Stress-related deaths have exceeded the death toll of those directly killed by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima Prefecture, as Asahi Shimbun survey showed.
As of the end of January, in the three hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, 2,973 people had died from physical and psychological fatigue since the disaster struck on March 11, 2011, the survey showed.
Fukushima Prefecture, which hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, accounted for 1,660 of those deaths, compared with 1,607 deaths directly caused by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami.
The stress-related death toll was 879 for Miyagi Prefecture and 434 for Iwate Prefecture, according to the survey.
In Fukushima Prefecture, more than 130,000 people have been evacuated because of the nuclear accident, and the emotional strain from living away from home is taking a toll.
“Older people tend to get ill due to changes in their environments,” a prefectural government official said. “Stress from anxiety about an unforeseeable return home also affects their health and can lead to death.”
According to Fukushima Prefecture, more than 80 percent of stress-related deaths in the prefecture occurred among residents of 11 municipalities with designated evacuation zones following the 2011 disaster.
Among the applications for recognition as disaster-related victims, 83.0 percent were accepted as such in Fukushima Prefecture, 59.4 percent in Iwate Prefecture and 75.5 percent in Miyagi Prefecture, the survey showed.
The number of stress-related deaths in the three prefectures was 2,634 in March 2013, according to the Reconstruction Agency, meaning the number has increased by 339 over the following 10 months.
There are no legal standards to recognize deaths from physical and mental fatigue following a tsunami or nuclear power accident. The designation is determined by municipalities, and this has led to disputes concerning public consolation payment.
Once recognized as a disaster victim, those considered the breadwinners of their families are granted 5 million yen while others receive 2.5 million yen in consolation payments.
Nearly 3,000 post-disaster deaths have been recognized as disaster-related, but the case of Sayo Takano was not one of them.
An evacuee from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, she had been transferred to and from hospitals and care facilities. She died in a hospital in January 2012 at the age of 90.
Her son, Mitsuji Takano, a resident of Minami-Soma and Fukushima prefectural assembly member, applied to the city for recognition of her death as disaster-related in December 2012.
The city rejected the application in February 2013.
“(Sayo) was in a position of receiving care at any time,” the city said. “And we cannot recognize a direct relation between the disaster and the cause of her death.”
Takano, 61, filed a lawsuit with the Fukushima District Court.
“My mother died after being deprived of her strength to live because of the unforeseeable evacuation,” Takano said.