Sunday 17 March 2013

Fukushima Thyroid Petition

Hi folks
I got an e-mail from avaaz entitiled, 'Is there a cancer epidemic starting among Fukushima's children?' Now avaaz does good work raising awareness on a whole range of issues around the world, organising petitions, and sometimes carrying out PR stunts to make those in authority take notice. But I think it's got it wrong in this case.
avaaz: Fukushima thyroid petition

Fukushima prefecture is committed to carrying out tests on all those who were under 18 at the time of the disaster, 380,000 in all. It's an ultrasound test of the thyroid and there's often a Whole Body Counter test too. Tests started in October 2011 on those who were nearest the nuclear plant. Recently they've got round to testing children here in the Koriyama area. So far 150,000 have been tested. The rest will be tested this next year (up to March 2014). Under 20s will be tested every two years and when they're over 21 they'll be tested every 5 years for the rest of their lives. In February the prefecture disclosed 2 confirmed and 7 suspected cases of thyroid cancer among those who have been tested so far. Avaaz describes the situation in highly emotive language and is calling for 30,000 signatures to a petition calling for 'multiple thyroid cancer screenings and blood tests for all children living in radiation hotspots' which they will present to Governor Sato.

Let me make a few points:
1. A survey of this kind has never been done before. That's why they've found the 'spike'. These cases would have remained undetected until these children were in their 20s or 30s. It is good that they have been detected early.
2. Parents were indeed worried if the result was A2: nodule over 5 mm or cyst under 20 mm. The parents didn't know what this meant and as it  turned out neither did the authorities. A survey was commissioned of 4,365 children in Aomori, Kofu and Nagasaki - all well away from Fukushima - and the Ministry of the Environment announced the results on 8 March. It was found there was a higher incidence in these other places (Fukushima 41%, other 56%) so nothing to worry about. This has taken the worry off a lot of parents.
3. The prefecture has made mistakes: it was tardy in testing those who had gone to other areas and it wasn't all that transparent in the early days. But on the whole Governor Sato has handled this well. He started the survey straightaway and has said it will track children all their lives. He has also stuck out for free medical treatment for all children under 18 using a special fund. The national government refuses to fund this. If the survey is taking time it is because there is a severe shortage of doctors, nurses and caring staff. The figures speak for themselves. 100,000 people evacuated to other parts of the prefecture crowding existing facilities. 57,000 people gone to other parts of Japan. Most of these are women and children, the very women who staff hospitals and would carry out these tests if they were here.
4. There is evidence that a plume of Iodine 131 left Unit 1 before the vents were opened and subsequent explosion on 12 March 2011. Unlike the later caesium cloud which moved north west, the iodine cloud was dispersed south east. So efforts should be directed not at Governor Sato but at the national government and places further south such as Ibaragi and Chiba where children are not being tested. Governor Sato's got enough on his plate. This should be a national project.
5. Our greatest problem here is the loss of population and resulting decline in the economy. Factories are moving out. Smaller companies are finding it harder and harder to keep going. 44 countries still ban the import of food from Fukushima and neighbouring areas. Our greatest enemy is loss of confidence in and prejudice against Fukushima.
Campaigns like this do us no favours. Thyroid cancer in the vast majority of cases can be cured. We need more tests, more research, more reassurance, more support for parents.
Sorry about the rant


  1. Next week I'll be heading to Fukushima from Surrey (in grey, chilly England as opposed to Surrey in sunny, warm Jamaica...) next week. When I tell people about it, a strange expression crosses their face. My response is to say that I feel more confident about nuclear-related health issues in Fukushima than I do here in Blighty. After all, who in the UK knows anything much at all about radiation, let alone the location of the country's nuclear plants and background radiation levels around and about!

    I left a comment on your blog a while ago asking about volunteering opportunities in Fukushima, and I'm happy to report that I've organised a few things. I don't want to post URLs on your blog, but if anyone else is interested in volunteering in Fukushima then I'd recommend the Foreign Volunteers Japan Facebook group. The group isn't limited to activities in Fukushima and the affected areas of Tohoku, but the folks in the group are friendly, helpful, and are knowledgeable about groups and organisations in Fukushima and Tohoku.

    Because I'll be coming to Japan from Blighty, my options are a bit limited (most groups and organisations preferring people who are actually resident in Japan). I'll be volunteering at Japan Cat Network's rescue animal shelter in Inawashiro, where the charity looks after cats and dogs whose owners are either in temporary housing (inside the prefecture or elsewhere) or have moved to other areas of the country.

    For people who live in Fukushima and can read, write and speak Japanese, I found the volunteer centre at the Koriyama City welfare office to be very helpful. I can't speak for the volunteer activities yet, but it's well worth dropping them a line if you have a few hours spare now and then.

    With nuclear power and Fukushima Daiichi in particular being such emotive subjects, I'm looking forward to heading back to Fukushima to experience the reality alongside the people of Fukushima. When asked why I love Fukushima so much, my usual reply is that it's because people drive so steadily and calmly! There's a lot to be said about the countryside of Fukushima, but much more can be said about its people.

  2. Thanks. Good to hear from you again.
    Thank you for the references and well done for getting things organised.
    If you have time, it would be good to meet up.
    You could contact me through Facebook.
    Good luck

  3. I'll be spending the best part of two months in Fukushima - 28 March-16 April at Japan Cat Network's Inawashiro shelter, 27 May-23 June at Infinity Farm in Hirata-mura - so I'm hoping to have time to explore a bit if I have time off. (I'm not sure what it says about me that I'm not actually planning for having much time off!).

    I sign in with my Google account to leave comments on your blog, but for some reason I always show up as "unknown"! Anyway, just so you know who I am on Facebook, my name's James Collett. My messages may disappear off into the oblivion of the "Other" folder of your FB inbox, but it would be great to meet up. The whole purpose of my trip this year is to find out more about everyday life in Japan (and Fukushima in particular) and - perhaps more importantly - whether I'm up to actually coping with it, so it'd be great to hear about your experiences!

    I've just read your post about the Fukushima citizens health pack, so it seems congratulations are in order for your new official status!