Eighteen months after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, children who were not evacuated are found to have thyroid cysts and nodules. What will this mean for their future?

In the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accident, public-health experts worried about the possible risk from radiation. Subsequent analyses have shown that the prompt, if frantic, evacuation of areas around the reactors probably limited the public’s exposure to a relatively safe level (see ‘The evacuation zones’). But uncertainty, isolation and fears about radioactivity’s invisible threat are jeopardizing the mental health of the 210,000 residents who fled from the nuclear disaster.

Researchers and clinicians are trying to assess and mitigate the problems, but it is unclear whether the Japanese government has the will, or the money, to provide the necessary support. Nor is it certain that the evacuees will accept any help, given their distrust of the government and their reluctance to discuss mental problems. This combination, researchers fear, could drive up rates of anxiety, substance abuse and depression.

A very big report came out last month with very little fanfare.

It concluded what we in nuclear science have been saying for decades – radiation doses less than about 10 rem (0.1 Sv) are no big deal. The linear no-threshold dose hypothesis (LNT) does not apply to doses less than 10 rem (0.1 Sv), which is the region encompassing background levels around the world, and is the region of most importance to nuclear energy, most medical procedures and most areas affected by accidents like Fukushima.

The Mainichi news project has covered people from various walks of life: a woman angry at no one taking responsibility for the disaster and calling for a group lawsuit; a family that gave up on returning home and moved away; the former mayor of Okuma where the crippled nuclear plant is located; a fisherman who set up a decontamination company and vowed to see the revival of his hometown; a deputy secretary-general at a teachers union who continued to warn about the dangers of radiation while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Their situations were different, but they shared the grief of having their hometowns stolen from them. They also shared distrust toward a national government that had steamed ahead with a policy of promoting nuclear power.

The increased rate of childhood obesity in the prefecture since the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has led some observers to speculate radiation fears caused the increase.

Although the vast majority of fish tested off the Tohoku region remain below recently tightened food safety limits for cesium-134 and cesium-137, government data show that 40 percent of bottom fish, including cod, flounder and halibut, are still above the limit, Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, wrote in an article published Thursday in the journal Science.

The authorities are wasting time cleaning up evacuated areas, instead of prioritizing decontamination efforts in places where people live, Greenpeace said.

The organization found some school facilities and parks in Fukushima city where radiation was above 3 microsieverts per hour. The legally recommended limit is 0.23 microsieverts per hour.

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“The government continues to downplay radiation risks and give false hope (of returning home) to victims of this nuclear disaster,” a representative of the organization said.

The temperature in the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 spent fuel pool never exceeded 90 degrees C and the level in the pool never fell below the top of the used fuel that was stored there. The Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the people who supported his testimony to Congress on the afternoon of March 16, 2011 were dead wrong.

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Those are the conclusions that should have been announced upon completion of a paper titled _Study of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit 4 Spent-Fuel Pool_.

Be that as it may. As a layperson, I might question the wisdom in storing tons and tons of radioactive and heat-generating spent fuel for extended periods of time in an on-premise pool. But what do I know?

Wearing white protective gear and wielding sickles, officials of the Okuma town government on Oct. 10 cut and bundled rice plants grown in the no-entry zone established after last year's nuclear disaster.

The plants were cultivated on an experimental basis to determine the radiation level of rice grown in radioactively contaminated soil.

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"We cannot imagine when people of this town can return to their homes. It may be several years from now or several decades from now. But we hope that the result of this experiment will help farmers who want to return to this town to resume their farming in the future," said Kiyoyuki Matsumoto, 35, a town government official who is managing the two plots of the rice field.

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