Written by John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com
Seventeen months after the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Tokyo Electric Power Company's six-reactor complex at its Fukushima Daiichi, discussions continue about the possible effects of the radiation "dusting" the prefecture's inhabitants received, and their consequences.
Far outside most media coverage, 2012 is shaping up to be the media battleground between the massed proponents of the ongoing 'safety' of nuclear power, as opposed to a motley coalition of environmentalists, renegade nuclear scientists and anti-nuclear opponents, largely bereft of media contact.
The 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami double punch that effectively destroyed Tokyo Electric Power Company's power plant complex has effectively become the newest "ground zero" in the debate over nuclear power. Advocates pro and con debate the implications of everything from the amount of damage to the release of radionuclides to the long term health effects on the Japanese population.
The stakes are high - quite aside from Japan's multi-billion dollar investment in civilian nuclear energy, dating back to the 1960s, there remains the issues of Fukushima's radioactive debris polluting neighbours.
All sides in the debate are playing for massive stakes, with the Japanese government and the nuclear industry broadly indicating the issue is under control. Accordingly, every issue from the amount of radiation released to the long term health consequences of the Fukushima disaster are subject to acrimonious debate.
That said, there is an involuntary irradiated "test" Fukushima group monitored since March 2011 displaying disturbing health abnormalities that may ultimately decide the debate, should the global media report it, forcing governments to debate its consequences.
The issue of nuclear radiation on human health cites besides Fukushima the August 1945 U.S nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the April 1986 explosion of the Chernobyl reactor complex in Ukraine, but in reality, there are no comparisons to evaluate Fukushima.
The 1945 U.S. Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were weapon "air bursts," raising no nuclear debris from the ground. Furthermore, the Japanese medical establishment had no experience with the problem and when U.S. military forces arrived over a month later, information about the human cost of the bombings was censored for decades. Showing pictures of destroyed buildings, okay - showing victims with kimono patterns seared into their skin, no.
As for Chernobyl, the 26 April 1986 catastrophe represented a major black eye for Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's "glasnost" policy. Thanks to the heroic efforts of Soviet emergency workers, the Chernobyl smoking nuclear roman candle burned for nine days before being extinguished.
In contrast, Fukushima Daiichi has been like a suppurating wound, leaching radionuclides into the environment since March 2011, and since then furious arguments have swirled about not only how much radiation Fukushima released, but the potential long term health consequences.
But both disputes ultimately devolve into pure speculation.
Only two months ago TEPCO stated that the Fukushima debacle may have released twice as much radioactivity than Japan's government initially estimated.
Accordingly, how can anyone estimate long term health effects when actual exposure rates are unknown?
That said, scientists do have a well defined test group - the population of Fukushima Prefecture surrounding the stricken NPP.
And the sixth report of the Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey, which was released in April, revealed after the survey examined 38,114 local children that 36 percent of Fukushima children have abnormal thyroid growths.
The Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey revealed that 13,460 children, or 35.3 percent, had thyroid cysts or nodules up to 0.197 inches long growing on their thyroids and 0.5 percent of the children had growths larger than 0.197 inches.
So, why might this be significant? According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), thyroid problems from nuclear events occur when radioactive iodine is leaked into the atmosphere and thyroid cells that absorb too much of this radioactive iodine may become cancerous, with children being particularly susceptible.
Furthermore, the ATA reports noted that thyroid cancer "seems to be the only cancer whose incidence rises after a radioactive iodine release" and that that babies and children are at highest risk. The estimated lifetime radiation doses among the children are still low, but they do exist, the Japan's National Institute of Radiological Sciences stated at a10 July international symposium in Chiba Prefecture.
Who cares about such an arcane issue? Well, the National Institute of Radiological Sciences conclusions refute the government's assertion that Japanese children in effect received zero thyroid radiation doses from Fukushima.
Re Fukushima children's health, the news just gets better. Two months ago Tokyo Shinbum reported that 60 percent of Fukushima children under 12 have tested positive for diabetes, according to Dr. Miura, the director of Iwase's general hospital.
Because the Strontium-90 radioactive isotope quickly decays to become Yttrium-90, which can concentrate in the pancreas, causing pancreatic cancer or diabetes. That said, while noting the abnormality, Dr. Miura declined to link it to Fukushima radiation exposure.
So, where does the Japanese government go from here?
It might do worse than to follow the advice of Australian pediatrician Dr. Helen Caldicott, who after observing that "It is extremely rare to find cysts and thyroid nodules in children," added that "you would not expect abnormalities to appear so early - within the first year or so - therefore one can assume that they must have received a high dose of (radiation)" before concluding, "it is impossible to know, from what (Japanese officials) are saying, what these lesions are."
Calidcott also noted that Japanese officials are not sharing the ultrasound results with foremost experts of thyroid nodules in children before noting, "The data should be made available. And they should be consulting with international experts ASAP. And the lesions on the ultrasounds should all be biopsied and they're not being biopsied. And if they're not being biopsied then that's ultimate medical irresponsibility. Because if some of these children have cancer and they're not treated they're going to die."
Nothing to see here, move along - unless your child is part of that 35.3 percentile.
Still, something for Westerners to think about the next time their government promotes building a nuclear power plant nearby - or if you live close to an existing one.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com