Tokyo Olympics: A Case for the Precautionary Principle
News broke over the weekend that Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics. The environmentalists who have been tracking the unfolding nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, less than 100 miles from Tokyo, went into an obligatory frenzy, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assertion that " the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo,” was quoted in almost every article I could find on the subject. Some people I talked to hoped the games might boost Tokyo’s struggling economy while others wondered how radioactive contamination might impact young athletes.
When you cut through the hype and the speculation, and look at the facts about the situation at Fukushima and what the Olympics will mean for the country of Japan, the case for heightened precaution and against Tokyo as the host city, makes itself. Now, more than ever, is the time to apply the precautionary principle.
In March 2011, after the tsunami and earthquake caused a power outage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and flooding in the area prevented backup generators from operating correctly, three of the plant’s four reactors began to meltdown, spewing radiation into the atmosphere. It was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and as Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
Since the disaster, countries such as Germany (and Italy) have decided to shut down their nuclear programs altogether, while others like South Korea have banned fish from the Fukushima region.
Now, two and a half years later, radiation leaks are at an all time high, no one knows exactly where the leaks are coming from, monitoring equipment sent in to get a handle of damage can’t function because of high radiation levels. As groundwater flooded the site, about 400 tones were being contaminated per day. Workers furiously build tanks to store the radioactive water. Now some tanks are leaking and room to store them is running out. The last hope to keep radioactive groundwater from further seeping into the ocean is an underground ice wall.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t know what the state of Japan will be by 2020. That should be enough to delay the promotion of massive tourism of the country. What’s more is that the financial benefit to the economically struggling country will likely not have the boost that Japanese residents hope for.
Economists predict the economic impact on Japan will be small and likely benefit only a few elites in Tokyo.
“Bread and circuses' it will most certainly be. That will only benefit a few in Tokyo," Kazumasa Oguro, an associate professor of economics at Hosei University told Fortune, which says the benefit will be lower than what the country saw in the 1964 Tokyo game and the 1998 Nagano games.
It’s clear that precaution is necessary when making decisions about Japan’s future because the disaster at Fukushima is still unfolding. The only question left is why the burden of proof for showing Tokyo is a safe and stable site for the 2020 Olympics has fallen to a concerned public rather than the International Olympic Committee.
Courtney Hanson is Director of Organizing and Communication at Georgia WAND. She is an Atlanta activist and writer, working on environmental justice and gender equality. Prior to moving to the south, she worked as a journalist in Chicago, covering education, personalities, community events, women’s issues, homelessness and poverty.