By Alexis Dudden
The upcoming 2020 “Recovery Olympics” is not about rebranding Japan. Instead, it is about rebranding unstable radioactive elements from everyone’s enemy into something Japanese authorities hope that a “smile” makes less treacherous. These upcoming Olympics distract from the consequences of the three nuclear reactor meltdowns in Fukushima that began nine years ago.
The low-level ionizing radiation that permeates areas of Fukushima will not kill Olympic athletes or their supporters who visit the torch relay, baseball, and softball games. It is highly unlikely that any will suffer after-effects from such minimal exposure. That said, using Olympic athletes—people with extraordinary physicality—to make unseen radionuclide enemies appear inconsequential compounds and denies the ongoing challenges faced by the people, animals, land, and water that live in these areas by choice or having no economic option.
Yet, the Japanese government’s manipulation of athleticism and consumerism to make Fukushima’s radiation problems appear irrelevant takes the Olympic program—and, again, the athletes—into newly dangerous levels of state-led coercion.
Defining “terrorism” is notoriously slippery: one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. That said, for the sake of grasping the dangers that Fukushima’s residents live with on a daily basis—not to mention the land, river, and sea creatures—what happens if we were to humanize radionuclides and make them visible? Different from the difficulties involved in naming someone a “terrorist,” cesium, for example, knows no political, economic, or religious impulse. Tritium is not a Japanese word. No matter how much the Japanese government massages meaning otherwise these and other radionuclides affecting areas of Fukushima will continue to threaten and harm the people, the land, and the Pacific Ocean for at least the rest of this century—if not longer.
The Japanese state apparatus and its backers—not in the least the International Olympic Committee—would have the world believe otherwise, relying on radiation’s invisibility to buttress the untrue yet pervasive notion that long-term exposure to low levels of radiation is not worrisome. But it is, as studies from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Marshall Islands, Hanford, and Chernobyl show.