Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

International Commitment on the Tokyo Olympics and the Nuclear Issue
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

October 21, 2013
In the end, it was an overwhelming victory for Tokyo. Right up to the last moment, the media had called it a "close race" whose outcome was "totally unpredictable," but my impression had been somewhat different all along.

At the risk of being called wise after the event, I must say I felt Tokyo had a tremendous lead over the other two cities on every count, including management, security and financial muscle. As for lukewarm public support that had been a stumbling block for Tokyo since its last candidacy, the grand parade down the Ginza following the London Olympics was convincing enough to make one think that "seeing is believing."

Huge crowds of hundreds of thousands of people cheering as one with the athletes in a jubilant demonstration, orchestrated with not a single sign of trouble - it made for an impressive scene that couldn't have been more to the IOC's liking.

The greatest concern was the issue of leaking radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima No.1 nuclear reactor, which surfaced during the final stretch of the selection process, though it was an issue Japan must resolve either with or without the Olympic Games.

What changed this crisis into an opportunity to host the Games can be attributed solely to Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's speech and response to IOC members during the question and answer session, during which he uttered the now famous lines: "under control" and "I will take the responsibility."

To be honest, I felt a momentary rush of anxiety at that point. It reminded me of comments he had made the last time he was Prime Minister on the missing pension records issue. At that time, he had promised to "take the responsibility and investigate the entire matter." Yet, had he been aware of the true state of the Social Insurance Agency and the pension system, he wouldn't have said it because it was simply impossible to investigate the whole affair; he wouldn't have had to do so in the first place.

This time around, the gravity of the issue is incomparably greater than the pension issue, and neither is it a domestic issue like the pension system. Prime Minister Abe's comments have placed the issue of leaking radioactive wastewater and by association Japan's entire nuclear issue under the scrutinizing eyes of the world, as an international commitment that rivals or even surpasses the significance of a successful 2020 summer Olympic Games. Should Japan fail to deliver, it may be construed as a lie perpetrated by a country's prime minister. He has indeed taken on a hefty risk.

Has Prime Minister Abe truly crossed the Rubicon? Would it have been better if he hadn't said he will take the responsibility?

I believe it was right for the Prime Minister to have made those comments, and furthermore that it was the only thing he could have done. We cannot turn our back on the nuclear issue.

Two and a half years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear accident. Many were beginning to feel that the nuclear issue should not be left to the Tokyo Electric Power Company alone to deal with. TEPCO is clearly responsible. However, right now we need to improve the situation and bring it "under control" as quickly as possible, if we are to reconstruct and revive Japan at all. Rather than leaving the issue in TEPCO's hands, the government must step in to take the initiative. That was where Japan stood, and the timing simply coincided with the bid to host the Olympics.

Nuclear power had always been referred to as a "national undertaking." However, in reality it was left entirely to the electric power companies, with the government delegating everything from location to operation of the power plants to the private sector. Due to the good fortune of not experiencing any serious accidents, Japan had settled for the safety myth, which consequently led to the latest accident.

The fact that it has now become an international commitment has a significance that extends beyond the issue of radioactive wastewater, which I believe will have positive consequences for Japan’s future in a broad sense.

The Japanese are not adept at setting major goals for themselves. We also spend considerable time deciding on our goals. This is best illustrated by the "lost two decades," or "two decades of stagnation." And this is what is meant by the occasional observation that things were going fine while Japan was fighting an uphill battle for the clouds, but the moment it rose above the clouds the goal was lost.

Yet, once we have a goal, we become united in a strenuous effort to attain that goal. And so it is that the Japanese have overcome many a challenge to date.

Radioactive wastewater is merely a fragment of the complex and wide-ranging issues surrounding the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant. If we consider the process from resuming operations to decommissioning, the nuclear issue will still be with us once the Olympic Games are over.

As we seek to mobilize our scientific technology, we must also maintain the political will to find a solution. While there is no greater challenge for Japan, it could also become a valuable experience for the rest of the world. For that reason, I am pinning my hopes on the wisdom of scientists, and call on the government to provide maximum support in the form of funding and facilitation.

At the same time, the Japanese people must also take this opportunity to raise their awareness. And we should start by deepening our understanding of radioactive contamination. Immediately preceding the IOC general assembly, South Korea announced it will prohibit imports of marine products from eight Japanese prefectures including Fukushima. It represented nothing but a lack of knowledge about radiation and an overreaction, and should serve as a negative example. While a certain degree of panic was inevitable in the immediate aftermath of the accident, now is the time to recover our normal common sense and squarely face up to the nuclear issue with a balanced perspective.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology should also make a greater effort on educating children about radiation, and it is about time it repeal its decision to designate the maximum annual radiation standard for schools at 1 millisieverts. Radiation is used in medical practice as well. Japan’s average medical exposure to radiation is 3 millisieverts, and exposure from a single CT scan is about 10 millisieverts, according to Nagataki Shigenobu, Professor Emeritus at Nagasaki University. In addition, there are many prefectures where exposure exceeds 1 millisieverts under normal conditions unrelated to the latest accident. This just goes to show how unrealistic the figure is.

From this standpoint, I would highly recommend reading "Beyond Low-level Radiation – A Proposal for Reviving Japan" published by Shogakukan 101-Shinsho. The author, Uno Kazuko, is an immunologist at the Louis Pasteur Center for Medical Research in Kyoto who was so appalled by the flood of unsubstantiated information fanning fear about the effects of low-level radiation in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident that she set her mind to study the subject and wrote this book.

Each page is an eye opener.

Her warning that becoming stressed or depressed by anxiety over the effects of low-level radiation only results in raising cancer risks further makes great sense. She argues persuasively that humans are a far more resilient life form and that the best defense against cancer was to boost our immune system. Uno is genuinely concerned about not allowing children to play outdoors, which could lead to lack of exercise and have a negative impact on their health. The sincerity of her stance and her courage to speak about the facts as facts create a favorable impression, and leaves us with a painful recognition of how important it is to correctly understand the object of our fears.

Deepening our understanding of radiation and radioactivity is also a pressing need for overcoming the harmful rumors that continue to plague areas struck by the earthquake. Let's address these needs to make the Tokyo Olympics an event that can be wholeheartedly embraced by people in the affected areas.

Keiko Chino is a journalist.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2013年 10月 21日







果たして安倍首相はルビコン川を渡ったのだろうか? そしてまた「私の責任で」などと言わない方が良かったのだろうか?















一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > International Commitment on the Tokyo Olympics and the Nuclear Issue