Several officials reportedly had some severe health problems which turned out to be lung diseases. Fukushima fall-out regularly visits Tokyo where evermore hotspots appear and get difficult to cover up by the authorities with “non-Fukushima related” statements. Blogs and twits regularly point out to the logical existence of radionuclides which are not officially monitored until they eventually get into mainstream news, as in the case of strontium and probably “soon” uranium and plutonium oxides – how soon largely depends on when citizens will find and get a lab a positive sample that will force the authorities to admit it.

Effects on lungs are somewhat controversial as with any radioactive hazard studied and reported by governmental agencies and the nuclear industry and academia. For instance, uranium has supposedly “No adverse health effects reported” on humans whereas it causes “Severe nasal congestion and hemorrage (sic), lung lesions and fibrosis, edema and swelling, lung cancer” on animals, according to Wikipedia. As humans are ordinary animals, there is no particular reason for this discrepancy besides the political need to support their participation to the nuclear industry. Likewise, some Fukushima workers supposedly within the irradiation norms died suddenly from “non-Fukushima related” causes diagnosed by doctors working for TEPCO, under the seal of privacy and without any advanced nor official research. For instance, Fukushima Diary reported in their “Two sludge disposal facilities workers had sudden death within 2 weeks” post that, during an emergency citizen conference held on 10/24/2011 to discuss about how to deal with the radioactive debris and sewage sludge from Fukushima, the fact that two sludge disposal facilities workers died all of a sudden only in two weeks in October was leaked by a worker at a sewage farm in Chiba. This information did not appear at first in mainstream news according to blogger M. Mochizuki. Then a third worker suddenly died, supposedly from septic shock, as he reported in his subsequent post, “The third dead worker [septic shock]“. Although it is not clear whether the article refers to the same ″third″ worker (age and date differ), the Independent, a UK mainstream newspaper, reported that the worker died on his second day of work, while being exposed to “only” 170 uSv on the day he died (no mention about his first day). The Independent mentions also that: “The Japanese government’s maximum level of exposure for male workers at the plant is 250 millisieverts for the duration of the effort to bring it under control.”, which is largely over 20 millisieverts usually tolerated in other countries. Even this latter limit, which is equivalent to about 50 uSv per day, is arbitrary, as there is no reason why a nuclear plant worker should be more resistant to radiation than the general public, for which the international limit is 1 millisievert (raised to 20 in Japan after Fukushima). If we dismiss TEPCO’s explanation for the death of this worker, it seems that “fairly low” levels of radiation, contrarily to official, academic and industrial reports which serve the same community, could kill in a single day. After all, this third worker was irradiated to a daily level sixty times higher than the maximum for a member of the general public on the day he died, and no data was published for the previous day, which could be ten times more for what we know, considered the levels of radioactivity on site and other information leaked on Twitter by workers.

Although on the paper uranium and plutonium oxides are almost completely evacuated by the human body when ingested, and that when inhaled in “small” amounts, they have not been proved to be lethal, it may cast some reasonable doubts when some official people get pneumonia or bronchitis during an exceptional warm autumn, and their place of work or residence happen to be reported as some of the hottest spots in Tokyo, and that they have visited extensively Fukushima and contaminated prefectures such as Iwate and Miyagi.

Fukushima Diary reported on October 1st that some of the worse hotspots were in found in the “mud in Diet” (0.5 uSv/h) and in front of the Imperial Palace (0.7 uSv/h). Natural background radiation is ten times less. In the same post, M. Mochizuki mentioned that Upper House President Takeo Nishioka (who died of pneumonia early Saturday) nearly fainted at the Diet, that he said that he was suffering from severe canker sore and that he could not sleep recently. Besides, M. Mochizuki reported that M. Nishioka sometimes lost his words at the Diet. Of course, we may dismiss any information or connection with Fukushima as M. Nishioka was already 75 years old and some hotter spots have been found since without any casualty reported. However, when 9 year-old Princess Aiko was taken to the hospital for a cold, I suspected that it was in fact a symptom of low radiation exposure, especially since she is young and therefore more sensitive. These days, the official version from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA) is that she, like M. Nishioka, caught pneumonia. The Diet and Imperial Palace are geographically close in Tokyo. Although I hope that, now that she has left the hospital, she will live on healthily, I would not be surprised if the IHA announced some “unexpected” complications. The members of the Imperial Family must be exemplary and the Imperial couple visited Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi two months after the nuclear disaster. Now, Emperor Akihito, who has “a fever due to a cold”, contracted bronchitis and had to go to the hospital. His immune system seems weakened, as “he appears to be fatigued and has lost some resistance to fight his illness” – which can be caused by a number of afflictions, including low-level radiation exposure, exacerbated by his old age (77). When he will die, it could be a signal for the Japanese Self-Defense Force to start a coup (Cf. Risk Of Coup In Japan? in SurvivalJapan). It would be quite a scandal if the Emperor was to become the victim of TEPCO and the government, the final straw that could very well serve as an excuse for the ultra-nationalist militaries to grab power.

These speculations will need to stand the test of time but I would not be surprised if the number of lung / respiratory diseases spiked, in of course a “non-Fukushima related” yet potentially lethal fashion in weeks to come, especially when officials or public figures are involved. After all, in the United States, “heart attack” is often a code name for drug overdose for this population, so pneumonia, bronchitis and, why not, severe asthma could become the same for radionuclide-induced cancers and acute poisoning (once in lungs, they move on into blood).

Update: Japan Times reported in April that pneumonia cases were on the rise in Tohoku, with a number of patients five to six times higher than the previous year at the same time.

  1. jimbojames says:

    Great job of reporting and putting together the clues.

    On the downside, what you write is very scary, and yet, sadly, I’d tend to agree with your assessment that very shortly the military will step in as things go from bad to worse, to dire to off the charts, as if we’re not already there.

    • Thank you, let us hope that I am wrong. The latest factor is the TPP vs FTA decision, i.e. will Japan become the 51st US State after Hawaii or the 34th province of China (along with South Korea, as new Special Administrative Regions maybe). Beyond the pure open-market issues lies Japan’s allegiance to one or the other block (the lesser potential evil and the higher economical relay from Japan’s perspective), which has some implications on its sovereignty and defense strategy, everything that tickles the militaries and ultra-nationalists and which can be used by populists. True, we’re off the charts, sometimes I feel like we entered the Twilight Zone or some kind of dystopic world without noticing and Fukushima simply opened our eyes.

  2. Michaël says:
    massive Iodine was released from the plant, now it’s massive xenon all around eastern Japan especially. Looking at this article do you think xenon can be another explanation of such disease as pneumonia ?

    • I read the article and made some research and I don’t think it is the case. Although radioactive Xenon can theoritically cause lung cancer, its half-life is short (9 hours for Xenon-135 and 5 days for Xenon-133, so we’re considering mainly Xenon-135 as in the article). Xenon could have been dangerous during the March 2011 near Fukushima after which it would decay. As winds were westerlies and the first Pacific islands are distant (3850 miles for Hawaii for instance), the plume was largely diffused and thus mostly harmless. Since there is a strong presumption of multiple recriticalities since March 11 (as proved by the detection of short-lived radioiodine) and winds are now northerlies, there could be some potential issues near Fukushima such as in Iwaki city. Further than that, I doubt that the concentration is high enough to produce clear adverse health effects.

      Detection of Cesium-137 the first week of the disaster (it reached the Physics and Astronomy building at the University of Washington on March 18, in very low concentration) means that there has been a nuclear fission reaction, possibly followed by others in subsequent months. Cesium is produced in large quantities in such events and represent a higher inhalation threat than Xenon in this specific context. Besides fission fragments such Cesium-137, Strontium-90 and Iodine-131 which were all detected, some nuclear fuel has been ejected into the atmosphere due to hydrogen explosions (which are chemical not nuclear events). Clouds of Uranium-238, Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 particles have thus travelled and eventually been deposited in the no-man’s land.

      Uranium-235 is not such a high radioactive hazard when exposure is external, since it emits alpha radiation with a half-life of 700 million years. However, its high toxicity has caused a whole range of respiratory disorders when studied on animals. Unbelievably, most human studies result in no adverse health effects. Uranium-235 decays in Radon-219 which has a very short half-life (4 seconds) and which can produce lung cancers. Epidemiological studies were mostly about Radon-222 which decays from Uranium-238 (which still makes up 95% of LWR nuclear fuel rods) and which effects are most obvious with high concentration and long duration exposure cases. However, the half-life of Radon-219 is almost 100,000 times shorter than Radon-222 which makes it probably much more dangerous even in low concentration. Carcigenocity of Radon-222 and Plutonium-239 have been documented. Regarding Radon, the European Nuclear Society, which can hardly be seen as a scare-mongerer, writes on their website:

      “Radon concentrations greater than 200 Bq/m3 in ground floor living rooms are not uncommon. Regarding the radiation exposure of people, it is not the radon itself that is important, but the short-lived decay products. These enter the respiratory tract with breathed in air and may reach radiation-sensitive cells with its energy-rich alpha radiation. The short-lived decay products of radon, with 1.4 millisievert per year, account for more than half the total effective dose by natural radiation sources.”

      It should be noted that the level is already 1.4 mSv/year with this type of natural radiation, whereas the Japanese government holds the new normal at 100 mSv/year for both internal and external exposure (sic). In the US, Radon-induced cancer deaths are over 20,000 per year.

      You can refer to these Hazardous Substances Data Bank articles for the adverse effects of Uranium and Plutonium, including on the respiratory tract but not limited to. These sources are serious (World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, etc.), for instance see the following excerpt:

      “There is sufficient evidence in humans that inhalation of plutonium-239 aerosols causes lung cancer, liver cancer and bone sarcoma. Exposure to plutonium-239 also entails exposure to plutonium-240 and other isotopes.”

      Therefore I believe that “pneumonia”, actually a medical condition with symptoms similar to that disease, if you read closely news articles about stricken public figures, results more probably to inhalation of uranium and plutonium dusts and their daughters. However, since the smoking rate is high in Japan, it may be difficult to identify the effects of Radon inhalation.

      It could also be some walking pneumonia caused by depleted immunitary system from the radioactive exposure to Cesium-137 and from stress. Whichever the cause, it seems that there is a spike this year as from the research of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health reported by Fukushima Diary and Fukushima is probably the cause.

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