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“If thyroid cancer is virtually the only abnormality on which they are focusing, I must say there is a big question mark over the reliability of this survey,” he said.

He also suggested sampling hair, clipped nails and fallen baby teeth to test for radioactive isotopes such as strontium that are undetectable by the survey’s current approach.

“We should check as many potential problems as possible,” Matsui said.

Yasumura acknowledges the main purpose of his study is “to relieve radiation fears.” But Matsui says he has a problem with that.

“A health survey should be a start,” Matsui says, “not a goal.”

Tatsuhiko Kodama, head of the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo, urged quick action to determine the cancer risks.

He said big population surveys and analysis will take so long that it would make more sense to run a careful simulation of radiation exposures and do anything possible to reduce the risks.

“Our responsibility is to tell the people now what possible risks may be to their health,” he said.

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Science Writer Malcolm Ritter reported from New York.