Some drivers wary of Japan radiation
Forgive Ryan Hunter-Reay and other Izod IndyCar Series drivers if they're not sure what to believe about safety concerns in Japan, a country still reeling from earthquake and tsunami damage six months ago.
On one hand there's Danica Patrick, who last week brought the issue to the forefront with comments during a NASCAR event at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. If radiation exposure isn't a concern, she said, contaminated food is.
On the other hand is Takuma Sato, a Japanese driver who told IndyCar.com from Tokyo there should be "no hesitation" about making the trip to the Twin Ring Motegi circuit even though it's located just 90 miles from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Then there are MotoGP riders who are concerned and U.S. State Department officials who aren't. MotoGP postponed its spring race to Oct. 2.
Hunter-Reay said Monday that he is hoping the experts are right.
"I just have to go," he said. "I've done a little research and it seems like everything is OK."
He paused as if to convince himself things are fine in Japan.
"It's not like I'm going to move there," he said.
Not all IndyCar regulars are headed for Motegi, but most of those who are will leave today. Many have packed extra power bars and snacks, and some put bottled water in their checked luggage. A few recently started taking potassium iodine pills to offset radiation intake.
All have been encouraged not to eat raw fish, meat or produce this week. That's fine with Hunter-Reay.
"I got my fill of sushi over the weekend," the Floridian said.
In July, the State Department said health and safety risks were low within a 50-mile radius of the nuclear power plant. A month ago, Indianapolis physician Terry Trammell presented IndyCar participants traveling to Japan with an environmental risk study. Among the findings:
Radiation exposure from a week in Japan would be less than two chest X-rays.
There is significantly more natural radiation in Denver and six times more in Rome than in Tokyo.
Too much radiation increases the risk of cancer. As for the water, Trammell said drinking contaminated water for a year wouldn't add that much radiation to an adult's body.
Patrick isn't convinced.
"I don't want to make anyone mad, but heck yeah, I'm concerned," she told reporters after a Nationwide Series practice at Richmond. "The radiation seems OK. I'm concerned about the food, to be honest.
"They say don't eat beef, which probably means don't eat vegetables and fruit. I read something about nine times the radiation in mushrooms so far out of Fukushima in that area. And there's earthquakes every week. It seems every other week there's a pretty big one."
Trammell's report acknowledged the possibility of an earthquake given the seismic activity ongoing since the March 11 disaster.
The biggest threat, he said, is to the roads in the area becoming impassable due to damage.
Damage to the Twin Ring Motegi oval track is why IndyCar will race on the facility's road course this weekend.
IndyCar's safety director is Charles Burns, who has an evacuation plan for this event like he does every event.
"I guess it's that we've compromised on the track, and (IndyCar) isn't going back after this year anyway," Patrick said. "It just seems like a lot of forced things to make it happen.
"I'm just a driver, and I show up where I have to show up."
With water bottles, she said. Indy Star