September 2015

The cost of nuclear power

It’s hard to believe, but in the same week that Japan remembered the horrors of the 1945 nuclear bombings, and only four-and-a-half-years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese Government restarted the country’s nuclear power program, writes Good Samaritan Sister Haruko Morikawa.

BY Haruko Morikawa SGS

Ceremonies were held in Japan last month to mark 70 years since nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time of the bombings, many thousands of people were killed and injured. Since then, many others have suffered, too. The memory of those devastating events – the hardship, the disappointment and the hopelessness – is still alive amongst Japanese people. If you visit these two cities, the scars are evident.

Disasters like this should never be repeated. You’d think that we would learn from the past. Yet, in the same week that we remembered the horrors of the 1945 nuclear bombings, and only four-and-a-half-years after the tragic Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster – triggered by earthquakes and a tsunami – the Japanese Government announced that it was restarting the country’s nuclear power program. It is hard to believe.

Recovery from the Fukushima disaster is happening slowly, but much more needs to happen before the city is reconstructed. One wonders if people will ever be able to return to the most affected areas. The nuclear power plant explosion and radiation leak contaminated the air, the water and destroyed the living space. People were forced to relocate from their homes and separated from their families, enduring an inconvenient way of life amongst lots of debris. Some of the debris is contaminated with nuclear ashes. How and where to dispose of this dangerous material is very problematic; much of it has been left in plastic bags in the town.

Soon after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, people all over Japan attended anti-nuclear demonstrations every Friday night. These demonstrations continue to this day. In Nara, near Kyoto, where I live, people gather for an hour each Friday at 6:30pm. They arrive in twos and threes at Nara Station to express their concern. The number of people who gather can vary from 25 to 100.

It was while visiting people afflicted by the Fukushima disaster a few years ago that I decided to attend the weekly protests; it is one way I can express my solidarity with them. I want to walk with those who have suffered – not only in my words, but also through my actions. When I attend the demonstration, I am conscious of the people of Fukushima and the need to care for the earth.

During our time together a leader in the group speaks about the aim of the demonstration, inviting passers-by to join in. From Nara Station we walk to a nearby nuclear power company where we hold posters and chant slogans: “Stop the nuclear power plant”; “Keep the Fukushima people in a safe place”; “Keep the future safe for our children”, and so on. It is gentle action, but our message is clear.

Since the Fukushima disaster in 2011, most people in Japan have expressed their opposition to nuclear power. But despite this, the government last month restarted the Sendai nuclear power plant – the first nuclear plant to begin operation since all were shut down after the Fukushima crisis.

Sendai is on the southern part of Kyushu, located near the active volcano Sakurajima and also where earthquakes are frequent. In June, seismologists handed down the report of their research to the government saying that Sendai is in a very dangerous position, surrounded by a volcano.

Just a few weeks ago, people living near the Sakurajima volcano were told to prepare to evacuate because of small eruptions and the potential for more major volcanic activity. In spite of this reality, the governor recommended the Sendai project. The government thinks that restarting the nuclear power plant will activate the local economy by giving people more employment opportunities.

Most people are opposed to the restart of the Sendai plant because we know that what happened at Fukushima can also happen at Sendai. But the government argues that we do not have enough energy. Nuclear power plant companies also promote the convenient story to use their energy with the myth of clean, cheap and safe energy. We should not be taken in by this information. We should be wise to find out the truth. I believe we could survive without nuclear power by investing in renewable energy, such as water, wind, steam and solar energy.

The Catholic Church is supportive of the anti-nuclear power movement. Among its efforts, the Church has supported an anti-nuclear signature campaign. Peace and justice groups play a leading role. Some congregations have opened their houses to help people affected by the Fukushima disaster. Though our power is not so strong to move the mountain, it is necessary to appeal to what is important for the people in Fukushima.

Since the Fukushima disaster, Japanese people have become much more aware of the dangers of nuclear power, especially in a country like ours that is vulnerable to natural disasters. But the nuclear issue is not just a matter for Japan. Did you know that the uranium used to fuel the Fukushima nuclear power plant came from Australia?

The world is a big place, but we are all closely connected to each other; we cannot look on what happens in a neighbouring country with indifference. It is my prayer that all people of good will – whether in Japan or other countries – become more aware of this important issue and do what they can to make a positive difference.

Haruko Morikawa

Good Samaritan Sister Haruko Morikawa has been committed to peace and justice issues for many years. Currently she is focused on supporting people affected by the 2011 Fukushima disaster and advocating about the dangers of nuclear power. She also works with a NGO to support migrant workers and asylum seekers in Japan.

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