People living in areas most contaminated by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NPP) disaster that occurred during Japan’s March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, have a higher risk of developing certain cancers, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Around one-third of emergency workers are also estimated to have an increased risk of developing certain cancers, the report notes.

The WHO says the findings underline the need for long-term health monitoring of those who are at high risk.

Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health and Environment, notes:

A breakdown of data, based on age, gender and proximity to the nuclear plant, does show a higher cancer risk for those located in the most contaminated parts. Outside these parts – even in locations inside Fukushima Prefecture – no observable increases in cancer incidence are expected.”

In addition to strengthening medical support and services, WHO says continued environmental monitoring, in particular of food and water supplies, backed by enforcement of existing regulations, is required to reduce potential radiation exposure in future.

As well as the direct health impact on the population, the WHO report notes that the psychosocial impact may have a consequence on health and well-being and that these should not be ignored as part of the overall response.

The first-ever analysis of the global health effects due to radiation exposure after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster also points out that for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.

The report is the result of a two-year WHO-led process of analysis of estimated doses and their potential health implications.