Communist Party of Australia  

Home


The Guardian

Current Issue

PDF Archive

Web Archive

Pete's Corner

Subscribe

Press Fund


CPA


About Us

Why you should ...

CPA introduction


Contact Us

facebook, twitter


Major Issues

Indigenous

Unions

Health

Housing

Climate Change

Peace

Solidarity/Other


State by State

NSW, Qld, SA, Vic, WA


What's On

Topical


Resources

AMR

Links


Shop@CPA

Books, T-shirts, CDs/DVDs, Badges, Misc


 

Issue #1709      November 4, 2015

Health effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

In summing up the toll from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in terms of deaths, suicides, mental health and suffering, Ian Fairlie warns that the scale of the disaster was far worse than what the official figures indicate and that the ill-effects will linger for a long time into the future. Despite this and strong public opposition, in August, the Japanese authorities restarted one of the country’s nuclear power reactors after a two-year suspension.

Fukushima nuclear disaster – ill-effects will linger for a long time into the future.

Deaths from necessary evacuations

Official data from Fukushima show that nearly 2,000 people died from the effects of evacuations necessary to avoid high radiation exposures from the disaster, including suicides. The uprooting to unfamiliar areas, cutting of family ties, loss of social support networks, disruption, exhaustion, poor physical conditions and disorientation can and do result in many people, in particular older people, dying.

Increased suicides have occurred among younger and older people following the Fukushima evacuations, but the trends are unclear. 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 “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 PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], 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.

The above should not be taken as arguments against evacuations: they are an important, life-saving strategy. But, as argued by 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

Recently, Dr Alfred Korblein from Nuremburg in Germany noticed a 15 percent 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 percent increase in the infant mortality rate in 2012, relative to the long-term trend in Fukushima Prefecture plus six surrounding prefectures. 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 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 laypeople and journalists to understand what the real situation is.

The mass of epidemiological evidence from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 clearly indicates that cancer, etc, increases will very likely also occur at Fukushima, but many Japanese (and US) scientists deny this evidence.

For example, much debate currently exists over the existence and interpretation of increased thyroid cancers, cysts and nodules in Fukushima Prefecture resulting from the disaster. From the findings after Chernobyl, thyroid cancers are expected to start increasing 4-5 years after 2011. It’s best to withhold comment until clearer results become available in 2016, but early indications are not reassuring for the Japanese government. Other solid cancers are expected to increase as well, but it will take a while for these to become manifest.

The best way of forecasting the numbers of late effects (i.e., cancers etc) is by estimating the collective dose to Japan from the Fukushima fallout. We do this by envisaging that everyone in Japan exposed to the radioactive fallout from Fukushima has thereby received lottery tickets, but they are “negative” tickets: if your lottery number comes up, you get cancer. If you live far away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, you get fewer tickets and the chance is low; if you live close, you get more tickets and the chance is higher. You can’t tell who will be unlucky, but you can estimate the total number by using collective doses.

A 2013 report by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) has estimated that the collective dose to the Japanese population from Fukushima is 48,000 person-Sv: this is a very large dose.

Unfortunately, pro-nuclear Japanese scientists also criticise the concept of collective dose as it relies on the stochastic nature of radiation’s effects and on the Linear No Threshold (LNT) model of radiation’s effects which they also refute. But almost all official regulatory bodies throughout the world recognise the stochastic nature of radiation’s effects, the LNT and collective doses.

Summing up Fukushima

About 60 people died immediately during the actual evacuations in Fukushima Prefecture in March 2011. Between 2011 and 2015, an additional 1,867 people in Fukushima Prefecture died as a result of the evacuations following the nuclear disaster. These deaths were from ill health and suicides.

From the UNSCEAR estimate of 48,000 person-Sv, it can be reliably estimated (using a fatal cancer risk factor of 10 percent per Sv) that about 5,000 fatal cancers will occur in Japan in future from Fukushima’s fallout. This estimate from official data agrees with my own personal estimate using a different methodology.

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-traumatic stress disorder, 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, cardiovascular 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:

  • Eight percent of Japan (30,000 km2), including parts of Tokyo, contaminated by radioactivity.
  • Economic losses estimated between US$300 and US$500 billion.

Conclusions

The Fukushima accident is still not over and its ill-effects will linger for a long time into the future. However, we can say now that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima delivered a huge blow to Japan and its people. Some 2,000 Japanese people have already died from the evacuations and another 5,000 are expected to die from future cancers.

It is impossible not to be moved by the scale of Fukushima’s toll in terms of deaths, suicides, mental ill health and human suffering. Fukushima’s effect on Japan is similar to Chernobyl’s massive blow against the former Soviet Union in 1986.

Has the Japanese government, and indeed other governments (including the UK and US), learnt from these nuclear disasters? The US philosopher George Santayana (1863-1962) once stated that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Third World Resurgence

Next article – Culture & Life – Prisons, propaganda and fascism

Back to index page

Go to What's On Go to Shop at CPA Go to Australian Marxist Review Go to Join the CPA Go to Subscribe to the Guardian Go to the CPA Maritime Branch website Go to the Resources section of our web site Go to the PDF of the Hot Earth booklet go to the World Federation of Trade Unions web site go to the Solidnet  web site Go to Find out more about the CPA