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9 November, 2017

UNSCEAR White Paper Reiterates Findings that Fukushima Risks Are Low

On October 27, Secretary Malcolm Crick of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) paid a courtesy visit to Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Manabu Horii, personally delivering his organization's 2017 white paper on the health risks stemming from radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident following the giant March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The report was a follow-up to a similar report released in 2013, describing subsequent developments.

Katsurao Village in October 2017

Commenting on the 2013 UNSCEAR report and follow-up activities, the vice-minister said that he valued them as neutral scientific evaluations by a UN organization. Two days later, on October 29, presentations were staged on both the 2013 report and the white paper at Iwaki City in Fukushima Prefecture.

Published by UNSCEAR in April 2014, the 2013 report stated that there was no need in Fukushima to expect significant occurrences of radiation-induced thyroid cancer, as had been observed in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. It also predicted that there would not be any increased incidence of breast cancer, childhood leukemia and other types of cancer in children to the identification level, and that the most serious and noticeable effects of the accident in the short term would be on mental health and social well-being. UNSCEAR has carried out follow-up activities since it released the 2013 report.

In its recent white paper, UNSCEAR identified further information available through the end of 2016, and systematically determined its effects on the 2013 report. It concluded that no such information substantially affects the main findings of the 2013 report or challenges its major assumptions; rather, much of the new information confirmed those assumptions and findings.

Based on its reviews, UNSCEAR found no need, as of now, to make changes to the evaluations and conclusions of the 2013 report. Regarding several documents and literature, however, it said that more certain evidence must still be obtained through further analyses and additional studies.

Referring to a paper, released in 2016, claiming that crisis rates for thyroid cancer among minors (aged seventeen or less) were twenty to fifty times higher in Fukushima than the Japanese national average, the UNSCEAR white paper pointed out serious flaws, citing excessive bias in its planning and methodology, including insufficient consideration given to the effects of using highly-sensitive ultrasonic inspection devices.

It also noted overdiagnosis from highly-sensitive thyroid examinations using ultrasonic waves, as well as concerns about active treatment of minor thyroid cancers, adding that thyroid screening was a complicated issue. It also mentioned factors going beyond genuine scientific questions when determining the scope, nature and continuation of screening after the Fukushima Daiichi accident: namely, matters related to socioeconomic issues, public health, law, morality and human rights.

Elsewhere, at the 28th meeting of the study committee for the Fukushima Health Management Survey held on October 23, Hajime Suzuki, clinic director at the International University of Health and Welfare, reported that the average thyroid equivalent dose from external and internal radiation exposure for one-year-old infants in the prefecture had been reevaluated to incorporate new information. He said that results were obtained of less than 40mSv in all areas, which is within seven to sixty-nine percent, as stated in the UNSCEAR 2013 report.

The committee will continue to work to reduce uncertainties in data, and will reevaluate doses again in FY18 (April 2018 to March 2019).

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