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The health condition of the Fukushima Children in Ginza, Tokyo .

Dear Reader,

I saw this film recently, it makes some claims that the Fukushima reactor accident is making children sick. I think that this film raises some interesting points.

Appeal concerning the health condition of the Fukushima Children in Ginza, Tokyo ..

There is a problem, if the above average level of radiation in Japan is able to make children ill then why is Ramsar in Iran not famous for ill children ? In this place in one year the background radiation dose is normally more than 100 mSv.

In Japan it has been decided that if the dose rate is greater than 20 mSv that people will be relocated, so the people in Ramsar should be more ill than the general public in Japan near the Fukushima reactor accident site.

One of the people in the film had to go for a CT scan, I would like to know if anyone has considered how this is likely to have involved quite a large X-ray dose. While people get concerned about an exposure from a reactor accident, many people do not seem to be as concerned about medical exposure (due mostly to X-ray radiography). This is something which I can never understand.

Also if the children of Fukushima were being exposed to so much radiation that they feel ill as a result (chronic radiation syndrome ?) then I imagine that their blood counts would be rather abnormal. If for argument’s sake they were so strongly exposed then blood samples from them would show signs of radiation exposure.

For a large dose, I would expect cell counts to be abnormal. At lower doses I would expect a much higher number of chromosomal abnormalities per litre of blood. If someone can bring us this type of evidence then I will believe that the children of Fukushima have been exposed to a lot of radiation, but until I am presented with such evidence I will remain very suspicious of the claims of these radiation related illnesses. The thing is that to induce the non cancer effects which appear shortly after a radiation exposure a very large dose is required, and the dose must be above a threshold. Below the threshold the effects can never be seen.

It is a bit like alcohol, humans and drunkenness. To get a person drunk requires alcohol, the more alcohol you feed them the worse the drunkenness becomes. Below the threshold dose it is impossible to get the effect of drunkenness, for example if 200 people take communion at a church and have a tiny sip of wine then non of them will come out of the church as crazed drunks (Unless they were drunks before the service). I hold the view that as a result of Fukushima that no member of the general public has had a radiation dose which is able to cause one of the deterministic effects which appear shortly after the radiation dose is delivered to a human.

Even after the much worse Chernobyl accident no members of the public were stricken with the deterministic effects of radiation (radiation sickness), so I would suggest that my readers take care when they here of claims from Japan about the radiation making children feel ill. We need to have a respect for the truth, part of a respect for the truth is to resist telling lies or making exaggerations even if you think (or know) that the thing you want to warn people against is very bad. One of my roles at Chalmers has been to help supervise research on serious nuclear accidents, I can tell you that serious nuclear accidents are thankfully rare but they can be horrible even without inventing new effects or exaggerating the effects.


3 Responses

  1. I haven’t seen the film you’ve linked to yet, but I’d like to make a few remarks. If you’re suggesting a kind of placebo effect then I think your arguments might well have some merit in them. Radiation exposure from medical procedures is usually stronger (although for a shorter period) than what those kids are likely to have gone trough…
    Just like people can display symptoms of being intoxicated without having had a drop of alcohol due to imagination (and alcohol free beer?) I wouldn’t be surprised if the same would happen in a event with the scale and impact of Fukushima.

    However, I’d like to raise a few questions:
    How big are the chances the Iranian government would allow stories to leak of kids with radiation poisoning while they’re doing everything in their power to become an independant nuclear power?

    What about long(er) term exposure due to inhaled, ingested or other intake of contaminated substances? (we know that the air has been contaminated for a period of time, so is dirt and it’s even found its way into the foodchain of fish)

    Because children are still growing and cell division is the most vulnerable time where radiation is concerned, aren’t they more at risk?

    In short, I concur with you that things might be exagerated here and there, but isn’t it more than prudent to be extra careful here?

    • Dr Foreman replies

      Children vs Adults

      I hold the view that for biological reasons that children should be subject to a set of radiological protection rules which are stricter than those imposed on adults. For example UK and Swedish law both quite rightly have a minimum age at which a person can be a radiation worker. Also a trainee between the ages of 16 and 18 has to be on a more restrictive set of radiation rules than an adult.

      This is due to the fact that a child has a longer life expectancy and because their cells are dividing more quickly. For example I know for the induction of female breast cancer that between the mid teens and the mid twenties that a girl / woman is more sensitive than a woman above the age of 30.

      Occupational vs evacuation dose limits

      But it is important not to fixate on radiation and ignore all other things. In Japan there is a problem. The occupational limit for a child in the UK and Sweden will be set at 1 mSv per year. This is because a child is always treated as a member of the general public for radiation protection law.

      To my mind this law is about exposure of the child at school or if the child takes on a part time job. For example if I have a 14 year old who serves in a watch and clock shop. Then we should apply the 1 mSv limit, this could mean that if the doserate in the shop (due to radium containing watches) is sufficiently high that he/she will get more than a 1 mSv dose (above background) then the shop work is illegal on radiation grounds.

      But while it is reasonable to apply this very low limit to occupational doses, I would argue that the dose limit for considering relocation of the general public could be set higher. If we relocate a person (evacuate) then a new home will be needed for the person. Also a great disruption to the person’s life will occur. We need to weigh up the risk due to radiation against the other risks. As a result the government in Japan have decided to set the lower limit for some types of relocation at 20 mSv.

      This has sparked some outrage and court cases, but when I looked today at a randomly chosen news article the doses which the children were being exposed to each year (2.2 mSv) from the accident are low. This is about the same as a typical child living in the UK. If the child has no other artificial radiation exposure then I hold the view that the level of risk does not justify the changes required when a person is relocated.

      High background areas around the world

      The high background in Iran is not unique, in some areas of India, China and Brazil the natural background level is very high. So I think the idea that the Iranian government have covered up disease for political reasons can be discounted.

      Radioactivity in the environment from the Fukushima accident

      The worst radioisotopes in Japan released by the Fukushima accident were the iodines (I-131, I-132 etc), these have decayed away long ago. A tiny amount of activity (I-129) would have been released but this is not a large threat to public health, it also allows years later the spread of I-131 to be reconstructed for public health investigations.

      The current threat in Japan to the general public is due to cesium, the good news is that the cesium has a short biological half life in humans. This means that cesium does not build up in the human body, with a suitable choice of diet a person can avoid having radioactive cesium building up inside them.

      Cesium does not enter bones and act as a calcium mimic, instead it is spread evenly through the whole body. On the otherhand strontium becomes part of the bones, as a result strontium-90 is more dangerous than cesium-137. But the good news is that at Fukushima very little strontium was released.

      The external dose due to cesium needs to be controlled by cleaning up the environment, as cesium is not very mobile in soil it will be mostly in the top layer of the soil. Either the top layer should be removed or if the soil is mixed up then the external threat will be reduced and the level of cesium in grass will be lowered.

      Farming needs to be altered for some years to prevent the transfer of cesium from soil to humans via food. One promising method of controlling cesium in the food chain is to use Prussian blue, this is cesium binding agent which can be used to decontaminate farmyard animals.

  2. Thank you for the extensive answer. Having heard that Cesium is piling up in the marine food chain (plankton to small fish etc) and knowing fish (sushi) is a big part of the japanese diet that does give reason for concern though. As far as I know it’s unclear how much radioactive cesium has found it’s way into the open sea due to the extensive flushing/cooling and leaking of the reactor. I’ve heard reliable reports of fish being captured 100 miles off the Fukushima Coast that are contaminated with the above mentioned Cesium.

    Although it is a reason for concern I do concur with you that overreaction is far from useful in tackling this problem. Exposure from natural (as you say in some places relativly high) and medical sources is something the general public is unaware of. Seeing things in perspective is therefore a lot harder.

    It’s a shame that a lot of experts (we have to rely on due to the complicated nature of assessing the threat levels here) are influenced by commercial and/or idiological reasons to understate or overstate the actual threat.
    TEPCO itself is a infamous example herein.

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