Is Fukushima A Factor In Japan’s Record Deaths In 2011-12?

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Yoichi Shimatsu
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IThe CIA’s projected Japan death rate for 2012 is shown in this chart. Instead, after the Fukushima disaster, the actual mortality rate is the same as 2011.

Contravening the Japanese government’s claim that not a single person has yet to die from Fukushima radiation, national mortality figures just released to the press by the Ministry of Health and Welfare presents undeniable data confirming a record high death rate since the 3.11 disaster.

Is Fukushima A Factor In Japan’s Record Deaths In 2011-12

A close independent look at the mortality data from years 2011 and 2012 suggests at least 6,000 deaths, and likelier many thousands more, were triggered or abetted by radioactive contamination of the nation’s food supply and living environment.

The Health Ministry cites the leading causes of death as cancer, heart disease, pneumonia and cerebrovascular disorders (hemorrhaging and clots in the brain). These apparent causes, in many cases, could well have been just the final blow to a patient whose health was seriously compromised by radiation exposure. Nuclear isotopes, especially when ingested through food or via the lungs, can be the primary causal factor behind the deterioration of the immune system, nerves and muscles, making the patient far more vulnerable to organ failure or attack by pathogens.

Japan also saw a record drop in the national birth rate, with only 1,033,000 newborns, a fall of 18,000 since the previous year. The substantial decrease in births indicates the reluctance of young couples to parent children in a country inundated with radiation, which already affects maternal health during the prenatal period. The combination of more deaths and a declining birth rate resulted in Japan’s population shrinking by 212,000 individuals over the past 12 months – a historic record low.

Numbers Don’t Lie

The record year for mortality in Japan, 2011, witnessed 1,253,066 deaths, not counting the estimated 2,700 tsunami victims who are missing and presumed dead. Included in the annual total are 15,878 fatalities from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, based on figures from the National Police Agency.

Now, if the casualties from the Tohoku disasters are subtracted from the 2011 annual total, then 1,243,188 people died of causes other than the quake and tidal wave. That figure is lower than the Health Ministry’s estimate for the number of deaths in 2012, which stands at 1,245,000.

Therefore, the past year was a deadliest 12-month period ever in terms of non-disaster fatalities.  This rise in the death toll cannot be attributed to a major disaster, contagion (such as the avian influenza outbreaks of previous years) or major industrial accident. The record number of deaths in 2012 is going unexplained by the Health Ministry, which dares not inquire into the actual underlying cause.

Are we here making a rush to judgment in linking the record mortality rate to radiation effects from the Fukushima meltdowns? Absolutely not ­ the hard data points to exactly the missing factor of radiation.

Defying a Trend

For the many readers who dislike arithmetic, either bear with these calculations or skip down to the later sections. In the four years from 2007 to 2010, national mortality increased by a steady rate of 0.28 deaths per 1,000 people.

What accounts for the rising trend of fatalities? That four-year period witnessed the deaths of elderly patients above 70 years of age whose childhoods coincided with the deprivation of World War II and the immediate postwar years. Many suffered from chronic poor health due to malnutrition, tuberculosis and hepatitis during their youth.

The grim reaper removed many of these less-than-healthy seniors from the population, leaving a relatively fit cohort of the elderly – a majority of them women who were not exposed as much as their husbands to postwar occupational risks (industrial chemicals, pesticides, heavy smoking, tainted alcohol, and so forth). In 2011, the mortality rate slowed as it reached a peak, indicating a trend reversal would start in 2012, considering the better health of survivors in a society known for its high life expectancy.

For this reason, the CIA in its World Fact Book (January 2011, before the Tohoku disaster) projected Japan’s death rate for 2012 to radically decline from a 2011 peak of 10.09 per thousand people down to 9.15, or a full point lower than the 2007 rate. If the huge drop in births since the Fukushima disaster did not factor in, the Japanese population should have registered a slight increase in 2012.

Converted into raw numbers, total deaths in 2012 could reasonably be expected to decrease to less than 1,239.00, or about 6,000 fewer than Health Ministry’s current estimate. The much-anticipated trends of decreasing mortality and population growth did not happen, not after Fukushima.

Radiation as Probable Cause

The disparity of 6,000 more deaths that anticipated point to a hidden cause for these unexpected fatalities. Again, without any major pandemic or disaster over the past 12 months, the only external factor that can account for the spike in deaths is radiation exposure.

That number is an extremely conservative estimate, based on a rather cautious CIA projection for a declining mortality rate. Seen from another angle, 6,000 deaths outnumber the toll of every contagion since the typhoid outbreaks that swept Japan in the 19th century.

How did radiation kill these thousands of Japanese? From my past discussions with Japanese cardiologists, some 7,000 people in Japan die annually of heart disease, either from a failed valve or spasmodic seizure. Due to their low average body weight compared with other races, elderly Japanese tend to have a much smaller heart size, in some cases hardly larger than a bird’s, making them more vulnerable to external factors. Cesium, when ingested and circulated through the blood, tends to accumulate in the flesh, especially the involuntary muscles of the heart. Internal radiation at close distance affects the rhythm of the heart beat, causing a fatal seizure.

Another vital organ, constantly infused by the bloodstream, is the brain, whose circuitry is susceptible to cesium-emitted neutrons. Subsequent brain damage can lead to seizures and hemorrhages, which more often than not can be fatal.

Elderly Japanese, especially males, are prone to radiation dosages because of their prior exposure during the two decades of atmospheric atomic testing in the South Pacific. Those warm waters are breeding grounds for tuna, which comprise a significant part of the national diet, especially for older residents. Another factor for vulnerability among that postwar generation is the repeated high dosages of X-rays at a time when tuberculosis was a major public health risk

Projection for Baby Boomers and Children

The lack of any reasonable degree of guidance, due to radiation denial among health authorities and the medical community, some tentative projections are provided here, although admittedly based on a questionable set of official data.

The burgeoning death rate will probably not continue for many more years, given that the relatively healthy baby-boomer generation are reaching retirement age. By the time of their childhood years, nutrition, public health and medical care had improved dramatically across Japan. Due to their habitual drinking of alcohol and chain smoking, however, radiation exposure from the ongoing Fukushima meltdowns is likely to expedite cancers of the lung, liver and brain.

Child mortality, which has yet to show up strongly in the 2011-12 findings, can be expected to rise significantly from 2015 onward, given the “gestation” period of leukemia, heart disease and cancers of the lung and gut. A major crisis in pediatrics has, however, already started with many reports of larynx nodules in Fukushima children. The threat to child health across the nation is rooted in the criminal failure of the Education Ministry to ensure a radiation-free diet in lunch programs. The provision of radioactive beef in school meals goes far beyond negligence and corruption into grounds for manslaughter charges ­ that is in any basically democratic society, which Japan is not.

The politics of radiation denial only adds to the ongoing tragedy after the Fukushima meltdowns. The downsizing of Japan’s population will probably last for another half century, unless a second wave of meltdowns transforma the archipelago into an  uninhabitable wasteland. With its irrational policies, the current government seems determined to do just that, bring down a nuclear apocalypse upon the diminishing ranks of the Japanese people.

Call to Medical Ethics

Bound by their outdated norms of strict case privacy, doctors and hospitals are failing their patients by not speaking out for public health, starting with a critique of the Health Ministry for issuing a report that allows no consideration of radiation as a health threat. The Fukushima meltdowns are posing a life-and-death issue, and the Hippocratic Oath demands a courageous ethical stance among health professionals.

While the radiation-linked deaths are at an epidemic level, the greater problem is living within an environment overwhelmed and continually aggravated by the Fukushima meltdowns. Lifelong radiation-linked illnesses, with their many irritating and painful symptoms, can hardly be called “living”. Deprived of jobs and medical care, many citizens have opted to commit suicide rather than continue on in hopeless misery. The casual acceptance of a neighbor’s suicide out of desperation is a deplorable disgrace happening as it is in one of the world’s richest societies.

The responsibility for these deaths and suicides lies in a tyrannical bureaucracy and the pro-nuclear politicians who deny the existence of any public health threat related to radiation exposure. Even their latest whitewash, the Health Ministry’s demographics report on 2012 , cannot but silently point toward a “radiation epidemic” sweeping Japan.

Yet the officials go on shamelessly repeating the obvious lie that nobody has yet to die from the lethal rain from Fukushima. Under the iron rule of “see no evil,  hear no evil, speak no evil”, the dying Japanese people are prisoners on the Planet of the Apes.

Yoichi Shimatsu, a science writer based in Hong Kong, is former editor of The Japan Times Weekly.

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