More Anti-Nuclear Fearmongering: Thyroid Growths in Fukushima

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    Last week, the conspiracy theorist blogosphere latched onto a story claiming that “36 percent of Fukushima children have abnormal thyroid growths.” The story was also picked up by Michael Kelley of Business Insider, who wrote sensational articles blaming the thyroid growths on Fukushima.

    There are major problems with the story being told by Kelley and the conspiracy theorist bloggers.

    • We do not have data about the number of thyroid growths found in years before the Fukushima accident.
    • The 36 percent result is compared to data from a 2001 study that found thyroid growths in less than 1% of children in Nagasaki. However, comparisons between the two are very difficult to make because the Nagasaki study used entirely different methods and only reported on nodules/cysts larger than 5.0 mm. The most recent Fukushima data reports on growths of all sizes, with nodules smaller than 5.0 mm accounting for much of the infamous 36 percent.
    • It is too early for this to happen in Fukushima. It took years for thyroid cancer to develop in Children who lived near Chernobyl, where radiation exposure levels were considerably higher. Scientific Reports, a journal operated by the prestigious Nature Publishing Group, recently published a study on thyroid exposure in Fukushima. A group of Japanese scientists concluded that Fukushima evacuees were exposed to radiation, but it wasn’t even remotely close to the levels of exposure suffered by people who lived near Chernobyl:
    • Here we report for the first time extensive measurements of the exposure to I-131 revealing I-131 activity in the thyroid of 46 out of the 62 residents and evacuees measured. The median thyroid equivalent dose was estimated to be 4.2 mSv and 3.5 mSv for children and adults, respectively, much smaller than the mean thyroid dose in the Chernobyl accident (490 mSv in evacuees). Maximum thyroid doses for children and adults were 23 mSv and 33 mSv, respectively.

    • Kelley treats professional anti-nuclear fearmongers and conspiracy theorist blogs as credible sources of analysis.
    • Kelley’s article claims that the “New York Academy of Sciences estimates that nearly one million people around the world have died from exposure to radiation released by the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor.” Back in 2011, environmentalist George Monbiot found that the publication in question was a translation of a Russian book, and was not in any sense an official estimate from the New York Academy of Sciences:
    • The academy has given me this statement: “In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer-reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else.”

      Failing to provide sources, refuting data with anecdote, cherry-picking studies, scorning the scientific consensus, invoking a cover-up to explain it: all this is horribly familiar. These are the habits of climate change deniers, against which the green movement has struggled valiantly, calling science to its aid. It is distressing to discover that when the facts don’t suit them, members of this movement resort to the follies they have denounced.

      Just like so many of the other scare stories we have heard about in the last year, this one is rubbish.

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