Same report, different headlines.
The World Health Organization’s first major assessment of the impacts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster is unlikely to resolve anyone’s concerns. That’s because media coverage will happily reinforce whatever you expected to learn.
Like all radiation reports since the first ones were created in the mid-1950s, the details are immensely vulnerable to manipulation, depending on what you wish to emphasize.
Because I get email digests of news related to “radiation effects,” I got a few about this one, released today (Feb 28, 2013). Bloomberg’s headline: “Fukushima Radiation Increases Cancer Risk for Girls: WHO.” Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Because I have two daughters, I was particularly concerned by it.
And reading the article, I learned that girls in the area of Japan’s northeastern Fukushima prefecture have as much as 70 percent greater probability of developing thyroid cancer in their lives, because of the accident. They also have a 6 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer. Combined with an earlier Stanford study showing that the accident may account for 1,300 cancer deaths worldwide, the news doesn’t look good.
Unless you read the New York Times. Its headline: “W.H.O. Sees Low Health Risks from Radiation Accident.” That’s the big take-away from this same report? The tone is decidedly upbeat, observing that there would likely be no observable increase in cancer rates in the wider Japanese population, with only “certain types” of cancers occurring at higher rates in children exposed to the highest doses of radioactivity.
It also notes that many of the disaster’s impacts would be psychological, and that allaying people’s concerns is high on Japanese officials’ minds. Some are downright mad at the WHO for even addressing the subject. One nearby town mayor voiced his ”extreme anger over this excessive analysis.”