiation exposure.

 
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