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Fukushima Radiation 'Unlikely' to Affect Public Health, U.N. Study Says

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Jun 01, 2013 01:06 PM EDT
Fukushima
An aerial view shows Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture March 11, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)

Exposure to radiation from explosions and leaked radioactive material at the beleaguered Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan have not caused any immediate public health risks because the public was evacuated quickly after the disaster, according to a report by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).

"It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers," the committee of 80 international experts concluded in their report, which was released May 31.

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Even though the Japanese government was slow in its initial response to the disaster and blamed for latent communication of factual information in the days after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011 spawned a tsunami that overcame much of coastal northeastern Japan, including the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, people evacuated the radiation-afflicted areas quickly enough that cancer rates are not expected to rise, the report concluded.

The Fukushima incident is the world's worst nuclear disaster since a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant in the Ukraine in 1986.

"The results are very straightforward ... the evacuation of many, many thousands of people resulted in a reduction of the dose that they would have received if they had stayed in the evacuation zone by a factor of 10," said Wolfgang Weiss, a senior member of UNSCEAR, according to an Associated Press report.

The UNSCEAR conclusion was more definitive in terms of lack of public health risk than a February report from the World Health Organization, which relied on a smaller data set.

"So they (the WHO) didn't have the full picture. We don't have the full picture either but we have more than one year in addition," Weiss said.

After Chernobyl, the people living near the exploded nuclear plant were exposed to harmful radioactive iodine found in milk.

"In Chernobyl, many children used milk which had high iodine concentrations, resulting in high thyroid doses, resulting in an increase of thyroid cancer," Weiss said. "The doses through the thyroid in Japan are much, much lower."

Regarding cesium, another radioactive element that drew concerns after the Fukushima incident, "we wouldn't expect any increase of...cancers during the next decades," Weiss said.

Workers at the nuclear plant that received very high radioactive doses in the early stages of the accident continue to be under medical surveillance.

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