Radiation Levels Big Concern as Japan Preps for 2020 Olympics

The 2020 Olympics are set to take place in Japan, but there is a growing concern about the safety of those heading overseas. In the time following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan saw the release of harmful radioactive pollutants or radionuclides, such as iodine‑131, cesium‑134, cesium‑137, strontium‑90, and plutonium‑238.

This resulted in radioactive contamination throughout northeastern Japan, but after eight years, members of the local and central government have said that the radiation is no longer a concern. Unfortunately, that's not entirely accurate. The steps taken by the government to make the environment safer are viewed as effective by some, but there is far more to the story. According to The Diplomat, the radiation hasn't entirely disappeared from the environment. Instead, it's been moved to other locations.

One such process of decontamination has actually consisted of collecting and removing radioactive pollutants. The radionuclides are then placed in black vinyl bags, which, in theory, should impede the risk of rescattering residual radioactivity. The report continues by providing evidence of this process. There are currently mountains of black plastic bags, filled with contaminated soil or debris, that can be seen in many parts of Fukushima.

Unfortunately, this fix of sticking the radionuclides inside the bags only appears to be a temporary solution that will ultimately need to be addressed once again. For example, some of the vinyl bags are now starting to break down due to the build-up of gas released by rotten soil. Plants and flowers have also started to grow inside the bags. With nowhere to expand, these plants are breaking through the bags and exposing the radioactive materials to the atmosphere. At this point, it is far more likely that the weather will distribute the radionuclides once again.

Additionally, there have been countless monitoring posts installed throughout Fukushima, which display the current atmospheric level of radiation. Measurements are taken from different locations and then combined to create an average level for the city. According to these posts, the levels of radiation have significantly fallen.

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That being said, The Diplomat reports that there are currently no monitoring posts in the forests and mountains. These areas make up 70 percent of the Fukushima prefecture, but the radiation levels are not being monitored. The other concern is that the monitoring posts only measure gamma rays and ignore radionuclides, which are very harmful if swallowed or ingested.

With the Olympics approaching, the belief is that the radiation is lowering and that the athletes will not be in danger. However, reports by The Diplomat paint a far more troubling picture. Will the events proceed as planned, or will adjustments have to be made as 2020 nears?