Parents of children who underwent thyroid gland examinations for radiation on Oct. 9 had harsh words for the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co.
The first tests of the lengthy health check program for children under 19 were conducted on 144 young residents from the three villages of Iitate, Namie and Kawamata at the Fukushima Medical University. All three villages have recorded high radiation levels since the accident started at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 11.
Under the project, the Fukushima prefectural government will examine 360,000 people over two-and-a-half years, and further checks will be conducted periodically over their lifetimes.
In mid-August, the central government's headquarters handling the Fukushima nuclear crisis estimated that 45 percent of 1,150 children under 16 in Iwaki, Kawamata, Iitate showed some internal exposure to radiation on their thyroid glands. But the headquarters determined that the exposure levels found in the tests taken from March 24 to 30 were not high enough to raise an alarm.
A 43-year-old mother who took her four sons, from 5 to 11 years old, to the Fukushima Medical University for the Oct. 9 thyroid gland examinations questioned the government's earlier reassurances.
"Now it says my sons need to take thyroid gland tests for the rest of their lives. It does not make any sense!" she said. "I don't know when we can feel relieved knowing that our children are really OK."
A 28-year-old father from Iitate, who currently lives in Fukushima city with his two children as an evacuee, blames TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima plant, for the burden placed on his kids.
"I will never ever forgive TEPCO if any unusual symptom surfaces with my children in four or five years," he said. "I really want to go straight down to their head office and tell them how bitter I feel now."
Those covered under the long-term health program are all residents of Fukushima Prefecture who were under 19 as of March 11, the day the Great East Japan Earthquake ravaged northeastern Japan. Those who evacuated outside of the prefecture after the temblor are included.
In the tests, doctors place an ultrasonic device on the children's necks to check for swelling in their thyroid glands or lumps that could indicate the possibility of cancer. The check takes about five minutes. The results of the first tests are expected in a month.
"It is highly unlikely that any symptom on thyroid glands caused by radiation will be detected (only seven months after the nuclear accident started), but we want parents to know the current condition of their children's thyroid glands, which we hope will reassure the parents that their children are OK now," said Shinichi Suzuki, professor of surgical medicine at Fukushima Medical University.
Radioactive iodine entering the body through food and dust is believed to accumulate on the thyroid gland and could lead to cancer. Children are particularly vulnerable, according to medical experts.
But radioactive iodine has a short half-life and soon disappears, making it difficult to assess radiation exposure levels.
Given that the number of children who developed thyroid gland cancer started increasing four or five years after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Fukushima prefectural government initially planned to begin the health checks on children in three years.
But after parents demanded an earlier implementation of the tests, the prefectural government moved up the schedule.
The first round of examinations on all of the children is expected to be completed by March 2014.
(This article was written by Yoshinori Hayashi and Hiroko Saito)
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