• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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.  

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:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
May 23, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Belligerence of Empire
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail