As 2020 is the year the Olympics and Paralympics come to Japan, this is an exciting time for sports and for the people of Japan. Amidst all the excitement however, there is the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima prefecture. Labeled as the ‘Reconstruction Olympics’, Prime Minister Abe in 2013 declared that the situation at Fukushima Daiichi was under control. Seven years later there still remains a nuclear emergency at the nuclear plant and surrounding areas. In addition to the enormous challenges of how to safely manage over 1 million tonnes of contaminated water at the site and as much as 880 tonnes of molten nuclear fuel for which there is no credible solution, there remain wider issues regarding radioactive contamination of the environment, its effect on workers and Fukushima citizens, including evacuees and their human rights.
These issues were the subject of a 28 January 2020 documentary broadcast by the U.S. network HBO as an investigative report by the program ‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel ’, the U.S.’s most-honored sports journalism series (with 33 Sports Emmy Awards, including 19 for Outstanding Sports Journalism) during the opening episode of its 26th season.
What does it mean to host the Olympics and Paralympics in the context of an ongoing nuclear disaster, the effects of which are still being felt by tens of thousands of Japanese citizens? What does it tell about the Japanese government and its commitment to respecting the values of transparency and the human rights of its citizens? These are some of the important questions raised by HBO and they warrant careful consideration in the months leading up to this year’s summer games.
Greenpeace Japan applauds Olympic values and spirit, while recognizing that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the responsibility to ensure the Olympic Games have a minimum impact on the environment and leave a positive legacy for those hosting the Games. The IOC has an opportunity to do this in a way that fulfills the ideals of the environment as the third pillar of Olympism – sustainability – by making the Games a showcase for environmental solutions. Simultaneously, we recognize that hosting the Olympics and Paralympics requires the Japanese Government to ensure absolute safety for athletes, international visitors, and the Japanese public alike.
The decision to host two sporting events in Fukushima city raises genuine and important questions over radiation risks. The route of the Olympic Torch relay in all the municipalities of Fukushima prefecture includes the districts of Iitate, Namie, and Okuma where Greenpeace Japan’s Nuclear Monitoring & Radiation Protection Team has discovered radioactive hotspots, both in the open areas as well as in the remaining radiation exclusion zones, that remain too high even by revised governmental standards. What does all this mean for the hosting of Olympic events, including for athletes and visitors?
By conducting extensive radiation investigations, Greenpeace Japan attempts to explain the complex radiological environment, where nothing is straightforward, and where judging precise risks to health at the individual level is near impossible. In an effort to better understand and explain the radiological situation in parts of Fukushima, as well as the ongoing issues of human rights for both Fukushima citizens and decontamination workers, Greenpeace Japan will be publishing its latest radiation survey results in early March 2020.
Shaun Burnie is Senior Nuclear Specialist at Greenpeace Germany.