Chernobyl’s Cancer Warning for Fukushima

Residents of the area surrounding the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan will take no solace from a new health study reported in Science News last week.  A long term study of thousands of Ukrainians who were children at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear plant incident experience an elevated risk of thyroid cancer more than 30 years later.

The study, which will be published in full in Environmental Health Perspectives was a project of scientists at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, three U.S. universities and a medical institute in Kyiv, Ukraine. The scientists looked at medical records of Chernobyl survivors for radioactive iodine exposure levels following the 1986 meltdown and monitored them for thyroid cancer decades later. The study confirmed that the people exposed to the largest doses of iodine-131 at the time of the nuclear meltdown were most likely to develop cancer years later.

When asked about the Fukushima situation Kiyo Mabuchi, acting head of the Chernobyl unit at NCI in Bethesda, Md told Science News: “If there is some kind of significant exposure, one should also be concerned with radioactive iodine — especially in children.”

Should the Japanese Government Be Distributing Iodine Tablets to Reduce Cancer Risk?

Because the thyroid uses iodine to generate hormones, the gland readily absorbs the nutrient.  Our bodies do not discriminate between benign non-radioactive iodine from food and water or supplements and the radioactive variety when can destroy thyroid tissue and elevate long-term cancer risk.

The results of this study may have been complicated by the emergency response efforts following the Chernobyl meltdown. There was some distribution of potassium iodine tablets intended to inoculate survivors against future cancer by preventing their thyroids from absorbing the radioactive iodine in the environment. Because the study participants were children and records from the disaster response are not clear, it’s not possible to determine exactly who got the tablets. What is clear is that the distribution of those tablets did not eliminate the cancer risk among the survivors.

Unfortunately, the ineffectiveness of prophylactic iodine for these Ukrainians doesn’t translate to a recommendation that Japan forgo such efforts. There was a well documented iodine deficiency among the population in the Chernobyl region, meaning survivors were very likely to absorb both the iodine from potassium iodine from prophylactic tablets and radioactive iodine from the nuclear plant.

The study authors do recommend regular thyroid cancer screenings for Fukushima survivors. Thyroid cancer is very slow to develop and prognosis for survival very good when treatment is started early. Fukushima area residents should be especially vigilant about thyroid health screenings in the coming decades.

Related Action: Ask President Obama to end government subsidies for nuclear power.


Chernobyl nuclear power station photo by Timm Suess


Nina L.
Nina L6 years ago

In the English mindset there is "everybody has a choice" ... so we have the choice to be drunken, to become an alcoholic, to smoke, to be radiated, to eat unhealthy food, to pollute our planet .... and so on .... and so on. But we have not the choice to kill ourselves, to take drugs ... as just some examples.

It is so incredible that their is always a call for the government to do, to forbid, to punish etc.
So the government steps in and makes laws out of "their" mindset .... they think that the population is a bunch of children, which have to be educated, ruled, forced etc.

WE will stay for ever slaves when we don't start to think for ourselves. We are sitting all in the same 'BOAT" .... when people get sick, we all have to pay for the costs.
So why do we allow as a population to eat polluted food .... breath polluted air .... live in the danger of nuclear plants (which can destroy even the whole of us) ..... and then we want that the government gives us iodine pills that we don't get cancer...... and the "normal" un-organic food is making people already worldwide sick, which is ending often in cancer.

It is so absurd for me!!!

The greatest danger for our planet is the stupidity of mankind.

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson6 years ago

7/5/2011.....and they still have not shut these nuclear plants down yet in Japan......just insanity.

Maggie D.
Maggie D6 years ago

nuclear power is just not a good idea

Deborah F.
Deborah F6 years ago

The idea of nuclear power has always left me uneasy. Now more than ever, we need clear safety protocols.

Rani K.
Rani K.6 years ago

Life is full of risks;everyday we face hazards. But decision makers must not force people to face unnecessary risks.

Joy Mcronald
Joy M6 years ago

Very interesting....

Brian E.
Brian E6 years ago

You Better Check , Gary Nulls Progressive network
The # is 5,000 or more .
There is no one going to admit the true #
There is no such thing as a safe radiation exposure level .
If they tell you not to expose yourself to the Sun
or to limit xrays because of radiation -- What would a
Nuke Plant gone Self Destruct Do !. Please Enough
of the BS ! ...

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago

thanks for this post.

Rani K.
Rani K.6 years ago

Ordinary people pay for decisions taken by those at the top. This unhealthy greed for development and advancement will destroy us all. Development is good butlet us not take unnecessary risks with people's lives to get ahead in the rat race.

anna l.
anna L6 years ago

Oh god! Such terrible consecuences.