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To give a name …

December 23, 2011

"She just stopped breathing." Maybe this is why.


By David Ritchie

 Maybe you saw the recent research paper about the sudden jump in US mortality figures just after the first plume from Fukushima arrived. In case you missed it, here it is:

 In summary, fallout from Fukushima is suspected of sending some 14,000 Americans to the grave.

 Fourteen thousand seems just an abstract number until you put names on the figures. As it happens, I personally know no one who has conclusively died from Daiichi radiation … at least not yet.

 But I do know someone who may have died from fallout — not from Fukushima plumes, but from atmospheric nuclear testing during the 1950s.

Name: Rebecca Woodfin Ritchie, my mother.

 She had high cheekbones and, later in life, a plump figure — that is, until bone cancer in the early 1970s reduced her body to little more than skin over a skeleton. Her final months were agony.

 She passed away on a February night in 1975. Sorry to say, I was not there. But her sister, my Aunt Bess, was at her bedside when she died after lapsing into a coma several days before. “It was peaceful,” Aunt Bess reported later. “She just stopped breathing.”

 The lag time for developing cancer from exposure to radioactivity, they say, is around 20 years.

1975 minus 20 equals 1955 — a time when the United States, having turned parts of southern Japan into radioactive wastelands 10 years before, was proceeding to give itself and its citizens the same treatment.  (Did you know that America is the most A-bombed country of all, and by Uncle Sam’s own hand?)

 Wind carried radionuclides to us in Virginia from the desert test sites to the west. How much exposure we got, and what exactly it did to us, I don’t know.

 Mom was similarly baffled. “Why?” she asked about her suffering just before she died.

 No one had an answer for her. Nor can anyone prove that  fallout gave my mother terminal cancer.

 Even back then, we were awash in carcinogens, from microwaves to food preservatives. Tracing the exact cause of cells gone wrong is impossible under those circumstances.

 Still, I wonder. Did fallout kill my late mother?

 In any event, you now have the name of a possible fallout victim. Think of her, please. Most likely I will, during a business trip to southern Japan next week.

 Does the thought of going to radioactive Japan scare me? Not especially.

 That is because southern Japan is relatively free of contamination, at least according to radiation readings and distribution maps available online. North America appears to be getting it worse.

 Why? Look at prevailing winds over Japan. They blow from west to east.

 So, Fukushima’s fallout plumes drift eastward across the Pacific toward America, where the radionuclides fall to earth with rain and snow. And more are on the way, by both air and sea.

 Already, it appears, the US west coast is too hot for comfort. Check the figures (the reliable figures, not the official ones) yourself, through sites such as

 Also, watch this video:

 Talk about settling accounts. America nuked Japan twice in 1945. Now America gets irradiation from Japan in return.

 The loan, you might say, is getting repaid with almost 70 years of interest.

 Meanwhile, the corner of Japan that I am about to visit — the same corner that Uncle Sam left radioactive some 70 years ago — looks safer now than the US does.

 Mom appreciated ironies. She might have appreciated that one.

 ⓒDavid Ritchie 2011

 (David Ritchie lives and works in Seoul, Korea. He welcomes correspondence and asks only that it be civil in tone. Contact: kwriter [at]


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One Comment
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