May 27, 2024


Science It Works

Tokyo’s Games Are Harming the Nuclear Weapons Ban Movement

The Olympics are supposed to be a tangible symbol of global cooperation and peaceful competition. But the games carry a lot of baggage—not only from the pandemic but also from the Fukushima disaster and Japan’s nuclear politics.

As Covid cases spread in the Olympic Village and in Tokyo, protesters continue to demand the Olympics be canceled, and they continue to be ignored. But the tone-deafness of these Olympics goes back further—to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In 2019, then–Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dubbed the Tokyo Olympics the “Recovery Games,” meant “to showcase the affected regions of the tsunami” and the nuclear meltdown of 2011, which continues to pose threats today.

That’s why some Olympic events are being held in Fukushima’s Azuma Stadium, and why Olympic torch runners have been routed through Fukushima prefecture, hitting what the official Olympic website calls “places of interest” near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It started at J-Village, a former logistics hub for crews working to remediate the stricken reactors, now a sports complex, where Greenpeace detected a radiation hot spot in late 2019. It passed through Ōkuma and Futaba, where the plant is located, and other nearby towns long abandoned after the disaster.

This is intended to project an image of recovery and normalcy to the world. But it’s government propaganda, deaf to citizens’ concerns, and blind to ongoing threats. Fukushima Daiichi continues to leak radioactivity. New radiation hot spots and other impacts are being discovered all the time.

This sort of Olympic spin tactic has been used before. In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the government sought to portray Japan as a modern industrial nation with its own nuclear research program. Yoshinori Sakai, born in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb was dropped, lit the Olympic flame. A scant year and half after the Cuban missile crisis, this gesture soft-pedaled the dangers of nuclear technology, nuclear weapons, and the burgeoning arms race.