Fukushima Radiation Poses No Immediate Health Risks: UN Science Panel

Radiation exposure from the Fukushima nuclear accident is unlikely to result in future health problems, according to a new scientific report by the UN.

AsianScientist (Jun. 3, 2013) – Residents of the Fukushima prefecture in Japan may finally breathe a sigh of relief.

A new scientific evaluation by the United Nations reveals that radiation exposure from the Fukushima nuclear accident, brought about by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami two years ago, is unlikely to result in future health problems for workers and residents in the region.

“Radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima-Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers,” concluded the 60th session of the Vienna-based United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).

At the meeting, the Committee discussed the short and long term effects of exposure to radiation on adults and children following the power plant accident.

On the whole, the Committee concluded that exposure of the Japanese population was low, or very low, leading to correspondingly low risks of health effects later in life. The actions taken to protect the public – both evacuation and sheltering – significantly reduced the radiation exposures that would have otherwise been received, the report said.

“These measures reduced the potential exposure by up to a factor of 10. If that had not been the case, we might have seen the cancer rates rising and other health problems emerging over the next several decades,” said Wolfgang Weiss, Chair, UNSCEAR report on radiological Impact of the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.

According to the report, the doses delivered for the two most significant radionuclides (iodine-131 and caesium-134/caesium-137) in the first year and subsequent years from the accident are less than the doses received from natural background radiation.

No radiation-related deaths or acute effects have been observed among nearly 25,000 workers involved at the accident site, the Committee noted. Nonetheless, workers with exposures above 100 mSv will be monitored annually for any late radiation-related health problems such as thyroid cancer.

Because of anatomical and physiological differences, children are more radiosensitive for certain tumor types when compared with adults, the report said, and more research will be required to understand the risk following childhood exposure to radiation.

“More research is needed to fully understand the risks and effects following childhood exposure to radiation. This is necessary (and possible) because there are many individuals who were exposed as children (such as the survivors of the atomic bombings) who are still alive. Their experiences must not be lost,” said Fred Mettler, Chair, UNSCEAR Report on Effects of Radiation Exposure on Children.

More than 80 leading international scientists have worked on analyzing the levels and effects of exposure following the Fukushima nuclear accident of March 11, 2011. The Committee, which consists of representatives from 27 countries, will present its final report to the UN General Assembly later this year. Scientific data and evaluation associated with that report will be published separately.


Source: UNSCEAR; Photo: IAEA Photobank/Flickr/CC.
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