Original Japanese lecture by Rev. Makito Aizawa, No Nuke Project
The English below written and arranged by Heeday, based on the original Japanese
The English edited by Rev. Dr. Henry French, ELCA
+++ Standing Up For “Life”—In search of a Nuke-free World+++
This was the title of the lecture delivered by Rev. Makito Aizawa, chairperson of our No Nuke Project, in July 2016, at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Yokohama.
The flyer for the lecture quoted Rev. Aizawa: “I believe we need to see this issue (of nuclear power) in terms of ‘life’ granted to us by God—from the viewpoint of faith, above anything else.”
He began his lecture by saying, “This is an issue we cannot ignore, as we live as Christians and as humans.”
Rev. Aizawa wrote a summary of the lecture, which was delivered in Japanese. The lecture was very easy to understand and full of good viewpoints. In the hope of sharing it with as many readers as possible, the No Nuke Project presents an English summary of the lecture below.
- The church should stand with life
- Issues with the nuclear power system
- A nuclear accident is comparable only to a war
- “Your thoughts are not of God but of men”
- The court decision to suspend the operation of the Oi Nuclear Power Plant
- Our standpoint
An English summary of “Standing Up For “Life”—In search of a Nuke-free World,”
a lecture by Rev. Makito Aizawa
“Standing up for “life”—in search of a nuke-free world.” This is a serious and crucial subject. I am not an engineer, and I am not an expert on nuclear power generation. Still, as we live as Christians and as human beings, it is an issue we cannot ignore. So, how should we understand and respond to the system of nuclear power generation?
God provides us all equally with the following three things: Life, Time, and Death. Indeed, we are all equal in these things. This is a solemn truth. Keeping this truth firmly in mind, and with a special focus on “life,” we will consider the issues of nuclear power generation.
God has granted each and every one of us a life. Therefore, we are living in this world.
Precisely speaking, we were created to live, and we only have one life. We can easily see how precious this one life is. Once it is lost, we have no alternative. Another way to put it is to say that it is never permissible to destroy a life.
We naturally say “No!” to any act that destroys life, be it a war, verbal abuse, neglect, or the refusal to live together. I think there are many other ways life can be destroyed. On March 11th, 2011, we were made aware of one more path to destruction. The meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) began to spread deadly radioactive substances. As many say, this tragedy radically changed the way we live and think.
【The church should stand with life】
In Genesis 2:16–17, we read: “You may eat from any tree in the garden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the day you eat from that, you are surely doomed to die.” This is a command of God with deep meaning. In this text, we learn that some “fruits” are never to be eaten. In other words, there are some things we must not do.
Now, let us think about this prohibition one more time. As we consider nuclear power, this command of God shows us where we must stand. “The day you eat from that (nuclear power), you are surely doomed to die,” and that is precisely what we humans have done.
Now, do you not experience a tendency in church to avoid things political? How often have you heard it said: “A church is not the right place for politics.” I know well that there are ministers and laypeople who share similar beliefs. Still, let us think twice. Should we really avoid things “political” in church?
The Standing Committee of Catholic Bishops, part of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, gave a clear response to the question in its statement dated April 7th, 2016. I believe we too should listen to their response. Let me cite part of it here.
“There have been criticisms of political remarks made by the Bishops’ Conference. Why does the Conference make political statements? Are such statements not against the principle of separation of church and state? On these questions, as we said, in the first paragraph of the message we issued last year, ‘The church must not remain silent on issues involving the life and dignity of humans.’
The Roman Catholic Church certainly does not stand on any particular political ideology. Still, the Bishops’ Conference has the duty to declare that believers need to be aware of recent political trends in Japan, trends which could someday lead to serious threats to ‘the life and dignity of humans’ in the very places where we live.
Also, ‘separation of church and state’ does not mean ‘separation of politics and religion,’ but ‘separation of a state government and a religious organization.’ The true meaning of the principle is that a government must not hold power over any particular religious organization, and vice versa. No religious organization should exercise any state power, or enjoy a cozy relationship with a government, or receive any profits from it. That is the true meaning of the principle.”
Friends, I hope we can stand on the same foundation. When we hear the criticism that a church must not be engaged in anything political, I suggest we respond: “We are not supporting or disapproving any particular political party. What we are doing is speaking out on issues of life and the dignity of life. We cannot remain silent on such issues.”
【Issues with the nuclear power system】
The heart of the problem of nuclear power generation is that it inevitably produces deadly radioactive substances (“fallout”), which threaten life. Back in the early years of nuclear energy development, there was the hope that we would someday be able to neutralize such substances. By now, however, most experts agree that this hope is gone, due to the immense technical problems and huge financial investments required.
The issues surrounding the processing and storage of radioactive waste will remain with us long after we abolish NPPs. Many radioactive elements have a half-life of some dozens of thousands to millions of years. (Pu239 has a half-life of 24,110 years, and Np237 some 2.14 million years.)
Dozens of thousands to millions of years—time too long for us to imagine. Can we ever safely store deadly radioactive waste over such long periods of time? This is especially critical given that Japan is located in a geological area with frequent earthquakes. In a place like this, it is most probably impossible to safely store the “waste of death” somewhere underground for many thousands of years.
Additionally, attempting to store such waste for such a long time inevitably means that we are burdening future generations—who will not benefit from today’s power generation—with life-threatening radioactive substances. Is this ethically permissible? (See a recent Japanese publication titled “Datsu-genpatsu no Tetsugaku” (literally, “Philosophy of Freedom from Nuclear Power”) by Satoh & Taguchi.)
The common uranium contained in uranium ores (U238) has a half-life of some 4.5 billion years. Used nuclear fuel must be kept in isolation for 100,000 years, until its toxicity weakens sufficiently.
Now, let us think of how old the human race is. The first human species named “homo…” emerged some 1.8 million years ago, with “homo sapiens” appearing some 200,000 years ago.
The more we operate NPPs, the more radioactive waste is produced. All of this waste requires storage over astronomical periods of time. The nuclear power generation system leaves highly toxic waste, which cannot be processed, as well as the problem of its storage and all the serious dangers involved, to future generations. The longer we operate NPPs, the more of such waste is left to the future. All these troubles and dangers for future generations are being created just for the sake of our power consumption today. Thus, we have a system in which our easy living comes at the sacrifice of future generations.
Yet another serious issue is that nuclear power generation and the making of nuclear weapons basically use the same technology. Reprocessing and enrichment of used nuclear fuels can produce plutonium, which is the essential material of many nuclear weapons. In short, slow nuclear fission takes place in a NPP, while a rapid outburst of it occurs in a nuclear bomb. Many say that one reason why some nations keep operating their NPPs is that they want to maintain the technology to produce nuclear bombs.
In Japanese we use two different terms – “genshiryoku” (literally, “atomic power”) for power generation and “kaku” (“nuclear”) for weapons. Thus, nuclear power generation is “genshiryoku hatsuden” in common Japanese. However, in Chinese, it is usually核 (nuclear ) 电站. Today, some Japanese speakers prefer to use “kaku hatsuden” (nuclear power generation). But, language aside, the nuclear waste from NPPs is highly dangerous, and it is an inevitable byproduct of “nuclear” power generation.
【A nuclear accident is comparable only to a war】
Now, let us turn our attention briefly to the “Statement of War Responsibility” of the Anglican-Episcopal Church in Japan. With this statement, the Anglican-Episcopal Church in Japan demonstrated its awareness “that we are called to do justice as the people of God, and to become a church that hears the screams and painful cries of a world split apart and in agony, and so become an instrument of peace. And we pray for this transformation.” Thus, we will denounce war, and strive to build up and live in peace.
Now, from the viewpoint of peace and war, let us look at what nuclear power does. We can see that, in terms of severity, scale, etc., a major NPP incident is comparable only to war. In short, a nuclear incident exceeds many other tragedies in our world in terms of cruelty and severity. I learned this from the Japanese publication mentioned above, “Datsu-genpatsu no Tetsugaku.”
Once a major nuclear accident hits a NPP, or another nuclear facility, a tremendous area of land is rendered uninhabitable and some dozens of thousands of lives are threatened. In this sense, a nuclear accident is comparable only to a war.
For instance, see the statistics below from actual major NPP accidents:
Chernobyl Forum estimates the death toll ascribable to cancer related to this historic nuclear catastrophe at 4,000 among the 600,000 people who had considerable exposure to radiation in the three countries mainly affected by the accident, namely Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Greenpeace’s estimate of cancer deaths related to Chernobyl is 93,080 all over the world. The New York Academy of Sciences has 985,000 as the total death toll including causes other than cancer.
Soil contamination forced some 400,000 residents to emigrate out of an area of some 10,000 km2 (2,471,054 acres) area of land.
Belarus suffered a gigantic economic loss equivalent to 32 years of its national budget.
As you see, these figures show a leviathan of catastrophe comparable only to a war.
Some 154,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture left their homes to settle in other places. (As of March, 2013.) This figure is very close to the displacement of people during wars and civil wars.
- Uninhabitable and under-control lands
An area of some 1,000 km2 (247,097 acres) around the NPP is uninhabitable, with another 14,000 km2 (3,459,353 acres) of land under control for radioactivity. No “accident” other than a nuclear-related one can render such a massive area of land uninhabitable. In terms of scale, only a war is comparable to this.
As shown above, a nuclear accident kills numerous victims with cancer and other issues, renders a huge area of land uninhabitable, and radically destroys the livelihood of the people living there. What is comparable to a catastrophe like this? Only war is.
Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution renounces war. We, the Anglican-Episcopal Church in Japan, have adopted the Statement of War Responsibility. When we consider this, we know what we should do.
Now, once a NPP is put into operation, it produces radioactive waste. Though this is a plain fact that all the experts knew well, it caught the attention of many others after March 11th, 2011. The Anglican-Episcopal Church in Japan, therefore, in the 59th Regular General Synod of 2012, adopted a resolution named “For a World without Nuclear Power Plants – The Anglican/Episcopal Church in Japan Opposed to Nuclear Power Generation.” In essence, the resolution says the church “seeks for a world free from nuclear power,” since it “threatens lives created by God…destroys nature created by God …and deprives people of the peaceful life intended by God.”
Obviously, as the resolution points out, radioactive waste, now existing in huge quantities with no way to neutralize it, threatens the lives of people for many millennia to come. Radioactive substances remained stably underground for millions of years. Now, the nuclear power system has dug them up and is destroying the ecosystem of the planet. Nuclear accidents have destroyed the foundations of all too many people’s lives, people who are now forced to lead a life without stability.
【“Your thoughts are not of God but of men”】
Now, let us hear the word of our Lord. “Get behind me, Satan, for your thoughts are not of God but of men” (Gospel of Mark 8:33).
This is Jesus’ rebuke of Peter. It does not mean we should forget about things human. Rather, it means we have to have our priorities right. Giving a higher priority to things human over things Divine—for instance “money first” over life—can result in a catastrophe, as the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown has proven to us.
In the right sequence of priorities, life comes first. I suppose most people share this belief. Still: “Whether one is completely ignorant of God or a believer in God, a human is susceptible to impulses of rage, jealousy, desires to monopolize and dominate, etc. He/She can be enslaved by money or possessions. Also, without Divine help, a human often looks down on others who are inferior to him/her in power, physical might, intelligence, possessions, etc. and even considers such people’s lives as less important than his/her own.” (p. 13, “Hiboryoku ni yoru Heiwa eno Michi” (literally, “A Way to Peace through Non-Violence), a publication of the Social Committee of Catholic Bishops, part of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan.)
As we think of our Lord’s saying, “Your thoughts are not of God but of men,” in the context of our modern society, it sounds like “Your thoughts are not of life but of money.”
I heard Prof. Hirofumi Uzawa, a theoretical economist, say that the foundations of our lives, the atmosphere, water, forest, soil, etc., are not to be left to the care of the market economy. We can easily see the evidence of this claim in, among many other tragedies, the victims of Minamata disease, whose lives depended upon the Sea of Minamata, which was polluted by a big business. They were forced to sacrifice their lives and health for money. (Heeday’s note: Minamata disease was a severe form of mercury poisoning first discovered in 1956, in a place called Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. A business named Chisso Corporation had a chemical plant there, which released wastewater containing methylmercury into the sea facing Minamata, poisoning many residents there. Their traditional lifestyles depended on seafood.)
Yet another example of such victims are those whose land, which they inherited from their ancestors, was taken in exchange for money, due to the national government’s development policy. Prof. Uzawa’s theory rings loudly as a serious warning. Clearly our socioeconomic system can produce more such victims. The essentials of people’s lives must not be given over to the market mechanism, he says. This is something important we need to learn.
Another scholar, Prof. Takeshi Umehara, in a lecture, described a spiritual idea called “Somoku Kokudo Shikkai Jobutsu” (literally, “Grasses, trees, soil, minerals— everything can become Buddha”). The idea recognizes the nature of Buddha in everything—animals, plants, minerals—which, in turn, means they can all be transformed into Buddha. In other words, this idea proposes a way of life that coexists with nature. The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has made it clear that we now need to reconsider our sciences, technologies, and civilization from the viewpoint of “Somoku Kokudo Shikkai Jobutsu,” i.e., coexistence with nature.
As we live our eternal life, as promised by Lord Jesus, I think we must live together with nature as well. The creation story of the book of Genesis tells us to live together with and take care of nature. Not control it. Don’t forget: our responsibility is to let God-given nature prove its inherent beauty.
Both religiously and ethically, we cannot keep NPPs running. They produce deadly waste, and we have no way to process it into something safe. This alone is a strong enough reason to prohibit NPPs. Insistence on restarting NPPs seems to come from insistence on getting more and more money and profit. Holding economic growth above human life is a perversion. The way we should live is to build up a society that values life, thinking of things Divine first and then things human.
【The court decision to suspend the operation of the Oi NuclearPower Plant】
Now, from this viewpoint, the Fukui District Court’s decision of May 21st, 2014, which suspended the operation of Units 3 and 4 of the Oi NPP, located in Fukui, Japan, was of tremendous significance. Especially notable is the court’s position on “loss of the nation’s wealth,” which I think is in line with what the Bible teaches us.
<Loss of the nation’s wealth>
“Though the defendant (The Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc.) claims that restarting the NPP in question should lead to a stable supply of power and cost reduction, the court believes that the rights of many related to their very existence must not be discussed as a tradeoff with power rates and other issues. Such a discussion in itself is not permissible from the standpoint of legal justice.
Considering the relationship between power generation and nuclear energy here in Japan, we, the court, conclude that suspending the operation of the NPP in question will not result in any serious power shortage, nor would it cause any threat to a human’s life or body. We can safely ignore such a possibility.
Even in the defendant’s arguments, the inconveniences that might result from suspending the operation of the NPP in question are all within the domain of power supply stability and cost. Though some claim that an increase in power supply cost means a loss of the nation’s wealth, even if the suspension of the operation of the NPP in question would result in a large trade deficit, it would not mean any loss of the nation’s wealth. We, the court, believe the true national wealth is both a rich natural environment and people living in that environment with peace and stability. If these are lost irretrievably, it is the true loss of the nation’s wealth.
Also, though the defendant claims that NPPs help in the reduction of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emission and, therefore, are environmentally positive, once a severe accident occurs at a NPP, environmental destruction follows. We have witnessed that the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown is the most serious and greatest incident of environmental destruction in the whole of Japan’s history. Thus, it is utterly illogical to argue that a NPP’s operation should continue for the sake of environmental protection.”
There is a series of daily editorials, called “Vox Populi,” in a major Japanese newspaper named “The Asahi Shimbun.” I found an interesting folk tale in one editorial: A man was living happily with a lovely wife. One day, when a dog barked at the wife, she showed her true self – a fox. (Heeday’s note: In Japan’s fairy tales, a fox often turns itself into a human and deceives people. Ancient China had a legend of a fox-turned monster, which spread into the Japanese archipelago along with Buddhism.) The man, though shocked to learn he had been deceived by a fox, was unable to give up the happiness he enjoyed while he was deceived. So, he asked the fox to turn into the wife again.
I think this tale can be applied to Japan’s relationship with NPPs. “The Fukushima catastrophe has set many people free from the curse of the ‘NPP safety myth’ and revealed the true color of nuclear power. Still, some leaders are unable to give up the ‘happy deception’ and are eager to be deceived again.”
Minako Saitoh, a literary critic, analyzed why Japan has so far been unable to give up NPPs. She has come up with five reasons:
- Reluctance to give up—“We have worked so hard to restart some NPPs. How can we give up on them so easily!?”
- Fear that giving up NPPs now would prevent any future restarts
- Forlorn hope that technologies will overcome current suspicions about NPPs and prove their safety
- Insistence of the pro-nukes people to “save face” over against those voices calling for abolishment of NPPs
- Desire of the pro-nukes people to save their own skin, by avoiding all the risks involved in NPP abolishment
In essence, what is driving some people to restart NPPs includes “reluctance, fear, saving one’s face and skin, and forlorn hope.” If this analysis is true, we just cannot accept such things. And I am afraid that the analysis is correct.
In April 2011, Chancellor Merkel of Germany installed the “Ethics Commission on Safe Energy Supply,” which later, on May 30th, 2011, submitted a report saying Germany could abolish nuclear power within a decade. The report’s main points included:
- No matter how we improve NPP safety, an accident can happen.
- Once such an accident takes place, nuclear energy proves to be more dangerous than any other form of energy.
- Leaving radioactive waste to future generations is a serious ethical problem.
- There are other energy sources safer than nuclear.
- To alleviate global warming, using nuclear power in place of fossil fuels does not provide a solution.
- We should gradually eliminate NPPs through the development of renewable energies and by improving energy efficiency. This will create great opportunities for future economic growth as well.
I think what really matters is “determination.” If we make up our mind to abolish NPPs, we will engage in more research, share more ideas, and find new ways to do so. This will accelerate the spread of renewable energies. Small technologies will be developed, one after another.
The top priority issue with nuclear energy is safety, I think. Yet one serious question is what “safety” really is. Some people speak of technical safety, scientific safety, and so on. Yet these so-called “safeties” can confuse relevant discussions. To me, true “nuclear energy safety” can become a reality only after we have the technology to neutralize radioactive waste. And such a technology is only forlorn hope.
In 2006, a Buddhist poet named Shinmin Sakamura passed away at the age of 97. He wrote a poem titled “For those who come after me”:
For those who come after me
For those who come after me
I will toil
I will persevere
I will cultivate the rice paddies
And prepare seeds
For those who come after me
I will keep clean mountains, rivers, and the ocean
Yes, for those who come after us
We all do everything we can
For those beloved ones
Who come after us and those who come after them
For those who inherit the future
Everyone does what (s)he can
(From a collection of Shinmin Sakamura’s poems titled “Shikoku” (literally, “Land of Poems”)
Let me conclude this lecture with an impressive appeal made by a (then) 11-year-old child, who was a refugee from Iwaki, Fukushima and currently resides in Tokyo. This appeal was read at the opening ceremony of the “Tokyo – Hiroshima Route” of the March of Peace of the People against A&H Bombs 2014. The ceremony was held in front of the “Daigo Fukuryu-maru” Museum located in Yume-no-shima, Koto Ward, Tokyo, on May 6th, 2014. (Heeday’s note: “Daigo Fukuryu-maru was the tuna fishing boat that was hit by deadly fallout from a hydrogen bomb test conducted in Bikini Atoll in 1954. One of its crew, Aikichi Kuboyama, died half a year later.)
Here is the whole text of the appeal:
“Since I left my Fukushima home on the day after the meltdown began, I have not seen my home again. In March 2011, when I was a 2nd grader, I became a child living in Tokyo. All the things I cherished, my school, home, friends, and everything else, disappeared. A new life began and I started to go to school from my shelter.
I and my little brother, weeping and vomiting, just did whatever we had to do. Most of us, refugees from Iwaki, are from outside the “specified areas for refugee compensation” and so receive almost no compensation.* So, most of us are in poverty. Also, most children among us are living separately from their fathers. Their dads have to keep working in Fukushima. Otherwise, we will not be able to make our living as refugees. Without the NPP meltdown, all of us would be leading an ordinary life in our homes. I too spent a year and a half away from my dad. Back then, I was extremely happy on those few days when I met my dad. Yet every time he went back to Fukushima, my little brother covered himself up with “futon” sleeping mats and wept. I felt so sorry for him, because I wanted to cry too.
My dad worked hard, alone in Fukushima, but later he overworked himself and had both physical and mental problems. He had to quit the work and settled down in Tokyo. At long last, we are together. Still, currently we are experiencing many difficulties.
I did hear about what atomic bombs did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet I never imagined my own house would experience fallout from above 69 years later. And the fallout ruined the life of my whole family.
I lost so many things after the NPP meltdown. My house, my family’s smiles, and many other things all disappeared.
I hope a tragedy like this will never happen again, to anyone, anywhere. So, all of you participants in this March of Peace, please keep Japan on the right track, until I and my generation grow old enough to move Japan’s politics. Please let us inherit a safe future, a future without atomic bombs or NPPs. I and my fellow kids will learn everything we can, so we can inherit such a future, a future I earnestly and desperately hope for.”
* “Specified areas for refugee compensations”: Following the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, the Japanese government granted some compensation to those refugees who fled from the areas specified for such compensation. However, compensation is not given to those who fled, by their own decision, from areas not specified.
(End of this summary)