Ian Fairlie on Fukushima: Errors and Omissions

Ian Fairlie of Great Britain has a history of promoting unwarranted fear of low level radiation exposure. His work has been widely rebuffed by radiation experts and researchers around the world for its gross exaggerations, wild speculations, and unscientific methods. He also has a habit of conveniently ignoring important facts that show his work to be a confabulatory catastrophe. Unfortunately, his writings get wide distribution throughout the nuclear-critical networks, where it is swallowed hook, line, and sinker by nuclear-averse and radiophobic demographic.

His latest posting (1) alleges that the Fukushima accident has killed 2,000 Japanese and another 5,000 are doomed to die from long-term effects of low level radiation exposure. Unfortunately, his so-called “evidence”, rife with factual errors and numerous omissions of convenience, has been found on popular internet sites such as The Ecologist, Counterpunch, and the conspiracy-oriented Global Research Centre.

Fairlie opens with the statement “…the human toll from Fukushima is horrendous: 2,000 Japanese people have died from the evacuations and another 5,000 are expected to die from future cancers.” His source of the 2,000 deaths comes from Japan’s reconstruction office in Tokyo, which posted (as of March 4, 2015) that 1,867 Fukushima residents have had disaster-related deaths due to deteriorating health in the refugee life caused by the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima  evacuations. (2)

First, let’s see what “disaster-related” means in Tokyo. A death is recognized as disaster-related if a government panel of doctors, lawyers and other experts find a causal relationship with the quake, tsunami or nuclear evacuations, and money is given to the heirs. When a death is so-judged, 5 million yen (~$40,000) in condolence money is paid for the family’s main bread-winner and 2.5 yen million for others.

But, Fairlie attributes all of these deaths to the nuclear evacuation, which is entirely incorrect. When the tsunami hit the Fukushima coast, tens of thousands fled inland to escape the raging torrent. More than 10,000 lost everything to the black water waves; homes, belongings, and more than 1,600 loved ones. These tsunami refugees are continually included in the nuclear evacuation figures, both by Japan’s government and popular Press. There is no distinction made between quake/tsunami-related deaths and Fukushima-related. However, there can be no doubt that thousands of the Fukushima evacuees listed as due to the nuke accident would be refugees even if the nuke accident never happened.

If we look at the same morbid demographic breakdown for the two other prefectures pummeled by the natural disaster, we find Fairlie’s first significant omission. Iwate Prefecture has had 450 quake/tsunami related deaths and Miyagi Prefecture has had 909. While this does not absolve the Fukushima evacuation of related deaths, it certainly causes the open-minded to ponder the veracity of Fairlie’s claim. It should be noted that Fairlie mentions the “related” (evacuee) deaths in Iwate and Miyagi in a footnote, admitting they are not “radiation-related”. But, even that is misleading. The official evacuation “related” deaths in Fukushima were not radiation-related either!

But what about the claim of 5,000 future deaths? Fairlie argues that the “…Japanese Government, its advisors, and most radiation scientists in Japan (with some honourable exceptions) minimise the risks of radiation.” It is a common antinuclear rhetorical ploy to allege a massive cover-up…fertile ground for conspiracy-theory advocates, to be sure, but about as factual as believing that the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster was perpetrated by the American government. Regardless, Fairlie continues that “…radiation scientists in Japan (in the US, as well) appear unable or unwilling to accept the stochastic nature of low-level radiation effects.” This is entirely a bold-faced fabrication. Fairlie is ascribing to the no-safe-level assumption, popular among the radiophobic core of the antinuclear community. His evidence is a little-known excerpt from a scientifically-trashed 2015 report saying that most scientists “exclude the possibility that low dose radiation could increase the risk of cancer.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Some radiation experts reject the no-safe-level assumption (and rightly so), but most continue to cling to the notion because it has become paradigm to them since its inception in the 1950s. And, no radiation expert in the world denies the stochastic nature of radiation effects to cells and DNA, but the lesser incidence of such damage in the low level exposure region is effectively repaired by our robust cellular and DNA repair mechanisms.

Fairlie declares that this conspiratorial oversight is an omission of convenience, allowing scientists to ignore another long-held antinuclear assumption…that we have yet to fully understand the long-term health effects of low level exposure, years and decades into the future. He states, “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.” He then poses the statistical results of the 70-year study of Hiroshima-Nagasaki survivors as evidence.

There are two glaring problems with Fairlie’s claim. First, there is a mountain of scientific evidence that shows the long-term effects of low level exposure. The most compelling has to do with studies in the atypically high natural background regions of the world, including America’s Colorado Plateau, GuarapariBrazil’s black sand beaches, the coastline of Kerala, India, and Yangjiang, China. These populations have no higher cancer incidence or cancer death rates than their lower-exposed countrymen. They have the same life expectancies, as well. In all cases, we’re talking about lifetimes of evidence!

Secondly, RERF (3) statistics for Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivors over the past 70 years do not prove that solid cancers manifest far into the future. While there were excess Leukemia deaths in the high exposure survivor demographic, nearly all of them occurred in the 1950s, and did not persist thereafter. However, solid cancer statistics indicate that those nearest the bomb epicenter…necessarily experiencing large, prompt exposures…still have a slight excess risk. However, those who were outside the high dose region…exposed to what we call low-level doses…show absolutely no excess solid cancers. In this case, Fairlie erroneously concludes that the excess cancers in the high exposure cohort must necessarily also be the case in the low exposure cohort, which is clearly not the case.

Fairlie also misinforms his audience with other topics. In “Untoward Pregnancy Outcome”, he neglects to state that Japan’s 15% drop in live births for December, 2011, is not necessarily statistically significant. First, it is but one month out of a one year period, and typical fluctuations in the live birth rate can be as high as 20% over any one-year period in Japan. In addition, the nation-wide after-effect of the massively traumatic earthquake and tsunami could account for the drop-off in live births. Think about it…December is nine months after March! Also, the 20% increase in infant mortality rate follows a similar, albeit inverse pattern to the live birth rate drop…it is not outside the typical fluctuations experienced in large populations.

Here’s the bottom line – an exception is never the rule. Conveniently choosing a seemingly noteworthy statistical change, and blaming it on something convenient to one’s personal agenda, is a corrupt practice. Further, cavalierly tossing these facts aside by saying that supportive studies are “notable by their absence” is nothing more than a subtle, albeit effective rhetorical ploy. Supportive studies are lacking because Fairlie’s allegations are clearly an example of the art of cherry-picking, using data out of context, and posed merely to mislead.

In “Summing Up Fukushima”, Fairlie repeats most of the above, but adds a few other erroneous “facts” to his considerable list of confabulations. For example, his untoward assertion that the UNSCEAR estimate of 48,000 person-sievert exposure to Japan over the 80-year period after the Fukushima accident will cause 5,000 future cancer deaths, is little more than an exercise in statistical manipulation and an intentional avoidance of the UNSCEAR conclusion. UNSCEAR said there will be no statistically discernible cancer deaths in Japan due to this nation-wide exposure. But, it seems Fairlie wishes to put words in UNSCEAR’s mouth. Further, Fairlie’s corroborative evidence for this bizarre statement is not the UNSCEAR report itself, but rather Fairlie’s own posting of his personal modifications of the actual report. (4) Self-aggrandizing? Yes. Intentionally misinforming the reader? Without question!

Other blatant disinformation statements in the summation include

a. “Over 160,000 people were evacuated most of them permanently” – The facts are that about 75,000 were ordered to evacuate by Tokyo, most of whom would have been exposed to radiation levels (less than 10 mSv/yr) below those found in some populated regions of the world. For example, the 2,000 residents of the Talesh Mahalleh district of Ramsar, Iran, where the average exposure is 10 millisieverts per year, with no historical increases in cancer rate, cancer death, or shortened life expectancy. There were another 85,000 Fukushima evacuees which were entirely voluntary, fleeing only because they fear radiation, no matter how miniscule the exposure. Of the voluntaries, about 60,000 have already returned home. Further, all but two of the eleven evacuation-mandated Fukushima communities will be re-opened to residents by March of 2018. Thus, the “most of them permanently” is a bold-faced fabrication.

b. “About 12,000 workers exposed to high levels of radiation, some up to 250 mSv” – The actual numbers are quite different. For example, in 2014, 20,695 Fukushima workers experienced exposure. None were in excess of 100 mSv, and less than a thousand got more than 20 mSv. This data comes directly from Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, charged with validating the exposures. Fairlie is referring to the Fukushima staff count in 2011, which included a handful with exposures in the 250 mSv range.

c. “Similar ‘unquantified’ numbers [to Fairlie’s 5,000 cancer deaths] of radiogenic strokes, CVS diseases, and hereditary diseases.” – Absolute rubbish! Even the highest estimated exposures of the low-levels attributed to Fukushima have never caused radiogenic strokes or CVS diseases. Further, RERF data shows, conclusively, that there have been exactly zero hereditary diseases with the high-exposure survivors of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, or their descendants. Thus, Fairlie’s statement is yet another bold-faced fabrication.

d. “An, as yet, unquantified number of thyroid cancers” – Another example of complete rubbish. The Fukushima University Medical School has performed an unprecedented screening of about a third of a million Fukushima children over the past three-plus years. Because no such study had ever been done before in Japan, the team also screened some 4,500 children of volunteer families in Nagasaki, Aomori, and Yamanashi Prefectures, all hundreds of kilometers from Fukushima. (5) While the percentage of Fukushima children with detectible nodules/cysts was 41.2%, the combined percentage found in the other three prefectures was 56.6%! In addition, while 0.6% of the Fukushima children with the anomalies were considered worthy of further (cancer) testing, the other three prefectures had a rate of over 1%! In other words, based on the cohort considered most susceptible to thyroid cancer from radiation exposure (children), there is absolutely no scientific basis for Fairlie’s prophecy of future thyroid cancers from the Fukushima accident.

Fairlie ends by saying, “The Fukushima accident is still not over and its ill-effects will linger for a long time into the future”. Actually the antinuclear-based psychological ill-effects from the Fukushima accident will never be over, and will consume the world’s nuclear-averse and radiophobic demographics for a long time into the future. In conclusion, Ian Fairlie’s diatribe proves him to be nothing more than a common, ill-principled street-corner prophet of Fukushima-accident doom.

References –

1 – Fairlie, Ian; Summing the Health Effects of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster; August 16, 2015. http://www.ianfairlie.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Summing-up-the-Effects-of-the-Fukushima-Nuclear-Disaster-10.pdf

2 – Death toll grows in 3/11 aftermath; Japan Times, March 15, 2015. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/03/15/national/death-toll-grows-in-311-aftermath/#.VdTF1JDosdV

3 – Radiation Effects Research Foundation; http://www.rerf.jp/index_e.html

4 – Fairlie, Ian; New UNSCEAR report on Fukushima: Collective Doses; 4/2/14. http://www.ianfairlie.org/news/new-unscear-report-on-fukushima-collective-doses/

5 – Thyroid Ultrasound Findings in Children from Three Japanese Prefectures: Aomori, Yamanashi and Nagasaki; PLOS one;December 23, 2013. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0083220http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/11/13/national/thyroid-cancers-up-in-fukushima/#.UoOB84Eo4dU