US sailors face grim diagnoses after Fukushima mission — Courthouse News Service

” (CN) – To serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, you must meet certain health and fitness requirements: you must be fit to serve. But a healthy group of young service men and women – many in their 20s – have come down with serious health problems since serving on a humanitarian mission to Fukushima, Japan, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to a nuclear meltdown of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TepCo) nuclear power plant.

Service members have faced cancer, brain tumors, birth defects, and other rare health problems since being exposed to radiation from the Fukushima plant. Some have even died.

Courthouse News talked to some of these service members to find out what’s happened since they came home from Fukushima and why they believe TepCo needs to take responsibility.

“It was a gray smoke that surrounded you, and you didn’t even know what it was”

Naval officer Angel Torres, 47, said he knew his mission to South Korea would be redirected to Fukushima as soon as the earthquake hit. He was aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the first aircraft carrier deployed by the United States to Fukushima as part of humanitarian mission Operation Tomodachi to render aid and supplies to the Japanese people.

He said when the ship arrived he got “an eerie feeling.”

“It was like a cloud I’ve never seen, a gray smoke that surrounded you and you didn’t even know what it was,” Torres said.

Torres said once Navy personnel realized they’d directed the aircraft carrier straight through a radiation plume, there was confusion and a sense of panic. People bought up all the Gatorade and water at the ship store in fear there wouldn’t be water available.

He said they had to drive back through the plume a second time to render aid, and were issued gas masks to wear.

Helicopters which took supplies to people on land “were completely contaminated,” Torres said. Helicopter pilots and personnel were required to throw out their clothes, scrub down and get tested for radiation.

“We all volunteered to join and sometimes you have to do dangerous things, and this was one of them,” Torres said.

“It was our turn.”

The naval officer said commanders told the service members the amount of radiation they were exposed to was negligible, similar to flying in an airplane or eating a banana. Torres said the executive officer of the ship even told the crew they would be fine unless they licked the flight deck.

“That did well to pacify and stabilize the sentiment and general feeling throughout the ship, but I don’t know that I agree with that one bit, because I’ve eaten a lot of bananas,” Torres said.

Twenty-six-year-old Marine Corps veteran Nathan Piekutowski was in Malaysia on a rest stop when his crew on the USS Essexx got word of the tsunami and headed toward Fukushima. He was part of a team that landed to deliver food and supplies, and they wore biological chemical suits.

“Some areas were completely destroyed, it looked like a wall had smashed everything and a hand drew everything back out to sea,” Piekutowski said.

Piekutowski said crew members were also required to take iodine pills to help mitigate radiation exposure and potential thyroid impacts. They closed up all the windows and hatches on the ship as well.

Radiation impacts on sailors’ health

Piekutowski left the Marine Corps shortly after his service in Fukushima. He began exhibiting extreme weight loss and limb swelling months later, in November 2012. He experienced eyesight loss and vomited stomach acid before going to the emergency room on Christmas Day.

He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 21.

“The type of leukemia I had usually is something you get later in life. Early onset can be caused from being around certain types of chemicals,” Piekutowski said.

The following days and months included chemotherapy treatments, but after his leukemia came back less than six months into remission, the Marine received a stem cell transplant. He’s since faced day-long doctor appointments with specialists which require him to take time off work and travel out of town.

Piekutowski disputes TepCo’s contention the service members who’ve faced cancer and other health problems since returning from Fukushima were predisposed to those conditions. The utility claims their health problems are not from the radiation exposure.

“If that were the case, TepCo would have disseminated all the information it should have,” Piekutowski said, referring to the utility’s initial withholding of information after the nuclear meltdown.

“If we were predisposed to a genetic mutation or illness, why lie and cover things up?”

When Torres returned from Fukushima he said he felt weak and tired and didn’t feel like being intimate with his significant other, something out of the ordinary given what Torres called the “honeymoon effect” when a service member returns home from deployment.

When working out six months after coming home, Torres got a hernia which required surgery. Two years later, he had another one.

“I thought ‘oh my gosh, I’m breaking down here, what’s going on?’” Torres said.

He exhibited symptoms of multiple sclerosis and had an MRI scan, but a spinal tap last month showed Torres does not have the disease.

Torres also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he manages through therapy and volunteering with veterans organizations in Chicago.

He said he wishes TepCo would have done “the right thing” and told U.S. officials about the nuclear meltdown before sailors were exposed to radiation.

“When I would deploy to the Middle East, I had a team of sailors and I would look at their wives and children and say: ‘I’m going to make sure your mom and dad are okay. I wish someone would have done that for me,” Torres said.

“There are people that are dying from that carrier. They need to know what these people endured and help them get the help that they need.”

Seeking Justice

Torres and Piekutowski are part of a class action of over 420 sailors suing TepCo and General Electric in San Diego’s federal court. While eight of the sailor-plaintiffs have already died – most from cancer – since the first case was filed in 2012, many others have yet to experience any symptoms and want Tepco to foot the bill for medical monitoring and testing and future health care costs over their lifetime.

The class is represented by high-profile attorneys – former Sen. John Edwards and his daughter Cate Edwards with Edwards Kirby out of North Carolina, along with Charles Bonner of Bonner & Bonner in Sausalito, California, and Paul Garner of San Diego.

In a phone interview, Cate Edwards said there are 23 plaintiffs living with cancer, many of whom served in Fukushima in their early 20s and some as young as 18 years old. In addition to the group facing cancer diagnoses, many of the sailors have degenerative diseases, with some losing mobility and use of their arms and legs in addition to experiencing back problems and eyesight loss.

A 26-month-old toddler born to a sailor-father who served in Fukushima died from brain and spine cancer. Another female sailor opted to end a pregnancy after finding out the fetus had severe birth defects, Edwards said.

“Why are all these young, healthy, fit people getting cancer? Experiencing thyroid issues? It’s too strange to be a coincidence,” Edwards said.

“That just doesn’t happen absent some external cause. All of these people experienced the same thing and were exposed to radiation at Fukushima. A lot of this is just common sense.”

The class has been fighting to get their day in court and get a trial date set. They will inch toward that goal with a motion to dismiss hearing scheduled for Jan. 4. ”

by Bianca Bruno, Courthouse News Service

source

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Suicides rise among Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees — The Asahi Shimbun

” Disaster-related suicides in Fukushima Prefecture have surged this year, with prolonged evacuation from the nuclear accident and uncertainty about returning home or leading normal lives suspected as the main causes.

Nineteen suicides in Fukushima Prefecture from January to the end of November have been tied to the March 2011 triple disaster, up from 15 for all of last year, according to statistics compiled by the Cabinet Office.

Over the same period this year, one disaster-related suicide was recorded in Miyagi and two in Iwate, the two other prefectures that were most heavily damaged nearly five years ago by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Local police determined if a suicide was related to the disaster and subsequent evacuation after talking to bereaved family members.

Suicide statistics in the three prefectures compiled since June 2011 showed that the situation among evacuees is much more despondent in Fukushima Prefecture than in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, according to the Cabinet Office section in charge of dealing with suicides.

So far, a total of 154 suicides have been linked to the disaster in the three prefectures until the end of November 2015. More than half of the deaths were people who lived in Fukushima Prefecture before the disaster struck.

Between June and December 2011, the suicide numbers were 22 in Miyagi Prefecture and 17 in Iwate Prefecture. Fukushima Prefecture recorded 10 in that period.

However, the numbers for Iwate and Miyagi prefectures have subsequently declined while the figure for Fukushima Prefecture has been at least 10 a year.

Many disaster victims in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures have been able to return to their hometowns to lead comparatively normal lives.

But evacuation orders remain for six municipalities in the vicinity of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and parts of three other local governments in the prefecture.

As of November, about 24,000 people in Iwate and about 55,000 in Miyagi were living in temporary housing away from their homes. In Fukushima, the number was about 103,000.

“The problems facing Fukushima disaster victims become more complicated as time passes,” said Masaharu Maeda, a professor of disaster psychiatry at Fukushima Medical University.

He pointed to differences among evacuees from areas where evacuation orders have been lifted.

“The elderly may return to their homes, but the generation who are still raising children do not return, meaning families are torn apart,” Maeda said. “There is a need to increase the number of people who have specialized knowledge to help provide support to disaster victims through improved care.”

Cabinet Office officials conducted a survey on the reasons for 80 suicides in Fukushima that were identified as disaster-related by police, who talked to bereaved family members.

The most common cause was health problems, found in 42 cases, followed by economic and lifestyle woes for 16 people and family problems for 14. In some cases, more than one motive was included.

The central government is considering lifting the evacuation order by March 2017 for districts near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant where residents are allowed to enter during the day.

But there is no indication when the evacuation order will be lifted for the remaining seven municipalities where airborne radiation levels are still high.

In 2014, the Fukushima Medical University conducted a survey of about 38,000 evacuees from areas where the evacuation order remains in place.

Close to 40 percent of respondents said they were concerned about the negative health effects in the future from exposure to radiation. Nearly 50 percent said they felt the radiation would have a negative impact on their children and grandchildren.

People concerned about radiation were more likely to suffer from depression, the survey showed.

Disaster victims in Fukushima were also found to be more likely to suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorders than people in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. ”

source

Fukushima: Thousands have already died, thousands more will die — Ian Fairlie via CounterPunch

” 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.”

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.

The lessons of Chernobyl

The mass of epidemiological evidence from the Chernobyl 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 to 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. After then, 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 (ie cancers etc) is by estimating the collective dose to Japan from the Fukushima fall out. 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. That is, if your lottery number comes up, you get cancer [1].

If you live far away from Fukushima Daiichi NPP, you get few 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.

The 2013 UNSCEAR Report has estimated that the collective dose to the Japanese population from Fukushima is 48,000 person Sv: this is a very large dose: see below.

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 [2] in Fukushima Prefecture died as a result of the evacuations following the nuclear disaster [3]. 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% 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-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.

Catastrophes that must never be repeated

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.

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.

Indeed, several writers have expressed the view that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was a major factor in the subsequent collapse of the USSR during 1989-1990.

It is notable that Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the USSR at the time of Chernobyl and Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan at the time of Fukushima have both expressed their opposition to nuclear power. Indeed Kan has called for all nuclear power to be abolished.

Has the Japanese Government, and indeed other governments (including the UK and US), learned 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. ”

source with footnotes and Ian Fairlie’s biography and blog