TUESDAY, July 17, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Radiation from last year's disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant may eventually cause up to 1,300 deaths and 2,500 cases of cancer worldwide, according to U.S. researchers who calculated the global health effects of the incident.
Most of those deaths and cancer cases would occur in Japan, the Stanford University team said.
Although their estimates have a large range of uncertainty, the findings challenge previous claims that the radioactivity released by the damaged plant was not likely to cause any severe health effects.
The researchers' calculations are in addition to the approximately 600 deaths caused by the evacuation of the area around the nuclear plant after the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and meltdown.
The study, published July 17 in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is the first detailed analysis of how the disaster could affect health around the world.
For the study, the investigators used a global atmospheric model to predict the transport of radioactive material released by the plant and used another model to estimate the health effects of the radiation.
The health effects would overwhelmingly occur in Japan, with extremely small effects in mainland Asia and North America. For example, the United States was predicted to have between 0 and 12 deaths and 0 to 30 cancer cases related to radiation from the Fukushima plant.
The findings should "serve to manage the fear in other countries that the disaster had an extensive global reach," study author John Ten Hoeve, a recent Ph.D. graduate, said in a Stanford news release.
The World Health Organization has more about health concerns associated with the Fukushima disaster.