The Motegi round of MotoGP is now cleared to go ahead as planned. Today, the FIM issued a press release announcing that the official results had come back from ARPA, the independent Italian agency commissioned by Dorna and the FIM to measure radiation levels in and around the Motegi circuit, and that the official report backs up the findings of the preliminary report the FIM and Dorna had received last week, after which they had issued a press release. As a result, there is no reason to cancel, reschedule or relocate the Japanese MotoGP round, and the race is to go ahead as scheduled, on October 2nd, at the Motegi circuit.
The report (which the FIM has made available as a PDF file on their website) states that the amount of radiation that the riders, teams and media are likely to face is "in line with the average natural sources dose" as reported by UNSCEAR. Radiation exposure at Motegi is, in other words, much the same as you might expect if you spent the same amount of time in Italy or Spain. On the basis of this finding, the FIM and Dorna have decided to allow the event to go ahead, with the proviso that no further major incidents occur in the intervening period.
Whether the report will convince the radiation refuseniks - led in public by Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, but with active support and encouragement from most of the other MotoGP riders, as well as much support from the team members and members of the media - remains to be seen. Their objections are based not so much on the radiation at the Motegi circuit, but more on the situation at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Fukushima prefecture continues to be rocked by aftershocks, some as high as magnitude 6.4, and there is a broad concern inside the paddock that the situation at the plant is not under control, and that a large earthquake during the MotoGP weekend could cause the plant to suffer further damage and lead to a large-scale release of radiation.
It is hard to say whether such fears are justified. The situation at the Fukushima plant is slowly being brought under control, though problems remain. There has been some breach of containment in one of the reactors, though it is unclear how much danger that poses to the immediate environment. Work on cooling the stricken reactors appears to be making some headway, with recycling of the radioactive cooling water due to start soon. Temperatures in the reactor cores continue to fall, though they remain worryingly high. Aftershocks continue to hit the region, but as Japan is in one of the most seismically active regions in the world (sitting at the point where three tectonic plates meet), earthquakes and aftershocks are commonplace. Whether the Fukushima plant could withstand another major earthquake or earthquake-triggered tsunami is unclear, and science is as yet unable to predict when another earthquake might strike, and just how serious such an event might be. If another 'quake did strike, the immediate danger from the earthquake itself probably poses more of a direct threat than any potential damage to the Fukushima plant, but statements about the risk of earthquakes, the risk of damage to Fukushima Daiichi by earthquakes, and the risks of harm from such an earthquake itself must of necessity be surrounded by uncertainty, making drawing any kind of conclusion about the situation impossible, whether it be that it is safe, or that it is unsafe. The risk of something happening while MotoGP is at Motegi is probably very low indeed, but there are no guarantees. As, indeed, there are no guarantees that the planes carrying the riders and teams to Japan will complete their flights safely. Some risk is inherent in all activity, but whether racing at Motegi is more or less dangerous than racing anywhere else in the world is impossible to say.
Readers interested in the situation may find the following resources useful:
- the Nuclear Energy Institute's Japan microsite: The NEI is the US organization set up to promote nuclear energy in the US, so are clearly in favor of the technology. However, the NEI does have a website which provides regular updates on the current situation at the Fukushima power plant, including some technical detail on the situation.
- the Fairewinds Consultancy website: Fairewinds is a company set up by former nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen which provides analysis and legal services in the field of nuclear power. Gundersen is a regular expert used by the media to discuss the issues of nuclear power, and the Fukushima situation in particular, and posts regular video updates on the ongoing dangers at the Fukushima plant.
- the Wikipedia page on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster: As reliable as you might expect Wikipedia to be (which is pretty good nowadays), the Fukushima page provides some background on the events surrounding the disaster, and a chronological timeline of events showing how the disaster unfolded. The page is not updated as regularly as the NEI Japan microsite.
If you have any further resources of your own, please feel free to add them below, along with a description of the site, your estimate of their reliability and - more importantly - their objectivity.
Below is the official FIM press release announcing that Motegi will go ahead as planned:
Grand Prix of Japan: Statement from the FIM
The FIM and Dorna Sports have now received the official detailed and final report provided by ARPA*, recognised body to investigate the current situation in Motegi and its environs. Based on this report the FIM and Dorna Sports confirm today that, subject to there being no further serious incidents, the Grand Prix of Japan will take place on 2 October as planned.
As already indicated in the previous Press Release, ARPA has measured levels of radiation from all sources including the air, environment and food. The final conclusion is that "based on the estimate dose it can be said with no doubt that the radiation risk during the race event is negligible".
This study is intended to complement the information already available from various Governments and the World Health Organisation, which addresses the general situation in Japan following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred in March. This independent investigation reports specifically on the situation in Motegi and its environs, making it much more relevant to MotoGP participants.
Full report in English (PDF file).
ARPA*, agenzia regionale prevenzione e ambiente dell'emila romagna based in Bologna, Italy.