IRSN, Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire

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State of knowledge on the health consequences of a nuclear accident

Last update: March 2021

​​​Numerous research programs and epidemiological studies were and are being conducted on the health consequences for first responders, workers, and affected populations following the accidents at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. This in-depth feature provides a summary of these studies.

It focuses primarily on the risks of thyroid cancer in people exposed to ionizing radiation during childhood and adolescence, but also covers other types of cancer and non-cancerous effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, particularly in workers involved in these two accidents.

Thyroid cancer after a nuclear accident​

​To date, thyroid cancer in people exposed during childhood and adolescence is the main health effect demonstrated to be associated with radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident, due to iodine-131.

After the Fukushima Daiichi accident, based on the experience gained from the Chernobyl accident, systematic screening for thyroid cancer was established in Fukushima Prefecture for young people who were under 18 years of age at the time of the accident. At this time, about 10 years after the accident, it is still premature to say whether there is an increase in thyroid cancer due to the Fukushima Daiichi accident.​​​


​Other cancers and non-cancer effects after a nuclear accident​

Thyroid cancer is not the only possible pathology after a nuclear accident.Other types of cancer, as well as non-cancerous pathologies such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, have been reported in some ​​studies.


Bibliography and References​

A selection of major scientific publications to go further into these subjects.​​​

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