Since the disastrous accident broke out at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant a year ago, various religious organizations in Japan have voiced critical views of nuclear power generation.
The National Christian Council in Japan and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan have issued separate statements calling for an end to nuclear power generation in this country. The Japan Buddhist Federation has issued a declaration urging a shift to renewable energy sources.
Some eminent religious leaders have also joined the growing chorus of critics of using atomic energy to generate electricity.
In January, Koshin Ohtani, who is Monshu, or spiritual master, of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, a major Buddhist sect, talked about the Fukushima nuclear crisis after the 750th memorial service to honor Shinran Shionin, the founder of the sect, at the Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto, the sect’s mother temple.
“(We have) destroyed the harmony of nature, creating a situation that requires future generations to make a great sacrifice and shoulder a heavy burden,” he said. “This is a consequence of excessive human desire.”
Following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 26 years ago, some Japanese religious figures took action against nuclear power. But it was only a small ripple and didn’t grow into a massive wave engulfing the religious world.
The accident in Fukushima has broken up many local communities of believers. And people involved are lamenting that there is no prospect of followers returning to shrines, temples and churches in the affected areas.
The dire consequences of the accident have apparently made it difficult for the leaders of major religious organizations, who are generally regarded as conservative, to keep silent about Fukushima.
But their proposals to reduce Japan’s dependence on atomic energy are mostly modest ones, such as installing solar panels in the precincts of a temple or introducing a system to reuse rainwater.
Many of the messages about the Fukushima disaster issued by religious leaders don’t clearly express opposition to nuclear power generation nor strongly advocate weaning the nation from its dependence on atomic energy.
The chief priest of a Buddhist temple who has been actively involved in the anti-nuclear movement has criticized such religious leaders for being restrained by fear of antagonizing the political and business communities.
Still, I think the messages about the Fukushima meltdown coming from the religious world are meaningful.
The nuclear disaster has created a serious conflict of interests between the state and the local governments involved and also between the parties responsible for the accident and victims.
The electric power company that operates the crippled nuclear power plant and the central government should obviously be held strictly accountable for the worst nuclear accident in the nation’s history.
But we should ask ourselves one question. Is each one of us also responsible, at least partially, for the accident because we contributed to the expansion of nuclear power generation in this country through our endless desire for higher living standards?
Invisible radiation released from the stricken nuclear power plant has been spreading well beyond areas that have been designated as dangerous zones.
Anybody could be a victim of radiation exposure. It seems inevitable that dealing with the consequences of the release of radiation from the Fukushima plant will be a long-term challenge that requires the involvement of future generations as well.
Many religions preach that nature and life around us have been entrusted to us for safekeeping and should be handed down intact to future generations.
It would be absurd to believe that our generation alone is allowed to waste as many resources and foods as we like and make future generations pay the price for our follies.
All nuclear reactors in western Japan have gone offline as the last operating one was shut down for maintenance on Feb. 20. It is likely that no reactor will be generating electricity in this country at the end of April.
If the nation’s power generation capacity declines, the only realistic short-term option is to reduce power consumption.
The prospect of having to curb our desires is looming large.
Reflecting on our desire-driven life is the least we should do as a generation responsible for the devastating nuclear accident.
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Shunji Morimoto is a senior staff writer of The Asahi Shimbun.
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