Is Japan Withholding Fukushima Birth Defect Data?

It’s hard to forget the 2011 Fukushima disaster…or series of disasters. First, the earthquake that rattled Japan. Then, the devastating tsunami that claimed thousands of lives. Then, the international panic about radiation leaking from three nuclear reactors, whose housings had been shaken loose by the natural disasters, releasing radioactive material. Radiation levels across the country reached record highs. It is second only to the Chernobyl incident as the worst nuclear disaster in history.

In the three years that followed, another disaster is emerging out of these events: a rash of birth defects that may have their root in the intense radiation that Japan endured in the spring of 2011.

A Spike in Birth Defects?pereyblog

Since 1999, Japan’s Yokohoma City University has been compiling statistics on birth defects. They release their yearly statistics in May. This year, however, they did not publish the data. Repeated requests finally resulted in the data being released to the news site The Daily Beast. It is still unavailable directly to the public.

According to The Daily Beast:

“The 2011 Report on Congenital Malformations notes the prevalence of malformed infants as 2.43 percent, the highest figure since 1999 (1.48 percent). However, the figures for 2010 were 2.31 percent, indicating only a small increase between 2010 and 2011.”

Dr. Fumiki Hirahira, who is in charge of the data collection, said there was “no meaningful increase” in birth defects. But other experts disagree with him, and call into question the university’s unwillingness to break down the annual data by month and prefecture. This breakdown would over the most detailed look into whether birth defects spiked in the places most affected at the times most affected.

The matter is not just of concern to Japan. The scare about Japanese radiation was felt around the world, and today, parents and physicians in all countries are wondering about the long-term risks.

Shrouded in Secrecy

Alexey Y. Yablokov, who wrote extensively on the long-term effects of Chernobyl’s nuclear crisis, opines that:

“The Japanese government is not trustworthy when it comes to releasing information about Fukushima. … A real national comparative study needs to be conducted.”

The Daily Beast detailed Japan’s history of censoring and withholding negative information, especially the kind that has links to health damage caused by irresponsible corporations or government entities. In the 1950s and 60s, for example, the government worked with corporations guilty of mercury pollution to minimize evidence showing the cause and range of the illness. In the 1980s, similar coverups took place regarded HIV-tainted blood; in the 1990s, it had to do with Dioxin contamination. The reason, of course, is fear of economic impact to the country’s major corporations.

iStock_000013805464_LargeIn the immediate wake of the nuclear disaster, the Japanese government’s response was the opposite of careful. Rather than evacuate the area or issue warnings, the government raised the radiation limits for exposure at schools near the plant to 20 millisieverts. The response of one government official was telling: the man, a senior nuclear adviser resigned his position in protest, saying the level was 20 times too high, especially for children.

Despite this assertive move from one of their own, however, the Japanese government still has yet to as much as release sufficient data to study the impact of radiation on the next generation—both their own, and those around the world.

About Perey Law Group

If your health, or the health of someone you love, has been impacted by an environmental disaster, contact the Perey Law Group. We have years of experience helping people in Washington obtain justice in cases of environmental hazards. Call us at 206.443.7600 or fill out the form on the right side of this page.


image credit: The Daily Beast