A new study has found that children living around Japan’s Fukushima, where in 2011 a tsunami caused a nuclear reactor to melt down, are diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a rate that is 20 to 50 times higher than normal.
The most recent numbers, from the US-based International Society for Environmental Epidemiology and the Fukushima Medical University, show that 137 children out of the 370,000 living in the region have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer—up from 25 last year—whereas elsewhere the disease appears in one or two children for every million, the AP reports.
The finding, published in the latest issue of the journal Epidemiology, goes against the Japanese government’s view, which many scientists agree with, that doctors have found more cancer cases in the disaster’s vicinity because of increased screenings, rather than more instances of the cancer. Scientists are divided on the new findings, with some citing a lack of individual data on radiation doses. Researchers have found a definitive connection to thyroid cancer and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine.