Sunday 20 May 2012

Children and Radiation

Interesting leader in the local paper (Fukushima Minpo) today written by Genyu Sokyu. He's highly respected locally, a Buddhist priest, and past winner of the highest literary prize, the Akutagawa Prize. He was on the first committee to discuss the recovery last year. He put forward an interesting thesis that, contrary to popular opinion, children are better able to deal with the effects of radiation than adults. Up to now,  Bergonie-Tribondeau's law of radiosensitivity, the result of experiments with rats, stated that immature cells were at greater risk. But Dr Kohei Takahashi, an obstetrician in Minami Soma, has found that babies repair quicker, and excrete caesium  faster than adults. Dr Masaharu Tsubokura of Minami Soma General Hospital who has done surveys using whole body counter machines says that whereas the half life of caesium in an adult is 100 to 120 days, for  a 6 year old it's one month, and for a one year old only 10 days. 

Certainly we're in new territory here. If it's true then it could be good news for those mothers and young children currently choosing to live outside Fukushima.

The Emperor's back after his trip to London - much to everyone's relief. It's only 3 months since his heart bypass operation and he packed a lot into a 3-day visit. England got a lot of good publicity. There was footage of his visit to the Coronation at the age of 19 with the Queen chatting to him at the Derby. We saw his walk around the Japanese garden in Holland Park, the reception to thank those who had offered assistance at the time of the disaster (some familiar faces in the Embassy ballroom!), and the lunch at Windsor Castle where he was seated next to the Queen. No mention here of the issues made much of in the British media - the presence of the King of Brunei (Princess Michiko was sitting next to him) and the snub from Queen Sofia of Spain. 

And today was the last day of the summer sumo tournament. I'm not much of a sumo fan but Kokutenho, unranked,  beat yokozuna Kokuho and six Ozeki to become the oldest wrestler ever to win (he's 37). Incidentally, one of the idiosyncracies of living out in the sticks is that at the end of the news we are always told how our local wrestlers, way down in the ranks, have done. Today one Oazuma did well. He hails from Tomioka and his parents are in emergency housing. He looked pleased.
Time to watch the historical drama, my Sunday night ritual,
Good night


  1. No, the kids are not all right. Deaths by heart disease doubled last year, and deaths due to cancer/leukemia rose dramatically.

  2. Interesting paper.
    There have been articles in the newspaper about 'disaster related deaths', nearly a thousand in Fukushima prefecture. Most of them are old people, some suicides, and I guess these extra deaths amongst children.
    I don't know how much is due to radiation. I do know - in fact all parents here are very aware - that children are sensitive to stress and it's important for parents to provide an emotionally stable environment for children.
    I agree with the paper's comments on the need for another health survey (the one done last summer has had a poor response). On the other hand, scaremongering only makes parents anxious which in turn endangers children. Parents need practical advice on how to live here and protect their children from any dangers.

  3. Anne. Please. When children get stressed out, they get tummy aches, nightmares, and regressive behaviour. They don't usually get leukaemia.

  4. While I cannot read Anonymous's link, I can tell you that any apparent increase in leukemia over the past year cannot be due to the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident.

    Radiation-induced leukemia has a significant latency between exposure and diagnosis. Here is a link to the very latest research, published in May of 2012:

    While it is probably a bit technical for the average reader, just look at Figures 3 and 6. The blue curve in Figure 3 is the most up-to-date model of the probability distribution for the detection of radiation-induced leukemias. No cases are expected sooner than 2.5 years after exposure, with risk peaking at about 5 years. It has only been a little more than a year since the accident.

    Figure 6 gives the absolute risk as a function of age at exposure and radiation dose. The "medium" dose (red) ranges from 20 mSv to 1 Sv (1000 mSv). The absolute risk is a little more than 1 chance in 100,000. That's 0.001 percent. Even for the "high" dose, greater than 1000 mSv (equivalent to spending 20 years in the 50 mSv/yr supposedly "uninhabitable" zone), the risk is between 1 and 3 in ten thousand.

    We have seen similar claims before, in the aftermath of Chernobyl. It is rather long (35 pages), but this paper written in 1992 by a pair of Harvard physicists demolishes the logical and statistical errors underlying a great many perennial favorites among anti-nuclear activists. It is worth reading to inoculate oneself against bad science and faulty math.