To date 2,000 people have died as a direct result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster since the accident occurred five years ago.
Many more are expected to die, as the disastrous consequences of the explosions continue to slowly kill Japanese people in a number of different ways -and the Japanese government refuse to recognise or discuss the increasing death count.
Suicide, poor physical health, mental health problems, cancer, radiation poisoning, and exhaustion as a result of the nuclear disaster, are all contributing factors to continuing death counts, especially among the elderly in Japan.
A Japanese Cabinet Office report stated that, between March 2011 and July 2014, 56 suicides in Fukushima Prefecture were linked to the nuclear accident. This should be taken as a minimum, rather than a maximum, figure.
Mental health consequences
It is necessary to include the mental health consequences of radiation exposures and evacuations. For example, Becky Martin has stated her PhD research at Southampton University in the UK shows that “the most significant impacts of radiation emergencies are often in our minds.”
She adds: “Imagine that you’ve been informed that your land, your water, the air that you have breathed may have been polluted by a deadly and invisible contaminant. Something with the capacity to take away your fertility, or affect your unborn children.
“Even the most resilient of us would be concerned … many thousands of radiation emergency survivors have subsequently gone on to develop Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders as a result of their experiences and the uncertainty surrounding their health.”
It is likely that these fears, anxieties, and stresses will act to magnify the effects of evacuations, resulting in even more old people dying or people committing suicide.
Such considerations should not be taken as arguments against evacuations, however. They are an important, life-saving strategy. But, as argued by Becky Martin,
“We need to provide greatly improved social support following resettlement and extensive long-term psychological care to all radiation emergency survivors, to improve their health outcomes and preserve their futures.”
Untoward pregnancy outcomes
Dr Alfred Körblein from Nuremburg in Germany recently noticed and reported on a 15% drop (statistically speaking, highly significant) in the numbers of live births in Fukushima Prefecture in December 2011, nine months after the accident.
This might point to higher rates of early spontaneous abortions. He also observed a (statistically significant) 20% increase in the infant mortality rate in 2012, relative to the long-term trend in Fukushima Prefecture plus six surrounding prefectures, which he attributes to the consumption of radioactive food:
“The fact that infant mortality peaks in May 2012, more than one year after the Fukushima accident, suggests that the increase is an effect of internal rather than external radiation exposure.
“In Germany [after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster] perinatal mortality peaks followed peaks of cesium burden in pregnant women with a time-lag of seven months. May 2012 minus seven months is October 2011, the end of the harvesting season. Thus, consumption of contaminated foodstuff during autumn 2011 could be an explanation for the excess of infant mortality in the Fukushima region in 2012.”
These are indicative rather than definitive findings and need to be verified by further studies. Unfortunately, such studies are notable by their absence.
Cancer and other late effects from radioactive fallout
Finally, we have to consider the longer term health effects of the radiation exposures from the radioactive fallouts after the four explosions and three meltdowns at Fukushima in March 2011. Large differences of view exist on this issue in Japan. These make it difficult for lay people and journalists to understand what the real situation is.
The Japanese Government, its advisors, and most radiation scientists in Japan (with some honourable exceptions) minimise the risks of radiation. The official widely-observed policy is that small amounts of radiation are harmless: scientifically speaking this is untenable.
For example, the Japanese Government is attempting to increase the public limit for radiation in Japan from 1 mSv to 20 mSv per year. Its scientists are trying to force the ICRP to accept this large increase. This is not only unscientific, it is also unconscionable.
Part of the reason for this policy is that radiation scientists in Japan (in the US, as well) appear unable or unwilling to accept the stochastic nature of low-level radiation effects. ‘Stochastic’ means an all-or-nothing response: you either get cancer etc or you don’t.
As you decrease the dose, the effects become less likely: your chance of cancer declines all the way down to zero dose. The corollary is that tiny doses, even well below background, still carry a small chance of cancer: there is never a safe dose, except zero dose.
But, as observed by Spycher et al (2015), some scientists “a priori exclude the possibility that low dose radiation could increase the risk of cancer. They will therefore not accept studies that challenge their foregone conclusion.”
One reason why such scientists refuse to accept radiation’s stochastic effects (cancers, strokes, CVS diseases, hereditary effects, etc) is that they only appear after long latency periods – often decades for solid cancers. For the Japanese Government and its radiation advisors, it seems out-of-sight means out-of-mind.
This conveniently allows the Japanese Government to ignore radiogenic late effects. But the evidence for them is absolutely rock solid. Ironically, it comes primarily from the world’s largest on-going epidemiology study, the Life Span Study of the Japanese atomic bomb survivors by the RERF Foundation which is based in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In sum, the health toll from the Fukushima nuclear disaster is horrendous. At the minimum
* Over 160,000 people were evacuated most of them permanently.
* Many cases of post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders arising from the evacuations.
* About 12,000 workers exposed to high levels of radiation, some up to 250 mSv
* An estimated 5,000 fatal cancers from radiation exposures in future.
* Plus similar (unquantified) numbers of radiogenic strokes, CVS diseases and hereditary diseases.
* Between 2011 and 2015, about 2,000 deaths from radiation-related evacuations due to ill-health and suicides.
* An as yet unquantified number of thyroid cancers.
* An increased infant mortality rate in 2012 and a decreased number of live births in December 2011.
Non-health effects include:
* 8% of Japan (30,000 sq.km), including parts of Tokyo, contaminated by radioactivity.
* Economic losses estimated between $300 and $500 billion.
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