Thyroid cancer risk for 2,000 Fukushima workers

July 19, 2013 10:41 am
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Acting head of TEPCO nuclear power and facilities points at steam rising from the Fukushima plant, July 18, 2013/AFP
Acting head of TEPCO nuclear power and facilities points at steam rising from the Fukushima plant, July 18, 2013/AFP

, TOKYO, July 19 – Around 2,000 people who have worked at Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant face a heightened risk of thyroid cancer, its operator said Friday.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) said 1,973 people around 10 percent of those employed in emergency crews involved in the clean up since the meltdowns were believed to have been exposed to enough radiation to cause potential problems.

The figure is a 10 fold increase on TEPCO’s previous estimate of the number of possible thyroid cancer victims and comes after the utility was told its figures were too conservative.

Each worker in this group was exposed to at least 100 millisieverts of radiation, projections show.

Although little is known about the exact health effects of radiation on the human body, the level is considered by doctors to be a possible threshold for increased cancer risk.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant became the site of the worst nuclear disaster in a generation after the massive tsunami of March 2011 destroyed its cooling systems.

The plant’s reactors went through meltdowns that caused explosions in the buildings housing them, spewing radioactive materials into the air, sea and soil.

Tens of thousands of people were forced from their homes in a large area around the plant, where crews continue to clear debris and cool the reactors.

The fragility of the wrecked plant was brought into sharp relief again Thursday with the discovery of steam in the roofless building around Reactor 3.

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