COMMENTARY: Lessons to remember to avoid repeating Fukushima accident

March 11, 2012

By HIROSHI HOSHI / Senior Staff Writer

Over the past year, there has been much discussion related to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

I want to pass on the comments of two individuals that left a strong impression on me.

Last December, the Japan Buddhist Federation issued a rare appeal for a lifestyle that did not depend on nuclear power. The federation has until now refrained from making political statements.

The appeal said in part, "we will strive to reduce our dependence on such nuclear power that threatens life and to realize a society based on sustainable energy. We must choose a path in which personal happiness is harmonized with human welfare, instead of wishing for prosperity at the expense of others."

I had the opportunity to meet with Taitsu Kono, the federation president, to ask him what the aim of the appeal was.

"What did Buddhist groups do during World War II?" Kono asked. "Instead of raising voices in opposition to the war, they gave fighter planes to the military through donations gathered from church members. Despite that, there was no attempt to confess their sins for a considerable time after the war. I thought for a long time whether that was proper."

He added, "There is overlap between the religious leaders who accommodated the state during that war and cooperated with the war effort and the atmosphere of not saying anything about the nuclear power plant issue. When we think about the people who have been forced to leave their hometowns due to the nuclear accident, as people in religion who preach about the dignity of life, nuclear power plants are something we cannot accept. We should review our lifestyles and seek out a society in which nuclear power plants are not necessary."

The gist of his argument is that Buddhist leaders should reflect on the fact that many in the religion said nothing during the war and therefore should now state their views on the nuclear issue.

I felt the sincere attitude of a person of religion from his comments.

Kono has asked all temples in Japan to ring their bells at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, the exact time the magnitude-9.0 quake struck one year ago.

The other comment that struck me was a warning issued by a noted scientist.

Koichi Kitazawa is chairman of the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident. One comment was made clearly during a news conference to announce the results of the report that criticized a "village" of specialists working in nuclear energy.

Kitazawa said, "A self-defeating trap was created by the myth of the total safety of nuclear power plants. That is a logic that says there is no need for further safety measures since the plants are already 100 percent safe. According to high-ranking government officials, individual officials held doubts about the safety measures, but they all felt nothing would change even if they said anything, so they collectively read the mood of the situation. If the ability to read the mood of any situation is unavoidable in Japanese society, then such a society does not have the qualifications to safely operate a high-risk, large-scale and complicated technology such as nuclear energy."

The message of not repeating the folly of reading the mood of society and not saying anything is not only a lesson about the Fukushima nuclear accident that has been passed on by a man of religion and a man of science, but is also a warning directed to those of us in journalism.

By HIROSHI HOSHI / Senior Staff Writer
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Illustration by The Asahi Shimbun

Illustration by The Asahi Shimbun

  • Illustration by The Asahi Shimbun
  • Hiroshi Hoshi (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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