May 2015 – JAPAN – Tokyo Electric Power Co. should consider discharging water contaminated by the Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdowns into the Pacific Ocean, the International Atomic Energy Agency said. More than four years after the nuclear power-plant disaster in Japan, the United Nations agency renewed pressure for an alternative to holding the tainted water in tanks and offered to help monitor for offshore radiation. “The IAEA team believes it is necessary to find a sustainable solution to the problem of managing contaminated water,” the Vienna-based agency said in a report. “This would require considering all options, including the possible resumption of controlled discharges into the sea.’
Tepco officials are still using water to cool molten nuclear fuel from the reactors and while on-site tanks were installed to hold 800,000 cubic meters of effluent, engineers have battled leaks and groundwater contamination. The assessment, published Thursday, was based on visits by an IAEA team in February and April. The IAEA also said it would send scientists to collect water and sediment samples off the Fukushima coastline to improve data reliability. ‘‘TEPCO is advised to perform an assessment of the potential radiological impact to the population and the environment arising from the release of water containing tritium and any other residual radionuclides to the sea in order to evaluate the radiological significance,’’ the agency said. ‘‘The IAEA team recognizes the need to also consider socio-economic conditions .’’
Previous releases of Fukushima contamination into the Pacific have drawn protests by Japanese fishermen and environmental groups. Fish caught off the coast of Fukushima have been subject to testing for radiation before being sold. Contamination from Fukushima has been measured off the western coasts of the U.S. and Canada, signaling the need for more monitoring, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the largest private non-profit research group looking at the world’s oceans. Though contamination levels off the North American coast are ‘‘extremely low,’’ oceans need to be monitored ‘‘after what is certainly the largest accidental release of radioactive contaminants to the oceans in history,’’ Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at Woods Hole, said last month. –Bloomberg
16 young people diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Fukushima Prefecture
Sixteen young people who lived near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, prefectural authorities said May 18, although they added it is “unlikely” a direct result of the nuclear accident. Fukushima Prefecture has been conducting thyroid tests on about 385,000 residents and others who were 18 years old or younger at the time of the onset of the March 2011 nuclear disaster caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. A prefectural panel said the results of the first round of tests that concluded in March 2014 revealed the ratio of those diagnosed or suspected of having thyroid cancer who live near the Fukushima plant was no different than the ratio of the same age group from elsewhere in Japan.
The 16 new cases were detected between January and March, and bring the total number of young people diagnosed with the disease in the testing program to 103. Thyroid cancer can be confirmed only after surgery. The prefecture is currently conducting its second survey of test subjects, which will be concluded in March 2016. The latest 16 include 12 individuals who were suspected of having the disease during the first study, and four who were believed to have the disease during the second study. According to prefectural officials, 112 young people were diagnosed or suspected of having thyroid cancer during the first study, with the figure at 15, thus far, in the second survey, bringing the total to date to 127 people.
Because babies and small children are particularly susceptible to the effects of radiation, many cases of thyroid cancer in infants were reported after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. However, this has not proven to be the case so far with regard to the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The prefectural panel will further study the impact of radiation exposure on the frequency of thyroid cancer cases by comparing the findings of the first survey with results of the second study and future check-ups. –Asahi