FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fukushima’s Nuclear Casualties

by JOSEPH MANGANO

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.  

Notes.

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.

COMING IN SEPTEMBER

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


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail