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Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Unlikely to Increase Cancer Risk, UN Report

Apr 02, 2014 09:13 AM EDT

Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power accident is unlikely to lead to any increase in cancer rates in the region, according to a new report by scientists at the U.N.

The report released Wednesday, is called "Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami."

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said that the scientists have found no evidence to support the idea that the nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011 will lead to an increase in cancer rates or birth defects.

magnitude-9 earthquake shook northeastern Japan March 11, 2011. Nearly 18,000 people died, most due to drowning following the massive tsunami triggered by the quake. The mega earthquake and tsunami were followed by a level 7 nuclear meltdown caused by a power outage at a Fukushima Daiichi plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

"People are rightly concerned about the impact on their health and their children's health," said Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chair, UNSCEAR. "Based on this assessment, however, the Committee does not expect significant changes in future cancer statistics that could be attributed to radiation exposure from the accident," he said.

For the study, researchers looked at exposure levels of various population groups including children.

Although the risk of cancer and birth defects is low, some children might suffer from additional risk of thyroid cancer, Reuters reported. The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that produces a hormone associated with several functions.

According to the researchers, the low rate of cancer risk is due to the swift action taken by the Japanese authorities.

Researchers also looked at data on radiation exposure in nuclear plant workers. "The Committee concluded that no discernible increase in cancer or other diseases is expected; however, the most exposed workers will receive regular health checks," said Wolfgang Weiss, Chair of the Assessment, according to a news release. 

The nuclear reactor accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986, led to thousands of people being exposed to high levels of radiation. A study by National Institutes of Health had shown in 2011 that thyroid cancers are still occurring in people who lived in Chernobyl during the accident. 

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