DecryptionA UN committee estimates that no death or cancer is, to date, directly attributable to radiation, the effects of which will be felt in the environment for centuries. Other experts are calling for further epidemiological studies.
Ten years ago, a very powerful earthquake and the gigantic tsunami it caused ravaged the northeast coast of Japan, killing more than 18,000 people. The site of the Fukushima Daiichi power station, one of the largest in the world, was then swallowed up. In addition to the natural disaster, one of the most serious nuclear accidents in history – ranked at level 7, the highest, on the international scale of nuclear events – whose effects are major.
- Radiation exposure: consequences that are difficult to “perceive”
The United Nations Scientific Committee for the Study of the Effects of Ionizing Radiation (Unscear) drew up an initial assessment of the impact of the accident in October 2013. Almost eight years later, after taking into account the studies and work published in recent years, its experts come to the same conclusion: No deaths or adverse health effects of residents of Fukushima Prefecture directly attributable to radiation exposure have been documented, and there is little likely that a future effect on health is noticeable, they write in a report published Tuesday, March 9.
“There is always a risk of cancer when populations are exposed, even at low doses, but we do not think we can detect an increase over the normal incidence of the disease in this population”, explains Gillian Hirth, president of Unscear.
The incidence of thyroid cancer has been particularly observed. The Chernobyl accident made it possible to clearly establish the correlation between exposure to radioactive fallout and the risk of developing this type of cancer, due to iodine 131. As early as 2011, the Japanese authorities therefore launched a systematic screening program for thyroid cancer among 360,000 residents of Fukushima province under the age of 18. These campaigns revealed a very large number of cancers but, for scientists, this result would be linked to a “Screening effect”, leading to overdiagnosis, rather than exposure to radiation.
“Improved techniques make it possible to identify very small nodules, and therefore cancers which would probably never have occurred in part., explains Enora Cléro, epidemiologist at the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). These screening campaigns were carried out in the prefecture of Fukushima but also in prefectures that were not exposed to radioactive fallout, and the results obtained are similar. ” For IRSN, it is therefore “Still premature” to decide on a possible increase in thyroid cancer.
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