Fukushima’s Nuclear Casualties


It’s been nearly 18 months since the disastrous nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.  There have been many reports on the huge amounts of radioactivity escaping into the air and water, unusually high levels in air, water, and soil – along with atypically high levels of toxic chemicals in food – that actually “passed” government inspection and wasn’t banned like some other food.

Conspicuously absent are reports on effects of radiation exposure on the health of the Japanese people.  Have any health officials publicly announced post-March 2011 numbers on fetal deaths, infant deaths, premature births, birth defects, cancer, or other health conditions?  The answer so far is an emphatic “no.”

The prolonged silence doesn’t mean data doesn’t exist.  Japanese health officials have been busy with their usual duties of collecting and posting statistics on the Internet for public inspection.  It’s just that they aren’t calling the public’s attention to these numbers.  Thus, it is the public who must find the information and figure out what it means.  After locating web sites, translating from Japanese, adding data for each of 12 months, and making some calculations, mortality trends in Japan after Fukushima are emerging.

The Japanese government health ministry has posted monthly estimated deaths for the 12 months before and after Fukushima, for the entire nation of Japan.  These are preliminary figures, but they have historically been very good estimates of final numbers.  A further look is in order.

Total deaths increased 4.8%, compared to the normal 1.5% annual rise.  Since about 1.2 million Japanese people die each year, this computes to an excess of 57,900 deaths.  The rise in deaths from accidents is given as 19,200, close to estimates of those killed directly by the earthquake and tsunami.  But this still leaves an excess of 38,700 Japanese deaths, with no obvious cause.

The reports provide mortality numbers for 12 common causes, making up about 80% of all deaths in Japan, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and pneumonia.  Each increased in the past year, with the exception of homicide and suicide.  The category “other,” which is a collection of all other causes, rose 5.9%.   The sharpest increases occurred immediately after the meltdowns, in March-June 2011 (vs. the same period 2010), a finding consistent with that found in preliminary mortality in the U.S. in a December 2011 article I co-authored with Dr. Janette Sherman in the International Journal of Health Services.

Nobody should yet race to conclusions that 38,700 Japanese died from Fukushima exposure in the first year after the disaster.  Several activities must occur.  The final death statistics must first be posted, which will occur sometime next year.  Counts of deaths and diseases among infants who are most susceptible to radiation exposure must be made public.  Numbers for each area of Japan must be made public – radiation exposure from Fukushima would likely result in the highest rises in mortality in areas closest to the damaged plant.  Numbers of deaths must be converted into rates, to account for any change in population.

Other potential factors accounting for increased mortality must be considered.  For example, were there any fatal epidemics post-March 2011?  Was access to medical services reduced in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami?  Changes in morbidity and mortality rates often have more than one contributing cause.

The final element needed before conclusions are made is patience; vital statistics must continue to be tracked, and compared with radiation exposures to the Japanese people.  One year after the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, which joins Fukushima as the two worst nuclear disasters in history, no examinations of deaths among nearby Soviet citizens had been done.  In fact, data was suppressed, and the standard line from the Soviet government – and for years after – was that 31 emergency workers who died putting out the fire at the stricken reactor were the only casualties.

Fast forward 20-plus years, with the publication of a 2009 book by the New York Academy of Sciences.  A team of Russian researchers, led by Dr. Alexey Yablokov, published results of 5,000 reports and articles on Chernobyl – many in Russian languages never before made public.  Yahlokov’s team concluded that near Chernobyl, increases in diseases and deaths were observed for nearly every human organ system.  They estimated that 985,000 persons died as a result of Chernobyl exposures by 2004 – and that many more were to follow.

There is no question that even if Fukushima studies proceed and are conducted in an objective manner, it will take years before the true extent of casualties are known.  However, an early estimate of 38,700 additional unexplained deaths in Japan in just one year must be taken seriously, and underline the need for Fukushima health studies to be made a top priority, in Japan and in other affected nations.

Joseph J. Mangano, MPH MBA, is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project in New York.  


Monthly mortality statistics from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, are available at http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/new-info/jul_2012.html.  Death statistics are in the July 26, 2012 publication “Monthly Vital Statistics Report (preliminary data) February 2012” and then select the same report for the prior 11 months.


A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch

Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …

Subscribe to CounterPunch Today to Reserve Your Copy

Weekend Edition
November 28-30, 2015
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving