Thyroid Cancers in Ukraine Related to the Chernobyl Accident
In March 2011 a series of cascading disasters hit the northeast coast of Japan — earthquake and tsunami, then a nuclear emergency. While the first two created widespread devastation and untold suffering, the third is likely to have the longest-felt effects. After the debris has been removed, towns rebuilt and the economy stabilized, evidence from Chernobyl indicates that health concerns will persist for nearby residents for decades to come.
A 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “I-131 Dose-Response for Incident Thyroid Cancers in Ukraine Related to the Chernobyl Accident,” followed 12,500 participants (who were under 18 and had known thyroid radioactivity levels at the time of the Chernobyl accident) and screened them for thyroid cancer up to four times between 1998 and 2008.
Results of the study include:
- Across the sample population there exists an increased risk of thyroid cancer 20 years after the initial exposure. This risk was not uniform for the whole sample and was most varied conditional on geographical distance from the plant at the time of exposure.
- The level of increased risk of thyroid cancer was quantified at on average 1.91 times higher for every additional gray of radiation. (A gray = the absorption of one joule of ionizing radiation per one kilogram of tissue).
- There is no evidence indicating that this increased cancer risk for those who lived in the area at the time of the accident is decreasing at all over time.
Previous studies of atomic bomb survivors have shown that even 30 years after the initial radiation occurs increased cancer risks exist and do not significantly decline until after this point. The authors of this Chernobyl-focused study recognize the need to continue following up with their subjects in order to accurately understand the long-term effects of future nuclear accidents.
Tags: cancer, disasters, nuclear power, nuclear waste, technology
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Chernobyl Study Says Health Risks Linger."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.