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Fukushima Five Years After: Health Researchers Turn Blind Eye to Casualties

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Last month made five years since the nuclear plant at Fukushima, Japan suffered meltdowns. The release of highly toxic radiation from the reactors was enormous, on the level of the Chernobyl disaster a generation earlier. But Fukushima is arguably worse than Chernobyl. There were four reactors that melted down, vs. just one at Chernobyl. And the Chernobyl reactor was buried in a matter of weeks, while Fukushima is still not controlled, and radioactive contaminants continue to leak into the Pacific. In time, this may prove to be the worst environmental catastrophe ever.

Japan, which had 54 reactors in operation, closed them all to improve safety features. But the nation’s people, who had suffered from the two atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are adamantly against nuclear power. As a result, despite strong efforts of government and industry, only three (3) reactors have been brought back on line.

While the people struggle against leaders to determine the nuclear future of Japan, many questions remain. The most crucial question is, without doubt, how many casualties occurred from the 2011 disaster?

Public health leaders have addressed the topic with ignorance and deception. A search of the medical literature shows only two studies in Japan that review actual changes in disease and death rates. One showed that 127 Fukushima-area children have developed thyroid cancer since the meltdown; a typical number of cases for a similar sized population of children would be about 5-10. The other study showed a number of ectopic intrathyroidal problems in local children – a disorder that is extremely rare. No other studies looking at changes in infant deaths, premature births, child cancers, or other radiation-sensitive diseases are available.

But the literature also shows that researchers have been pouring out articles on mental health and psychological impacts on local residents. Journals from Japan and other nations have printed research on stress, behavioral changes, fears, and even changes in average blood pressure (blaming it on concerns about the meltdown). At least 51 of these articles are listed on the National Library of Medicine web site.

The same pattern occurred after prior meltdowns. The 1979 meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania was followed by a total denial that anyone had been harmed. The first journal article on changes in cancer cases didn’t appear until nearly 12 years after the meltdown; it showed a 64% rise in cancer cases within 10 miles of the plant during the first five years after the accident. The authors, from Columbia University, blamed this increase on stress and psychological reactions to the disaster.

After Chernobyl, the same corruption of scientific investigation occurred. The 31 emergency workers who helped bury the red-hot reactor and died from high exposures became almost a mantra (“Chernobyl caused only 31 deaths”) despite the massive amount of fallout it dispersed across the globe. A 2009 compendium of 5,000 articles, published by the New York Academy of Sciences, estimated about 1 million deaths from the meltdown occurred in the following 20 years. Unfortunately, nuclear supporters have made the assumption that nobody died from Fukushima, while churning out study after study on how a meltdown affects mental status – and no other part of the body.

But the truth is that Fukushima radiation, a mix of over 100 chemicals found only in atomic reactors and bombs, has caused considerable harm. University of South Carolina biology professor Timothy Mousseau has made multiple trips to Japan, collecting specimens of plants and animals. He and colleagues have published numerous journal articles showing DNA damage and actual disease near the plant. So if plants and animals are affected, it is logical that humans are as well.

And while the damage is worst in Japan, the harm spread for long distances. Right after the meltdown, prevailing winds drove Fukushima fallout across the Pacific, reaching the U.S. West Coast in 5 days, and moving through the air across the nation. EPA data showed that the West Coast, had the highest levels of fallout in the weeks following the accident, up to 200 times normal. In the years since, the slower-moving radiation in the Pacific has moved steadily eastward, reaching the U.S. West Coast, and contaminating fish and aquatic plant life along the way.

We published three journal articles showing that babies born in the West Coast in the nine months after Fukushima had a 16% jump in defective thyroids, compared to little change in the rest of the country. It’s time that health researchers stop its corrupt approach to Fukushima, and produce some actual statistics on changes in disease and death rates among affected populations – in Japan and in other countries. Not coming to grips with the truth will only raise the chance of another catastrophic meltdown in the future, raising the already-enormous number of casualties from nuclear power.

Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, is the author of Mad Science (pub. 2012) as well and many articles on the effects of nuclear power. He is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project and can be reached at:  (www.radiation.org). Janette D. Sherman, M. D. is the author of Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer and Chemical Exposure and Disease, and is a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology. She edited the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature, written by A. V. Yablokov, V. B., Nesterenko and A. V. Nesterenko, published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009.  Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education.  She can be reached at:  toxdoc.js@verizon.netand www.janettesherman.com

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