New evidence from Fukushima shows that as many as 2,000 people have died from necessary evacuations, writes Ian Fairlie, while another 5,000 will die from cancer. Future assessments of fatalities from nuclear disasters must include deaths from displacement-induced ill-heath and suicide in addition to those from direct radiation impacts.
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.
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 suicide has 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 "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."
Continue reading at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.
Fukushima sign image via Shutterstock.