Photo Credit: Greg Webb / IAEA
[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] Japanese parish priests shared stories of suffering from victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster at an International Forum for a Nuclear-Free World held in Sendai, Japan, last week. A joint statement from the forum, due out next month, is expected to strengthen the call for a worldwide ban on nuclear energy and encourage churches to join in the campaign.
The forum, organised by the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK) – the Anglican Communion in Japan – follows the NSKKs General Synod resolution in 2012 calling for an end to nuclear power plants and activities to help the world go nuclear free.
The disaster in 2011 followed a massive earthquake and tsunami which caused a number of explosions in the town’s coastal nuclear power station and led to widespread radioactive contamination and serious health and environmental effects. The Chair of the forum’s organising committee, Kiyosumi Hasegawa, said: “We have yet to see an end to the damage done to the people and natural environment by the meltdown of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. I do think this man-made disaster will haunt countless people for years to come. We still see numerous people who wish to go back to their hometowns but are unable to. We also have people who have given up on ever going home.”
One pastor, Dr Naoya Kawakami, whose church was affected by the tsunami and is the General Secretary of the Sendai Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network, Touhoku HELP, explained how he had supported sufferers in the aftermath and heard from priests supporting the survivors. He said: “I have been more than 700 times to meet with more than 180 mothers and about 20 fathers, all of whom have seen abnormalities in their children since 2011. . . Thyroid cancer has been found in more than 273 children and many mothers are in deep anxiety.
“The more the situation worsens, the more pastors become aware of their important role. The role is to witness . . . pastors who have stayed in Fukushima with the ‘voiceless survivors’ are showing us the church as the body of Jesus’s resurrection, with wounds and weakness . . . sufferers are usually in voiceless agony and most people never hear them.”
The forum was attended by bishops, clergy and lay representatives from each diocese, together with representatives from the US-based Episcopal Church, USPG, the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, the Diocese of Taiwan, the Anglican Church of Korea, and also ecumenical guests. International experts took part, along with local clergy who shared individual stories from those directly affected by the disaster.
Keynote lecturer Prof Dr Miranda Schreurs, from the Technische Universität München in Germany, launched the forum at Tohoku Diocese’s Cathedral, Sendai Christ Church. The professor currently serves as a member of the Ethic Commission for Safe Energy Supply and significantly influenced Germany’s nuclear free energy policy. Other speakers included the Bishop of Taiwan, David Jun Hsin Lai, and Amos Kim Kisuk from the Anglican Church of Korea.
During the week delegates from outside Japan visited sites and towns near the nuclear power plant. They also visited St John’s Church Isoyama and “Inori no Ie” (House of Prayer) in Shinchi, Fukushima, to offer prayers for all the victims of the disaster.
The NSKK Partners-in-Mission Secretary, Paul Tolhurst, said the visit to Fukushima had brought home the reality of the situation for local people. “Driving past the power station and seeing the ghost town around us as the Geiger counter reading kept going up is something I won’t forget”, he said. “It was like the town time forgot – they still seem to be living the incident, while the rest of Japan has moved on.”
Arguing for an end to nuclear power, NSKK priest John Makito Aizawa said: “Both religiously and ethically, we cannot allow nuclear power plants to continue running. They produce deadly waste, which we have no way of processing into something safe.
“More than 100,000 years are necessary for the radiation of such deadly waste to diminish to the level that it was in the original uranium. This alone is a strong enough reason to prohibit nuclear power plants. Insistence on restarting nuclear power plants seems to come from the insistence on getting more and more money and profit.”
He added: “I am no scientist or engineer of nuclear power generation. I am no expert. Still, as Christians, and to live as humans, I am certain this is an issue we cannot afford to ignore.”
The forum’s statement is expected to call for a goal of conversion to renewable sources of energy and set out ways to build a network to take forward denuclearization and how the church can play its part.