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.



Proof enough: Thyroid abnormalities in children after Fukushima

Following the recent discovery that 36% of nearly 40,000 Fukushima children examined have abnormal thyroid growths, the inevitable industry apologists have surfaced, questioning any connection between the radioactive iodine spewed out when three cores at Fukushima began melting in March 2011. But the burden of proving safety should be on those whose profit results in poisoning, not on those who are poisoned.  So says the precautionary principle, which does not require certainty of harm to halt radiation exposure.

What is known about thyroid disease, radioactive iodine exposure and children?

Certainly radioactive iodine is a cause of thyroid irregularities, often cancer, as industry proponents admit and studies at Chernobyl illustrate. Radioactive iodine can be inhaled or ingested.

Dr. Yamashita, known as “Mr. 100 mSv” in Japan and a proponent of a 20 mSv limit for children (the same as the German nuclear worker exposure limit), conducted a study of Nagasaki, Japan children in 2001. In this study 0-0.8 percent of children had nodules—much lower than the Fukushima children -- a population that could be similar and therefore act as a control group.

In general, children are more susceptible to radiation exposure.

Studies show that thyroid abnormalities have not appeared this quickly in past radioactive iodine exposures, but that does not mean it can’t happen.

What are the difficulties in assessing exposure to radioactive iodine?

The Tokonami study recently estimated doses from Fukushima radioactive iodine in part by using measured levels of radioactivity in the thyroid of 62 people. Tokonami claims that the median estimated dose is 4.2 milllisieverts and futher, claims that most of the dose came from inhalation, not ingestion. However, this study also claims that the doses from Chernobyl were much higher. The results of this study are incomplete for several reasons and should not be used to inform the data on thyroid abnormalities in children.

Although it is tempting to compare iodine exposures from one circumstance to another, exposure scenarios can be very different. Health effects should be examined on their own merit, beginning with the diagnosis of an abnormality, since variations in exposure and individual susceptibilities can make reliance on previous exposure scenarios misleading.

Starting a health study like Tokonami with an assumed dose (which is an estimation), instead of an examination of health impacts (which are real), is unwarranted because of the uncertainty in dose estimation. The 36% of thyroid abnormalities in children do exist and had to come from somewhere (quickly). Even if dose estimates are thought too low to cause them, there still has to be an explanation.

At Fukushima the official position was that milk consumption was restricted in the days following the accident but not after Chernobyl -- this means that people in Japan got less iodine dose. But it is less clear that those in the Fukushima area did not eat iodine rich foods like seaweed and shellfish that could result in greater exposures.

At Chernobyl, many kinds of radioactive iodine were examined whereas at Fukushima, doses from iodine 131 are the main focus so far since assessing dose for other iodines would be time-consuming. Since there is a good chance that the population was exposed to other radioactive iodines, exposure levels could be higher than measured or estimated.

The population of Japan has a diet high in iodine while that of former Soviet states exposed to Chernobyl radiation is iodine deficient. This was thought to have conferred a protective effect on Japan’s population, but the Fukushima children data casts doubt on this.

In general, studies from Chernobyl seem to account for all damage from iodine 131 (including the beta radiation, not just gamma) while it is unclear that the Fukushima assessment has accounted for beta damage. Since most of the dose to the thyroid from internal iodine contamination comes from beta, leaving it out would underestimate doses to Japanese children.

Clarifying methodologies and making them public is one way to address the public concern over exposure to radioactivity. Determining exposure is a complex process based a great deal on assumptions and estimates. Current lack of clarity, on beta dose from iodine, on assumptions made, methodologies used and the reasons why, only adds to the confusion and mistrust. To state that the radioactive iodine doses at Fukushima were many times lower than those at Chernobyl is completely unwarranted at this point given the uncertainties outlined above. The study would have been more valid if this comparison had been left out.

The Take-Away Points

It is reasonable to conclude, in the face of the evidence and even considering all of the uncertainties, that children could have an increase in thyroid abnormalities like cysts and nodules, due to radioactive iodine exposure from Fukushima.

While radiation is not known for certain to be the cause in all cases, according to the precautionary approach this link doesn’t have to be absolutely proven for reasonable people to act to stop exposure or to blame radiation.

And, if the thyroid abnormalities were NOT caused by radioactive iodine, then WHAT was the cause of the abnormalities? Radiation cannot be absolved without a viable alternative cause presented. Again, The 36% of thyroid abnormalities in children do exist and had to come from somewhere.


Now 35.8% of Fukushima children examined have thyroid cysts or nodules

Of more than 38,000 children tested from the Fukushima Prefecture in Japan, 36 percent have abnormal growths – cysts or nodules – on their thyroids a year after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, as reported by ENENews. The shocking numbers come from the thyroid examination section of the "Sixth Report of Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey," published by Fukushima Radioactive Contamination Symptoms Research (FRCSR) and translated by the blog Fukushima Voice.  Shunichi Yamashita, M.D., president of the Japan Thyroid Association, sent a letter to members in January with guidelines for treating thyroid abnormalities. In 2001 Yamashita co-authored a study that found normal children in Nagasaki to have 0 percent nodules and 0.8 percent cysts. The introduction of the letter, written by Fukushima Voice, states that the results in Fukushima show a "much faster progression compared to Chernobyl" as research done around Chernobyl showed the rate of thyroid nodules in children 5 to 10 years after the accident to be 1.74 percent. Business Insider and ENE News.


Chest Radiation for Girls Is Linked to Breast Cancer Later 

Women who were exposed to chest radiation to treat cancer during childhood have a risk of developing breast cancer as adults that is comparable to that of women with a high genetic risk of the disease, according to a study being presented Monday.

Researchers analyzed data from 1,268 women who survived childhood cancer treated between 1970 and 1986 and found that by age 50, 24% had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Wall Street Journal

And from the Washington Post:

“We find that by age 50, approximately 30 percent of women treated with radiation for Hodgkin lymphoma” as girls have developed breast cancer, said Chaya Moskowitz, a biostatistician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who led the study.

That is far higher than the 4 percent rate for the general population, and is comparable to the rate in women who have mutations in inherited BRCA genes that increase risk. Among women who had chest radiation for any type of childhood cancer, 24 percent developed breast cancer by age 50.

The study was to be presented Monday at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.


Radiation precautions are not child's play in Fukushima Prefecture

A heartbreaking BBC News Asia video focuses on Ayaka, a young girl who lost her grandfather and home to the tsunami in Fukushima Prefecture on March 11, 2011, and whose life is now circumscribed by radiation precautions that limit her freedom to play outdoors. This, despite now living beyond the arbitrarily small 12.4 mile (20 km) "Dead Zone" around the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Her father bought a Ukrainian radiation monitor on the internet, which he uses to check background levels before he lets Ayaka play on the parking lot for at most 30 minutes, only on weekends. She's not allowed to play on the grass, or near trees or surface water, because the radiation levels are higher there. Ayaka also wears a face mask on her way to school, and a personal radiation monitor to track her exposures. Ayaka reads from her diary entry from March 13, 2011, in which she expresses her fear of the invisible radioactivity around her. Writing helped her deal with her emotions -- she was afraid to express her fears directly to her father or grandmother.


Environmental coalition raises cumulative health concerns in resistance against Fermi 3

NRC file photo of Fermi 2 on the Lake Erie shore, where Detroit Edison wants to build a giant new reactorOn Feb. 13, 2012, attorney Terry Lodge of Toledo, on behalf of an environmental coalition, filed a rebuttal to challenges by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff and Detroit Edison. The agency and utility were challenging contentions filed by the environmental coalition on Jan. 11, 2012 concerning NRC's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) about the new Fermi 3 reactor, a proposed General Electric-Hitachi ESBWR (so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor"). The new contentions involve such issues as impacts on endangered and threatened plant and animal species, and their critical habitats, from the overall Fermi 3 proposal, as well as related sub-proposals, such as the contemplated transmission line corridor; radiological health impacts on the Monroe County community from Fermi 3, which has already suffered a half century of radiological and toxic chemical harm from the Fermi 1 and Fermi 2 reactors, as well as a number of giant coal burning power plants; and impacts on the Walpole Island First Nation, just 53 miles away across the U.S./Canadian border. Joe Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Human Health Project, serves as expert witness for the environmental coalition. The coalition includes Beyond Nuclear, Citizen Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. Among health impacts happening at an elevated rate in Monroe County are infant mortality, low birth weight babies, and various childhood cancers.

Beyond Nuclear has compiled all the filings relating to the battle over the Fermi 3 Draft Environmental Impact Statement.