The number of people who survived the Fukushima nuclear disaster only to succumb to stress and other illnesses has continued to climb, with Japanese officials announcing that the death toll outnumbers the amount of people killed in the meltdown.
Prefecture and local police told The Japan Times on Wednesday that 1,656 people have died of stress and other tensions that have come as a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. That number is especially sobering when compared to the 1,607 people who died in the prefecture when the natural disasters struck almost three years ago.
One prefectural said a huge number of people “have undergone drastic changes in their lives and are still unable to map out their future plans, such as homecoming, causing increased stress on them.”
An estimated 136,000 people are still displaced or looking for shelter in Fukushima prefecture -- the administrative jurisdiction that has borne the brunt of the lingering effects of the natural disasters and the subsequent failure at the nuclear power plant on March 3, 2011.
More than 18,000 people were killed across Japan in the tragedy, with entire communities destroyed or deemed unlivable. Rebuilding programs have progressed steadily, yet the number of unsafe areas is still especially problematic.
“This is different from natural disasters,” Hiroyuki Harada, a Fukushima official working to assist victims, told Sky News. “People who live in shelters are forced to live there, away from their home towns and villages, where they lived for a long time. They are forced to lives the kinds of lives they are not used to.”
The Fukushima statistics are not only staggering because they outnumber the infamous 3/11 total, but also because they so greatly exceed the other areas that were among the worst affected. Iwate, Japan reported that 434 people had been killed, with 879 in Miyagi.
As many as 90 percent of those who have died of stress and disease caused by the disaster were 66-years-old or older, according to numbers published by the Reconstruction Agency in September 2013. People of advanced age – themselves a significant proportion of Japan’s total population – are especially vulnerable in disasters of such magnitude because of the likelihood that they are unable to move efficiently, or because they rely on others for assistance.
“People have gone through dramatic changes of their environment,” Harada said. “As a result, people who would not have died are dying.”
The numbers of casualties are recorded by local municipalities and, perhaps not surprisingly, trend higher the closer an area is to the coastline or nuclear facility. Town panels generally launch investigations into a person’s death when the relatives of the deceased file a request. The city of Minamisoma was also among the areas with the highest death tolls (447 deaths), followed by Namie (317) and Tomioka (225).
The Japan Times noted that the country’s health ministry has published a set of guidelines for towns to follow in the wake of a disaster. The ministry advised that deaths indirectly caused by a disaster should curtail one month after the event in question. Yet the Fukushima tragedy occurred nearly three years ago, inspiring the newspaper to speculate that “a new set of criteria may be necessary.”
The solemn announcement came one day before the operator at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) told reporters that approximately 100 tons of highly radioactive water leaked from one of the hundreds of storage tanks at Fukushima. A single ton of water equates to 240 gallons.
The leak, which has been described as the plant’s worst in at least six months, was discovered on Wednesday and plugged on Thursday. Officials said the water would not reach the Pacific Ocean.