Radiation Hot Spots Near Olympic Sites: What Is The Risk For Athletes And Spectators?

Warnings of radiation hotspots in parts of Fukushima that will host the Olympic torch relay and several sporting events have made headlines, but what is the risk for athletes and spectators?

Since the 2011 tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan has carried out extensive decontamination in affected areas and lifted evacuation orders. It hopes the Games will showcase recovery in areas devastated by the tsunami that left over 18,500 people dead and missing, and unleashed the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

But activists, including local NGOs and Greenpeace, have been vocally critical of government efforts and made a splash with the discovery last year of multiple radioactive hotspots near the start of the Olympic torch relay route.

Japan is being accused of “deceiving people” by underplaying ongoing health risks by Greenpeace.

  • At issue are patches of ground where radiation levels of 1.7 microsieverts per hour at one metre (one yard) above the surface has been detected.
  • That compares with the nationally allowed safety standard of 0.23 microsieverts per hour and a normal reading in Tokyo of around 0.04 microsieverts per hour.
  • The hotspots showed a reading of 71 microsieverts per hour at the surface level.
  • Greenpeace argues the hotspots pose a threat less from radiation, but more if contaminated soil is inhaled in the form of dust.
Government’s Defends

Every time we consider the possibility of lifting an evacuation order, first of all decontamination takes place and thereafter stringent monitoring is conducted,” Fukushima governor Masao Uchibori told journalists in February.

Is Data on Cancer in the affected area conclusive?

Data on cancer in the affected area is not conclusive.

Thyroid cancer levels are higher, but this may be the result of dedicated screening programmes which detected small cancers that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Radiation readings should be understood in context, said Geraldine Thomas, director of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank and chair of molecular pathology at Imperial College London. “Are these readings a surprise? No they are not. Is this a significant health concern? Absolutely not,” she told.

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