The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Tokyo Olympics via the Asia-Pacific Journal

Koide Hiroaki
Norma Field, Translation, Introduction and Notes
March 1, 2019
Volume 17 | Issue 5 | Number 3

Introduction: “No One Who Is Alive Today …”An introduction to “The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Tokyo Olympics”  


It stands to reason that Koide should be asked to address the matter of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In his Buenos Aires speech on September 7, 2013, two years and four months after the start of the Fukushima disaster, Prime Minister Abe proclaimed to the International Olympic Committee that the situation was “under control,” that the Fukushima accident had “never done and never [would] do any damage to Tokyo.”8 Abe’s statement was decisive in bringing the games to Tokyo for the first time since 1964, even though his elaboration in a subsequent press conference that contaminated waters were confined to the .3 square kilometers of the harbor created consternation for none other than Tepco: it had admitted to tank leaks only recently, in late August. A silt fence, it felt compelled to explain, could not perfectly keep the contaminated water within the harbor.9

Such quibbles aside, we might pause over predictions that the 2020 Olympics-Paralympics may end up costing 3 trillion yen (approximately 26.4 billion USD), many times the original budget for what was promised to be the most “compact Olympics” ever.10 These games are often touted as the “recovery Olympics” (fukkō gorin). It is not hard to conjure ways that these monies might have been used to benefit the entire region afflicted by the triple disaster and especially, the victims of the enduring nuclear disaster. A pittance of the Olympics budget would have sustained modest housing support for evacuees, compulsory or “voluntary.” Instead, the highly restricted, arbitrarily drawn evacuation zones have been recklessly opened for return of evacuated citizens despite worrisome conditions prevailing over wide swaths of the region. The J-Village soccer center, which had served as a base for disaster workers, where they slept, donned protective gear, and were screened, are scheduled to become the training site for the national soccer team, with hopes that others might follow suit. It has even been proposed as the starting point for the Olympic torch relay. One baseball and six softball games are to be held in Fukushima City.

In the meanwhile, French prosecutors have indicted the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee on corruption charges over the bidding process.11 A nuclear physicist influential with policy makers has been found to have underestimated citizen exposure by a factor of three.12 Dr. Yamashita Shinichi, prefectural health adviser, who ten days after the disaster was assuring the people of Fukushima not to worry, that people who kept smiling would not be affected by radiaton, was as the same time telling experts that he believed there was reason for serious concern about child thyroid cancer.13 In April 2011, Dr. Akashi Makoto, then director of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS), advised the prime minister’s office that there was no need to conduct epidemiological studies in anticipation of thyroid cancer risk.14 In other words, we are beginning to have evidence that, from the earliest days of the disaster, responsible authorities made a concerted effort not only to deny the possibility of health effects from exposure, but to prevent or at least minimize the creation of potentially inconvenient records. As medical journalist Aihara Hiroko observes with not a little irony, “Surely the Tokyo Olympics will be a superb occasion for displaying ‘recovery from disaster,’” but also for revealing to the international community the “real consequences of the human-made disaster resulting from the national nuclear energy policy: the imposition of long-term evacuation and sacrifice on the part of area residents.”15

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Tokyo Olympics
Koide Hiroaki 
The original Japanese text is available here

What was the Fukushima Nuclear Accident?
On March 11, 20011, the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was assaulted by a severe earthquake and tsunami, leading to a total power outage. Experts had been agreed that total outage would be the likeliest cause of a catastrophic incident. And just as anticipated, the reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered meltdowns and released enormous quantities of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment. According to the report submitted by the Japanese government to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this accident released 1.5×1016 becquerels (Bq) of cesium 137 into the atmosphere—the equivalent of 168 Hiroshima bombs. One Hiroshima bomb’s worth of radioactivity is already terrifying, but we have the Japanese government acknowledging that the Fukushima disaster released 168 times the radioactivity of that explosion into the atmosphere.16

The cores of reactors 1, 2, and 3 melted down. The amount of cesium 137 contained in those cores adds up to 7×10^17 Bq, or 8000 Hiroshima bombs’ worth. Of that total, the amount released into the atmosphere was the equivalent of 168 bombs, and combined with releases into the sea, the total release of cesium 137 into the environment to date must be approximately equivalent to 1000 Hiroshima bombs. In other words, most of the radioactive material in those cores remains in the damaged reactor buildings. If the cores were to melt any further, there would be more releases into the environment. It is in order to prevent this that even now, nearly 8 years after the accident, water continues to be aimed by guesswork in the direction where the cores might be located. And because of this, several hundred tons of contaminated waste water are accumulating each day. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has constructed over 1000 tanks on site to store this water, but the total volume now exceeds one million tons. Space is limited, and there is a limit as well to the number of tanks that can be constructed. Tepco will be compelled to release these waters into the sea in the near future.


The investigation yielded something even more important, however. For human beings, exposure to 8 sieverts (Sv) will result in certain death. The area directly under the pressure vessel measured 20 Sv/hour, but along the way, levels as high as 530 or 650 Sv were detected. These measurements, moreover, were found not inside the cylindrical pedestal, but between the wall of the pedestal and the wall of the containment structure. Tepco and the government had scripted a scenario wherein most of the melted core had been deposited, dumpling-like, inside the pedestal, to be retrieved and sealed inside a containment structure in the course of 30-40 years. According to this scenario, the conclusion of this process would signify the achievement of containment. In reality, however, the melted nuclear fuel had flowed out of the pedestal and scattered all around. Forced to rewrite their “roadmap,” the government and Tepco began talking about making an opening on the side of the containment structure through which the melted fuel could be grasped and removed. That, however, is an impossibility. It would entail severe worker exposure.18


20 mSv per year is the level of exposure permitted only for radiation workers, such as I once was. It is hard to forgive the fact that this level is now being imposed on people who derive no benefit from exposure. Moreover, infants and children, who are especially sensitive to radiation, have no responsibility for the recklessness of Japanese nuclear policy, let alone for the Fukushima disaster. It is not permissible to apply occupational levels of exposure to them. The government of Japan, however, says nothing can be done given the Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency.


The greater the risks facing a society, the more those in power seek to avert peoples’ eyes. The mass media will try to whip up Olympic fever, and there will come a time when those who oppose the Olympics will be denounced as traitors. So it was during World War II: the media broadcast only the proclamations from Imperial Headquarters, and virtually all citizens cooperated in the war effort. The more you thought yourself an upstanding Japanese, the more likely you were to condemn your fellow citizens as traitors. If, however, this is a country that chooses to prioritize the Olympic games over the blameless citizens it has abandoned, then I shall gladly become a traitor.

The Fukushima disaster will proceed in 100-year increments, freighted with enormous tragedies. Casting sidelong glances at the vast numbers of victims, the perpetrators, including Tepco, government officials, scholars, and the media, have utterly failed to take responsibility. Not a single one has been punished.20 Taking advantage of this, they are trying to restart the reactors that are currently stopped and to export them overseas. The Tokyo Olympics will take place in a state of nuclear emergency. Those countries and the people who participate will, on the one hand, themselves risk exposure, and, on the other, become accomplices to the crimes of this nation.
August 23, 2018

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