The Australian Olympic Committee has been urged to inform its athletes and team members about the ongoing health effects of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster for those attending the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Tilman Ruff, a public health expert who co-founded the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Melbourne, said he had written to the AOC to warn that levels of radioactivity in certain areas could be above the recommended maximum permissible exposure level. He said the Japanese Olympic Committee planned to host baseball and softball competitions and part of the torch relay in Fukushima City, 50km away from the ruins of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
In 2011, multiple nuclear meltdowns at the damaged facility caused radioactivity to leak out across Japan and the Pacific.
“The Japanese government is making a concerted effort to present the Fukushima nuclear disaster as over and effectively dealt with in the lead-up to the Olympics. Some of these efforts are misleading and should not be accepted at face value,” Dr Ruff said.
He said thyroid cancers had notably increased among young people in Fukushima, with a total of about 200 cases.
He has made several visits to Fukushima since 2011, the latest in May when he provided radiation health advice to the Fukushima prefectural government.
Dr Ruff said he then wrote to the AOC urging it to “properly inform and safeguard the best interests of the Australian staff and team, and their accompanying families, especially women who may be pregnant and young children”.
He said short-term visits to areas contaminated by radioactive fallout “now involve low to minimal risk”.
“However, if any (AOC) members or athletes plan to be based in Fukushima or neighbouring contaminated prefectures for weeks or months, they should be informed about the health risks of radiation exposure,” Dr Ruff said.
International physician groups have criticised the Japanese government’s decision shortly after the 2011 disaster to increase the maximum permissible radiation dose for Japanese citizens from one to 20 millisieverts. “Eight years later, it has not reversed that decision,” Dr Ruff said. “No other government in the world has ever accepted such a high level of radiation beyond the immediate emergency phase of a nuclear disaster for its citizens.”
An AOC spokesman said Tokyo 2020 provided regular updates to the IOC regarding the situation. “We have been given assurances that radiation levels in Fukushima City are safe, noting that the IOC Co-ordination Team has made several visits to the region and that ongoing monitoring is conducted independently of the Japanese government,” the spokesman said.