Not only is the Howard-Hughes bankrolled John Wayne vehicle The Conqueror (1956) considered one of the 10 worst films of all time, it also may have literally killed much of its cast and crew, including Wayne, Susan Hayward and director John Powell. The commonly attributed culprit? The Big C, courtesy of your (or your parents’) tax dollar-funded above-ground nuclear testing.
That testing took place in 1953 at the Nevada Test Site during an era when the government was testing dozens of thermonuclear weapons a year, seemingly with little regard for the safety of its own population. Unfortunately for The Duke, during filming those tests were flinging all kinds of radioactive particles high into the atmosphere just 137 miles upwind of the Mongolia-ish cliffs and sands of St. George, Utah. By 1981, 91 of 220 cast and crew had developed some form of cancer. Was there a link? Hey, many of them did smoke and drink heavily, so who knows?
We at MD don’t know if the 16 of 17 MotoGP racers indicating they may boycott Motegi in October know anything about The Conqueror or its aftermath, but they seem to have a sense of caution consistent with that knowledge. Twin Ring Motegi is 90 miles from Tokyo and just 66 miles from the ailing and radioactive Fukushima reactors. The fear, of course, is radiation poisoning — but what kind of dose would the racers get in a week at Motegi?
That’s where things get murky. The Japanese government is keeping everybody except emergency workers 12 miles away from the stricken plant, and people living within 19 miles of the plant have been evacuated. The U.S. Embassy, working on recommendations from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has told American citizens to stay 50 miles away. According to at least one report, radiation levels 12 miles from the plant are 1,600 times that of normal environmental radiation (or 16 nanosieverts) and go down from there. At 100 kilometers (62 miles), the level of radiation looks to be much closer to normal. But at this point, few people trust any corporate, governmental or international body to tell the whole truth, or, if attempting to tell the whole truth, be accurate about it.
So, if the experts are saying that a short visit to Motegi is safe, can the expected boycott still be considered reasonable? Some of these riders are paid very handsomely (most of them, in fact) to risk their lives traveling 200 miles per hour on race tracks. Should they be allowed to tell their employers that a visit to Motegi creates an unreasonable risk? In the end, do any of us really know one way or the other?
There are contracts all around, with DORNA (MotoGP’s organizer) committed to bringing the race to Japan, IRTA (the association of racing teams) committed to supplying the racers, and racers committed to riding the races. The smaller names may cave in, fearful of being blackballed next season. But the big names (like Casey Stoner, who has stated he’s “not going regardless of anything”) may think they have less to lose. His seat will likely be filled by a substitute, as will Lorenzo’s, and others that ultimately decide not to attend the race, but the Japanese may nevertheless react aggressively against their disobedient employees. They will get the message loud and clear, and I’m guessing that, aside from potential breach of contract claims against their riders, they will feel disrespected.