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Children and Health

Children are among the most vulnerable to - and least protected from - radiation exposure. Current "acceptable" exposure standards in the U.S. are based on "Standard Man" - i.e., a robust young male. This does not take into account the more serious effects of radiation exposure to pregnant women and children in particular, including to the unborn. Beyond Nuclear supports efforts to change these standards.

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Friday
Nov152013

More suspected and confirmed cases of thyroid cancer diagnosed in Fukushima children

Fifteen more young people in Fukushima Prefecture have received definitive or suspected diagnoses of thyroid cancer, which is often associated with radiation exposure, prefectural officials said Nov. 12.

That raises to 59 the total number of young people who have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer.

The latest figures show 12 people per 100,000 who were aged 18 or younger at the time of the accident developing thyroid cancer.

That compares with an average of 1.7 people per 100,000 in the general population between the ages of 15 and 19 who contracted the cancer in 2007 from Asahi Shimbun

From Fukushima Voice

26 Thyroid Cancer Cases Confirmed in Fukushima Children: Preliminary Results of FY2011-2013 Thyroid Ultrasound Examination

Thirteenth Prefectural Oversight Committee convened on November 12, 2013, releasing the results of the latest thyroid examination as part of the prefectural health management survey.

Thursday
Aug222013

Can nuclear power ever comply with the human right to health? Part III

RADIOPHOBIA: ANXIETY DISORDER MISUSED

RECAP

In the continuing wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations sent Special Rapporteur on the right to health (a position created in 2002) Anand Grover to assess Japan’s compliance with human rights principles; specificallythe right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. His visit took place between November 15 and 26, 2012 with permission of the Government of Japan. This is the third part of a Beyond Nuclear exploration into how the Special Rapporteur’s (SR’s) recommendations and conclusions may apply to nuclear power and human rights compliance beyond the Fukushima catastrophe. See Part I and Part II.

Many aspects of the SR’s report are groundbreaking and speak directly to the shortcomings of our current assumptions on radiation and health not only in regard to events in Japan, but also in the context of radiation protection worldwide; leading ultimately to an extremely important question:

Is it possible for the nuclear power industry and government proponents to comply with the UN definition of the right to health, or must they always exist in violation of these principles?

In this part we examine how nuclear proponents have turned a legitimate anxiety disorder, radiophobia, into a label they use to silence valid questions regarding the impact radiation has on our health, particularly that of children.

STRESS OF FUKUSHIMA SURVIVORS RELATED TO UNCERTAIN FUTURES AND RADIATION'S EFFECT ON HEALTH

How are my family? Young Fukushima evacuee, Kasumi, age 14. Click on her drawing for her family's story.“The Special Rapporteur personally observed the anxiety and stress among evacuees, residents and their families, which were related to the effect of radiation leakage on health, especially of children, cost of evacuation, loss of livelihoods as well as uncertain future and delays in receiving compensation that hindered rebuilding of their lives.” (p 14)

Radiophobia: definition and misuse

Radiophobia is a medical condition that has been co-opted as a bullying tactic by nuclear proponents, often targeting women in order to silence their inconvenient questions and make them feel like social outcasts. When nuclear proponents use a legitimate mental condition to bully, they perform a disservice to both those who suffer from this condition, and those who do not.

Radiophobia is an anxiety disorder, like fear of spiders (arachnaphobia) or fear of public places (agoraphobia). The clinical definition and common symptoms of radiophobia are much the same as other phobias and anxiety disorders.

“During a panic attack associated with a fear of radiation, a person may experience one or more of the following:

  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Change in heartbeat
  • Inability to form thoughts or speak
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of terror
  • Desire to flee

“A fear of radiation and x-rays is not necessarily unnatural, since exposure to these elements can be dangerous, but often within radiophobia the fear of being exposed can become entirely irrational. (emphasis added)

‘Without proper treatment, symptoms will gradually worsen and a radiophobic person may begin to avoid unfamiliar places and new social situations which can damage physical and mental health, damage existing social relationships, and prevent a person from making any new meaningful relationships.”

Tribute to the TEPCO workers who fought to control the catastrophe in the early daysRadiophobia, like any other anxiety disorder, should be diagnosed by a qualified professional, deserves to be recognized for what it is, and the sufferer treated. This is the case for both survivors of nuclear catastrophes like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and for those who have not suffered the full force of these catastrophes. Nuclear industry proponents should not use this condition to ignore inconvenient and uncomfortable questions about the impact of radiation on worker and public health – questions that deserve answers.

Unfortunately, nuclear proponents have used radiophobia to describe anyone who refuses to be exposed to radiation for any reason. This can include a nuclear accident survivor trying to glean information about their exposure, relocate out of a contaminated area, etc; people who refuse radioactive medical exams in order to limit their exposure, or people who oppose nuclear power and weapons.

The term “radiophobia” makes an early appearance in an opinion letter “Radiophobia; a new psychological syndrome, published in the Western journal of surgery, obstetrics and gynecology in 1951. The author, Mr. Jack de Ment, staggers on in a very disorganized way about how damaging the fear of radiation could be to all atomic undertakings, bombs and energy. He basically accuses teachers, parents and social workers in particular, of making children fear atomic bombs. This “conditioning” he argues “amounts to psychological punishment”—in essence accusing these parents of abuse. Since this is published in a medical journal which addresses women’s health issues, the not-so-subtle implication is that radiophobia is a “woman’s disease” and she passes it to any children she contacts: “Anxiety-ridden parents or teachers who fear atomic bombs probably project the same fears to their children…” During this same era, people were encouraged to rabidly fear communists, proving that those in power only want people to fear what is convenient politically and economically. Fear of communists was not maligned while fear of radiation was.

Mr. de Ment, who fancied himself an inventor, came up with a plan in 1953 to seed clouds with radioactive salts. This would result in weaponized rain, capable of crippling or killing whole populations. Today, Mr. de Ment’s commentary would be considered anachronistic—inapplicable to our more nuanced understanding of radiation. But in the early days of a budding nuclear industry, he was able to get his remarks published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. What Mr. de Ment failed to recognize is that not all anxiety is a disease. Well-placed anxiety prevents disease. Unfortunately, many nuclear proponents are still unwilling to acknowledge this and rather than provide answers or admit they don’t have them, they resort to mislabeling the people who ask.

Radiophobia is often blamed for the desire to avoid medical radiation exposure, such as diagnosis and treatment for tuberculosis, or exposures occurring from natural radiation like radioactive sands in Turkey. But research has shown an increase in the incidence of secondary diseases  (cancer and heart disease) after medical procedures using radiation like those for tuberculosis, scoliosis, and cancer. This secondary effect is especially prevalent if the patient is exposed as a child:  

“However, studies of radiation exposure from multiple chest fluoroscopies used to monitor treatment for tuberculosis (TB) in adolescent girls and young women and a study of multiple diagnostic X-ray examinations to monitor curvature of the spine in girls with scoliosis have reported increased mortality from breast cancer with increasing radiation dose. In the TB cohorts, the average breast doses from highly fractionated high-dose-rate exposures ranged from 0.79 to 2.1 Gy, whereas in the scoliosis cohort, the average breast dose was lower, 0.11 Gy. In these studies, the risk of breast cancer began to appear 15 years after radiation exposure and the risk remained elevated up to 50 years later.”

Clearly informing oneself about the consequences of radiation exposure, even for an initially perceived benefit like cancer treatment, is not “radiophobic”; it is prudent and should be encouraged.

Even worse, according to Macmillan dictionary, radiophobia is now being defined by “technical experts” as anyone who opposes nuclear power: “Chernobyl has left an enduring legacy of opposition to nuclear power, now often referred to as radiophobia by technical experts investigating the long-term effects of the accident[.]” Clearly nuclear industry proponents don’t like the difficult questions raised by either ongoing nuclear catastrophes or nuclear facilities capable of causing ongoing catastrophes.

Consider Japan.

Radiophobia mislabeling allows cover-up of health problems that are caused by radiation and societal shunning of those who question authority

In the wake of the ongoing Fukushima catastrophe in Japan, labeling someone or whole groups of people “radiophobic” is often a way to silence concerned citizens by making them appear unreasonably worried. Relating her experiences with people in the contaminated areas of Japan, doctor of psychosomatic medicine, Katsuno Onozawa (pictured) says:

“What shocked me … was the gap between what the newspapers and TV news were reporting and the reality in Fukushima as attested to by the mothers who came for consultations.

“Wanting to protect their children from radiation, they pleaded with the prefectural and city governments and local doctors, but none would take their side.

“They just said things like, ‘It's safe. You don't have to take any special action. There are lots of radiation-phobia mothers, and we can't deal with them all.’

“They worry that they have to continue living amid high radiation levels due to their inability to evacuate the prefecture for financial or other reasons…

 “Thinking they could not know what effects it would have in the future because of the example of the Chernobyl disaster, mothers desperately gathered information and pleaded for the authorities to prepare.

“But all the experts did was say, ‘It's safe so you don't need (radiation) checks, and we do not recommend evacuating the prefecture.

“Yet the children were exhibiting a range of symptoms including sore throats, nosebleeds, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches and rashes. The most dangerous thing is to write off causes of illness as psychosocial factors with statements like, ‘Your child's stress comes from not being able to go outdoors’ and that a ‘mother worrying will make her child sick.’

“These women are isolated in their communities and families as they conceal their discomfort. Many reproach themselves, thinking, ‘Maybe I'm the one who's strange,’ and become depressed.” (emphasis added)

Radiophobia isn’t the problem, ignoring exposure to radioactivity is the problem. Falsely labeling whole groups as  “radiophobic” allows people in positions of power to bully concerned citizens, mostly women, into silence and often results in the dissolution of families (now dubbed as a “radiation divorce” in Japan) because of disagreement between husbands and wives about what level of radiation is and is not safe. Family splits are precipitated by purposeful obfuscation of the danger posed by radioactivity, not fear.

NEXT TIME: “MENTAL STRESS” USED AS SCAPEGOAT FOR RADIATION”

Thursday
Aug222013

Thyroid cancers continue to increase among Fukushima children

The prefectural government has so far released thyroid testing results for 193,000 children. The number of children who have been diagnosed as or suspected of having thyroid cancer totaled 44, up from 28 as of June.

Eighteen of them have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and 25 are showing symptoms of the disease. The remaining child was suspected of having the cancer but was later diagnosed with a benign tumor.

The 44 children and young people who have received definitive or suspected diagnoses of thyroid cancer were aged between 6 and 18 as of March 2011. Their tumors were diagnosed as slow-growing types, ranging in diameter from 5.2 millimeters to 34.1 millimeters. The Asahi Shimbun

Wednesday
Aug212013

Joseph Mangano/RPHP report on radioactivity releases from Palisades and increased death rates in the surrounding area

Entergy's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor in Covert, MI, on the Lake Michigan shorelineJoseph Mangano, Executive Director of Radiation and Public Health Project, has published a report, commissioned and endorsed by Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, Michigan Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service. Based on government data and documentation on radioactivity releases from Palisades, as well as area health statistics, the report's major findings raise serious questions about the connections between radioactivity releases and increased overall death and cancer mortality rates.

Palisades received a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rubber-stamp for 20 extended years of operations -- out to 2031 -- back in 2007, despite hard-fought resistance that sought to block it.

Press release

Full report: NUCLEAR CONTAMINATION AND HEALTH RISKS FROM THE ENTERGY PALISADES NUCLEAR REACTOR.

As stated in the press release:

"...Mangano’s main findings include that the Van Buren County death rate from all causes was 3 to 6 percent below the state in the 1970s and early 1980s, but has risen since, to a level 12.5% greater than Michigan (2003-2010).  This change suggests that 1,330 “excess” deaths have occurred in the county since the Palisades atomic reactor started operating in 1971.  Elevated levels were observed for all age groups (especially children/young adults), both genders, and all major causes of death..." (emphasis added).

Beyond Nuclear pamphlet "Routine Radiation Releases from U.S. Atomic Reators: What Are The Dangers?" Note that the water discharge pathway photo was taken (by Gabriela Bulisova) at the Palisades atomic reactor, discharging into Lake Michigan. Although the atmospheric discharge pathway was photographed at the Callaway atomic reactor in Missouri, Palisades has a very similar vent attached to its containment building for aerial discharges of radioactive gases and vapors).

Beyond Nuclear report (published April 2010) by Reactor Oversight Project Director Paul Gunter, "Leak First, Fix Later," with a chapter on Palisades' tritium leaks into groundwater, first reported by Entergy Nuclear in 2007.

Friday
May312013

Landfill fire near radioactive waste dump raises alarm in St. Louis

Kay Drey, Beyond Nuclear board member and long-time watchdog on West Lake landfillIn early May, Rolling Stone quoted Beyond Nuclear board member Kay Drey (photo, left), regarding a municipal garbarge dump fire burning underground precariously near a radioactive waste dump near St. Louis.

Kay is a long-time watchdog on the West Lake landfill, a radioactive waste dump in the Missouri River floodplain near St. Louis.Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. processed Belgian Congo uranium during the secret Manhattan Project race to develop the atomic bomb in the 1940s. Those radioactive wastes were then dumped at the West Lake landfill in 1973. EPA wants to abandon them in place. Kay has long worked to have them removed from the Missouri River floodplain, not far upstream from St. Louis drinking water supply intakes.

Now the Associated Press/New York Times and St. Louis Magazine have reported on "the possibility of a slow-moving disaster right before our eyes," in the words of Ed Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. The former article focuses on the health risks to nearby communities if the fire reaches the radioactive waste dump, while the latter article focuses on the health damage that the radioactive wastes may have already inflicted, especially in local children downstream.