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You’ve heard the slogan: ‘Nobody died at Three Mile Island,’ or ‘Nobody died at Fukushima.’ The dearth of US news coverage about worker deaths and on-going contamination spewing from Fukushima -- the site of the world’s worst radiological disaster -- helps explain why people might believe industry sloganeering. But critics can point to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, not just in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia following the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, but among fetuses and infants downwind of the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster as well as in Japan. Deadly reactor operations go back decades. There is a fully footnoted version of this partial list of the most well-known fatalities at www.nukewatchinfo.org:
March 11, 2011: Deaths and cancers at Fukushima
The bodies of two of seven missing workers were found April 3, after four reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi complex were destroyed by the country’s worst earthquake, the subsequent tsunami and five hydrogen explosions. On Aug. 30, 2011 Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) said a 40-year-old worker had died of acute leukemia after working at the site for seven days, but claimed that the death was not related to radiation exposure. On July 9, 2013, Masao Yoshida, 58, Fukushima’s site manager, died of esophageal cancer. Tepco again asserted Yoshida’s death was unrelated to his heavy exposures accumulated during the explosions and meltdowns.
Dr. Alfred Korblein reports a statistically significant threefold increase in infant mortality in Fukushima Prefecture since March 2011. The New York Times, UPI and the AP reported in August 2004, three years after the disaster began, that “medical authorities in Fukushima prefecture are reporting a significant rise in the number of thyroid cancer cases among local children and young adults.” Massive radiation releases contaminated soil, vegetables, meat, tea, and seafood in large areas. Contamination of the Pacific has continued for over four years from groundwater running through the wrecked reactor basements, and from leaks from poorly built waste water tanks.
August 9, 2004: Five killed at Mihama, Japan
At Mihama in Japan, a burst of highly pressurized steam with a temperature of 390°F severely burned 11 workers and scalded five others to death when a 30-inch corroded pipe ruptured. About 800 tons of water escaped from the burst pipe that had not been inspected in 28 years. Until Fukushima in 2011, the accident was Japan’s worst at a nuclear facility. There are 23 similar pressurized water reactors in Japan (shutdown since the start of the Fukushima releases).
Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, 1999: Two killed at Tokaimura, Japan
In Japan, workers at the Tokaimura uranium processing site caused a prolonged “criticality” that exposed 172 workers, killed two, and exposed at least 600 nearby residents in the surrounding community to a burst of neutron radiation. Thousands were evacuated.
March 11, 1997: Unknown deaths after Japanese waste fires at Tokaimura
Explosions and fires contaminated at least 37 workers—34 internally—at Japan’s experimental uranium waste treatment site in Tokaimura. Experts said, “[A] massive amount of heat and energy was released” in the explosion at the state-run facility. A lack of medical follow-up for the contaminated workers allows the industry to deny that deaths resulted.
April 26, 1986: Chernobyl killed 958,000 by 2004
The Chernobyl reactor exploded and then burned out of control for 40 days, spewing radiation to every country in the Northern Hemisphere. Ukraine’s Health Minister Andrei Serdyuk declared in 1995 that his agency’s official estimate of Chernobyl’s death toll in the former USSR alone was 125,000.
The most comprehensive international study to date, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” published by the New York Academy of Sciences, concluded that by 2004 about 985,000 deaths were caused across Europe by Chernobyl—212,000 of them within Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. The book trumped the much-quoted 2005 United Nations report, “Chernobyl Forum,” which predicted 9,000 eventual deaths (itself a huge number), because the UN only studied Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Sixty percent of Chernobyl’s radioactive dispersal went far beyond them.
December 9, 1986: Six killed at Virginia’s Surry reactor
Like an earlier incident at Surry’s reactor 2 (below), a burst of pressurized steam scalded four people to death when a corroded, uninspected 18-inch steel pipe broke and sprayed 30,000 gallons.
March 29, 1979: Partial meltdown at Three Mile Island caused infant mortality
Exposure to radioactive fallout and contaminated water released by Three Mile Island’s (TMI’s) partial meltdown caused thousands of premature deaths. Joe Mangano, in his book Low-level Radiation and Immune System Damage (1999), Jay Gould & Benjamin Goldman, in Deadly Deceit (1990), Harvey Wasserman & Norman Soloman, in Killing Our Own (1982), and Ernest Sternglass’s report “Infant Mortality Changes Following the Three Mile Island Accident” (1979), have document these fatalities. In areas downwind from TMI, infant deaths soared 53 percent in the first month after March 1979; 27 percent in the first year. As originally published, the federal government’s Monthly Vital Statistics Report shows a statistically significant rise in infant and overall mortality rates shortly after the accident.
Studying the 10 counties closest to TMI after the radiation releases, deaths from birth defects were 15-to-35 percent higher than before the accident, far exceeding rates elsewhere in the state. Between 50,000 and 100,000 excess deaths occurred downwind after TMI. Leukemia deaths among kids under 10 (1980-to-1984) jumped almost 50 percent, compared to the national rate in the same areas.
July 27, 1972: Two killed at Surry reactor in Virginia
A high-pressure steam pipe rupture scalded two Surry workers to death.
January 3, 1961: Three killed in Idaho test reactor explosion
The experimental “SL-1” reactor in Idaho blew apart and killed three Army Specialists, John Byrnes and Richard McKinley, and Navy Electrician’s Mate Richard Legg. The memorial at Arlington National Cemetery says, “One technician was blown to the ceiling of the containment dome and impaled on a control rod. The men were so heavily exposed to radiation that their hands had to be buried separately with other radioactive waste, and their bodies were interred in lead coffins.”