Thursday, August 16, 2012

The human casualties of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Eighteen months have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. 

In this piece in Counterpunch Joseph Mangano analyses the data about the human casualties of the disaster. He concludes that even though it will take years before the true extent of casualties are known an early estimate of 38,700 additional unexplained deaths in Japan in just one year must be taken seriously.

Mangano's conclusions should be see in the context of the findings of recent Japanese Parliamentary panel report that the disaster was "man made" and the corporation involved and the regulatory authorities lacked any sense of responsibility to protect people's lives and society. The Report found the disaster was caused  not by the earthquake but by poor regulation and collusion between the government, the operator and the industry's watchdog.
"Governments, regulatory authorities and Tokyo Electric Power lacked a sense of responsibility to protect people's lives and society," said a summary of the report by the Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission.
It is clear that the accident was a man made disaster"
The Report went on to say:
We believe that the root causes were the organisational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions, rather than issues relating to the competency of any specific individual.

"Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organisation that deals with nuclear power. We found a disregard for global trends and a disregard for public safety."
In his Counter punch piece on the human casualties Mangano writes:
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.
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.

1 comment:

Lantzelot said...

It is an old blog post, but would you care to explain why you have the picture of a burning oil refinery while writing about Fukushima? Wasn't the hydrogen explosions dramatic enough?

Regarding Mangano's "study", an alternative view is offered here: