Landmark Court Ruling Puts Safety First in Japan, Olympics Should Do the Same


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by Akio Matsumura

A district court in Japan has ruled that the two Oi nuclear reactors cannot be restarted by the Kansai Electric Power Company, citing structural deficiencies . The Fukui District Court said in its ruling, according to an editorial in the Mainichi Shimbun:

“Individuals’ personal right to protect their lives and livelihoods are of the highest value under the Constitution. The court then concluded that ‘it would be only natural to suspend nuclear plants if they pose specific risks of danger -- though it would be an extreme argument to say the existence of such plants is impermissible under the Constitution.’"

Until this ruling, Japan’s federal government and legal system had made decisions in favor of strengthening its economy and minimizing imports. This court ruling emphasized caution and prioritized human and environmental health above trade balances.

Summarizing further, the Japan Times wrote:

The crucial point of the ruling is its contention that it is inherently impossible to determine on scientific grounds that an earthquake more powerful than assumed in the operator’s worst-case scenario would not happen. It noted that since 2005, four nuclear power reactors around the country have experienced quake shocks more powerful than the maximum level anticipated on their sites. It is “groundless optimism” in this quake-prone country that such a temblor would never hit the Oi plant, the ruling stated.

We will have to wait and see whether Japan respects the Fukui Court’s decision or proceeds with its planned restarts.

Fukui Asahi Getty

I have often heard from Japanese opinion leaders that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are vital to boost the GDP and morale of Japan and its people. Like the court, I say that ensuring the safety of our world class athletes is more important than bringing business opportunities to Tokyo.

It is fortunate that there are those looking on who worry about the health and safety of athletes at the Tokyo Olympic Games.  In a previous article I introduced Dr. Helen Caldicott’s letter to Mr. Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, urging the IOC to assemble an independent assessment team of biomedical experts.

On May 16, 2014, Dr. Caldicott received an official response from Mr. John Coates, vice president of the International Olympic Committee and chairman of the IOC’s Coordination Commission:

“The health and safety of the athletes at the Games is a top priority for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and as Chairman of the IOC’s Coordination Commission - the body responsible for overseeing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games for the IOC - you can rest assured that I will do my utmost to ensure that the athletes are able to compete in a safe and secure environment during the Tokyo Games… 

From their answers, it is clear that the Japanese authorities are implementing a number of important measures to protect their citizens...”

The Japanese report in annex opens by saying, “A wide range of stringent tests are being conducted with regard to health risks associated with radiation by several related government ministries and agencies.”

Of course, the reports and monitoring have had no independent verification. Mr. Coates and the rest of the IOC are entirely dependent on Japanese information in their evaluation of Japan’s preparations and the challenges they face in cleaning up the Fukushima accident.

In the context of this exchange, I would like to introduce the opinion of Dr. Scott Jones, a retired career naval officer. He was qualified as a nuclear weapons delivery pilot and served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Dr. Jones was also Executive Assistant to Senator Claiborne Pell, a former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, in the words of Vice President Biden, a “leader in the fight to stop the spread of nuclear weapons”.

Dr. Jones writes:

Increasingly the horrible but predictable consequences of the earthquake and tsunami have been made more unbearable for the citizens of Japan and now the world. 

When lives are at stake, the greatest protection for a politician is to be able to affirm that political decisions involving health are being made in faithful accord with the best available scientific and medical knowledge. 

This clearly has not been the case concerning Fukushima, and there is a procedure available to correct this situation. It is overdue for the government of Japan, the International Olympic Committee, all supportive governments of Japan and the future of the Olympic system, to stop and seek independent engineering, medical and scientific assessments of what has happened, what can and must be done to protect life in Japan and the world. 

This directly addresses current and future concerns about the health of Japanese children and elderly, and will erase any ambiguity about the safety of Olympic athletes and global visitors to the anticipated 2020 Olympic Games.

Indeed, an independent review would be in line with the spirit of the Fukui district court’s findings. The safety of the local Japanese and the world’s top-notch athletes should not rely on an evaluation undertaken in “groundless optimism”, but with caution and scrutiny. Mr. Coates and the International Olympic Committee can make sure of this by making the Tokyo Olympic Games conditional on an independent and international review of the challenges — scientific, engineering, and medical— around the Fukushima nuclear site and of Japan’s progress in addressing them.  Until such a review is ordered, the IOC should be less confident that our athletes will find a “safe and secure environment during the Tokyo Games.”

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