Olympic festivities in the nuclear exclusion zone

If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government have their way, the Olympic Torch Relay is scheduled to start on March 25th, 2021 at J-Village, a sports venue that in recent years has been used as the headquarters of rescue and cleanup efforts at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Despite numerous radioactive hotspots, the torch relay is to run from here directly through the Fukushima exclusion zone, passing through the contaminated villages of Naraha, Kawauchi, Tomioka, Okuma, Katsurao, Namie and Minami-Soma, where "ceremonies" are to be held along the way.

Even in the city of Futaba, one of the places hit hardest by nuclear fallout and located only 4 km from the nuclear power plant, streets and parts of the city are being decontaminated, freshly tarred and opened to the public, so that the torch relay can pass through the city.

It is said that the Japanese government is adamant about this issue. It hopes for the symbolic effect of the pictures, because it wants to show that the "reconstruction" has succeeded, that normality has returned to Fukushima...

But this supposed normality does not exist: not at the nuclear power plant site, where the damaged reactors remain uncontrolled, have to be continuously cooled with large amounts of water, and continue to contaminate groundwater and ocean day after day, while radioactive wastewater piles up on the site. Nor is there normality in villages and towns with radiation levels up to 20 times higher than the internationally permissible limits, riddled with radioactive hotspots that can reappear anywhere and at any time in a completely unpredictable manner following pollen drifts, storms, flooding or forest fires. There is no normality in a region whose population continues to be scattered around the country because their former homes are uninhabitable for the foreseeable future due to high levels of radioactivity; nor in a country where the nuclear lobby influences medical studies, keeps politics on a pro-nuclear course with money and pressure, makes taxpayers pay for the consequences of its own failures, and subtly but effectively suppresses any dissent or resistance. Life in Fukushima today is far from normal.

Now the media circus of the Olympic torch relay is to pass through the middle of this deeply scarred society, through the ghost towns of the exclusion zone and the contaminated landscape. The concern for the health of the participants in the torch relay is one reason why thousands of people have already signed a petition calling for the event to be moved away from the contaminated areas. The other reason is the cover-up of the ongoing nuclear disaster and the suppression of the bitter reality. It is disrespectful and humiliating for those suffering from the nuclear catastrophe that an Olympic Show is put on in front of hastily constructed backdrops and they are degraded to extras of a supposedly successful reconstruction story.

It is also dangerous, because if the nuclear lobby succeeds in imposing its narrative, the chance greatly diminishes that people receive recognition for their losses and sacrifices, decent compensation and future support. Theit stories and their suffering will be sidelined and pushed from plain view. That is why it is so important to use the Olympic Games - not to repress memories, but to remember: March 11, 2011, the nuclear disaster that followed, and the people who have to live with its consequences until today. Perhaps then it will be possible, at least for a short time, to turn some of the Olympic media spotlight on the fate of the people in the contaminated areas - in and outside Fukushima.

With the same purpose, nearly four dozen demonstrators from several countries gathered in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne recently, demanding the relocation of the baseball and softball competitions in Fukushima City and the Olympic torch relay from the radioactively contaminated areas to other parts of the country. A delegation of the demonstrators met with official representatives of the IOC to present their demands.

 "The idea of Olympic peace and mutual understanding between nations and peoples is an important aspect for us as a peace organization. But the Japanese government is using the Olympic Games to distract from the ongoing nuclear disaster in the northeast of the country," said Dr. Jörg Schmid (IPPNW Germany) in his speech addressed to IOC President Thomas Bach in front of the IOC building. Regardless of whether the IOC and the Japanese government get their way with their ideas of "reconstruction" games or not, the central message of the campaign is: Fukushima is not forgotten, the people in the contaminated areas will not be left alone.


Dr. med. Alex Rosen
Pediatrician and Co-Chair of the German affiliate of IPPNW

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