No rise in cancer seen from Japan's nuclear disaster: UN

VIENNA (REUTERS) - Cancer rates are not expected to rise after Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident as people quickly left the area hit by the world's worst such disaster in 25 years, a UN scientific committee said on Friday.

Wolfgang Weiss, a senior member of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (Unscear), said the evacuation of tens of thousands of people had sharply lowered radiation exposure.

The dose levels were "so low that we don't expect to see any increase in cancer in the future in the population", he told reporters during an Unscear meeting to discuss a draft report to be presented to the UN General Assembly later this year.

A magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, killed nearly 19,000 people and devastated the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, spewing radiation and forcing about 160,000 people to flee their homes.

It was the biggest nuclear accident since a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine in 1986. Studies into that accident have linked thyroid cancer to radioactive iodine from Chernobyl.

Unscear's findings appeared to differ somewhat from a World Health Organisation (WHO) report published in February which said people in the area worst affected have a slightly higher risk of developing certain cancers.

Weiss suggested the Unscear study, carried out by 80 experts and with the involvement of five international organisations including the United Nations health agency, was based on information covering a longer period after the accident.

"So they (the WHO) didn't have the full picture. We don't have the full picture either but we have more than one year in addition," he said.

Unscear's 27 member states and 180 experts met this week in Vienna to scrutinise the report.