Within minutes of the announcement that Tokyo will be the host city for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the jokes started online:
"We'll need hazmat suits to watch the games live."
"At least they won't need to pay for lighting with Fukushima providing all the nuclear power."
"Thanks to Tokyo, there won't be another Olympics when half the teams die of radiation."
"Athletes will acquire nuclear power which is better than EPO or HGH."
Cool Japan, J-Pop, the land of anime, manga, and Hello Kitty, this isn't.
It's more like Radiation Nation.
Tokyo may be celebrating, but there is a deeply concerning global angst about a city hosting the Olympic games about 220 kilometers (137 miles) from the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.
When Madrid was eliminated in the first round of IOC voting on Saturday, Tokyo had the edge, but not the emotional one. That belonged to Istanbul. There will be many with second thoughts if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government doesn't walk its talk about cleaning up Fukushima for real after 18 months of fumbling.
For his part, Abe addressed Fukushima head on in his final pitch to the IOC:
"Some may have concerns about Fukushima. Let me assure you the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo... There are no health related problems until now, nor will there be in the future. I make the statement to you in the most emphatic and unequivocal way."
He added: "Today under the blue sky of Fukushima there are young boys playing football and looking into the future and not the past."
To be sure, this win for Tokyo is an even bigger win for the Abe government. But it arrives in a week of contrasts. South Korea announced that it would ban all marine products from eight Japanese prefectures due to ongoing concerns about radiation. Abe announced that the Japanese government will finally step in to assist Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) in the Fukushima clean-up, which is showing radiation levels three times that of Chernobyl.
How much faith and trust can global citizens have in a government that has allowed Tepco to mismanage the last 18 months since 3/11 and decades before that? Tepco could have put in safety measures to withstand the kind of earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11, 2011, but it didn't. Why? Because it put very bad public relations before public safety. On March 10, 2011, the conventional wisdom was that if safety measures were in place, this would have worried the local residents. And from March 11 on those residents were either dead or displaced.
The Japanese government must now use the momentum from its Olympics win to ask the world to step in and help it overcome a disaster that was first man-made, then natural, and then man-made again.
There should also be a Fukushima legacy -- how not to manage nuclear power plants built along earthquake-prone seacoasts. The world must now test Abe's assurances to the ICO that the situation will soon be under control. The time for rhetorical assurances is over. (We'll have to hold our breaths that no repeat 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquakes occur.)
In 1964, Tokyo unveiled itself as a global economic miracle a mere two decades after the end of World War II. In 2020, Tokyo should unveil itself as a global environmental leader. Now that would be cool, Japan.
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