Opinion: The Tokyo Olympics and Fukushima, Hiroshima

To celebrate unreservedly

by Noritaka Egusa, Chief Editorial Writer

Tokyo has been awarded the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Presentations made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others just before the vote are believed to have clinched a clear victory for Tokyo.

In response to a question by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the prime minister said the leaks of contaminated water from the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant had been “completely blocked” within a 0.3 square kilometer area in the plant’s harbor. He also declared, “There have been no health problems, nor will there be.”

With all due respect, I wonder if I could have made such bold protestations if I were he.

It’s true that a curtain-like underwater silt fence has been put up in the harbor, but it can’t stop the flow of seawater. The leaks are far from being “completely” blocked as the prime minister asserted.

What about his contention that there will be no health problems in the future? Presumably he wanted to let the IOC know that there was no need to worry that the international community would be unduly frightened by groundless rumors. But the effects of internal exposure to low levels of radiation are poorly understood. Cancer and other aftereffects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki first began appearing in the survivors about five years later.

One can only think this was bluster. The prime minister may have realized this, as he seems to have backed off since Tokyo was awarded the Olympics. Perhaps he is painfully aware of the seriousness of his pledge to the international community that the contaminated water will be fully contained. Above all, his verbal sweeping of things under the rug is unsuited to the fair play spirit of the Olympics.

But now that it’s been decided, there’s no point in going over how we got where we are. We just have to fulfill our international commitment and work hard to put on games that will do Japan proud both at home and abroad.

To find out what the conditions for success are, let’s start by considering the Olympic Charter. The charter’s Fundamental Principles of Olympism express the philosophy and principles of the Olympic Games. Paragraph 2 says: “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

Exactly two and a half years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Preservation of the victims’ human dignity means, first of all, continuing a careful search for the missing, etching the memories of the dead in our minds and ensuring that there will be no more deaths related to the disaster. It also means seeing that the survivors can resume their former lives.

Over the course of the next seven years the entire nation must dedicate itself to this effort. If the massive investment in the Olympics benefits only Tokyo and the excessive concentration of people and industry in the capital grows worse, some of the significance of holding the Olympics in Tokyo as a way to contribute to recovery will be lost.

Another item under the Olympic Charter’s Mission and Role of the IOC is “to encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport and to require that the Olympic Games are held accordingly.”

The IOC’s selection of Tokyo can be regarded as its assumption of collective responsibility for ensuring that there are no further leaks of contaminated water. The Abe administration is pressing forward with the restart of the nation’s nuclear reactors and the export of Japan’s nuclear technology. If this stance leads to another accident resulting in a radiation leak, this will also be a breach of Japan’s pledge to the international community.

What about advancing the popularity of renewable sources of energy more swiftly in order to create a society that is not dependent on nuclear power? Ensuring that the Olympics are committed to energy conservation is another way to fulfill that responsibility.

The year 2020 has special meaning for Hiroshima. The City of Hiroshima once considered launching a bid for the 2020 Olympics as that year coincides with the target for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Also, the Tokyo Olympics will close on August 9, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. After the A-bombing of Hiroshima it was said that no trees or plants would grow in the city for 75 years. The year 2020 will mark that anniversary also.

So, with all due respect, if I were prime minister, I would say: “Nuclear weapons and nuclear power are inhumane. While atomic bomb survivors are still living, if possible I will bring about a nuclear-free world by 2020.” And I would make good on my promises, not just bluster.

(Originally published on September 12, 2013)