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After Fukushima, faith groups ponder nuclear power

September 22, 2011

TOKYO

The disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is causing a worldwide re-evaluation of nuclear power and renewing debate within faith groups on the subject.

Participants at the World Council of Churches’ International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica, last May stated emphatically that “the nuclear catastrophe of Fukushima has proved once again that we must no longer rely on nuclear power as a source of energy.”

However, opposition to nuclear power is by no means a consistent theme even within a denomination.

As Japan prepares to mark the six-month anniversary of the disaster, the crippled plant continues to leak low levels of radiation and the 80,000 people evacuated from a 12-mile zone around the plant still cannot return to their homes. Damage from the earthquake and tsunami caused a loss of cooling water and three reactors experienced full meltdown. 

After the disaster, the National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ) reiterated a position it has held since the 1970s against nuclear energy. “We must stop all nuclear power plants in Japan and [the rest of] the whole world and abolish them and nuclear weapons,” the Rev. Kei Johkura, a vice moderator of the NCCJ who is in charge of the nuclear power plants issue, told ENInews.

Elsewhere in Asia, after the accident, national Christian or church councils in South Korea and India as well as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan expressed their opposition to nuclear power plants.

Last spring, two major ecumenical gatherings ― the Churches’ Forum on Peace and People’s Security in Northeast Asia and the Earthquake/Tsunami Relief Ecumenical Solidarity Meeting ― called on governments to “stop the building of new nuclear power generating plants,” reduce dependence on nuclear energy and seek alternatives in “clean” energy such as wind and solar power.  

In Indonesia, hit by an earthquake-caused tsunami in 2004, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PCI) is opposing the government’s plan to build two nuclear power plants in Bangka Belitung islands off the southern coast of Sumatra, hit hard by the 2004 disaster. “We learn also from the Fukushima Daiichi accident,” the Rev. Gomar Gultom, PGI general secretary, told ENInews.

The Christian Conference of Asia, based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, believes the issue needs more study, said Charlie Ocampo, executive secretary for justice, international affairs, development and service. “However, there may be opportunities in the future to work on the nuclear power issue,” he added.

In Europe “the use of nuclear power is in many cases a question that divides people into different groups, often even inside the churches,” said Peter Pavlovic, secretary of the European Christian Environmental Network.

“There are in Europe churches that [have] expressed their evident and well-defined anti-nuclear stands. This position is also reflected by a number of grassroots Christian movements and individual Christians ... On the other hand, most of the churches in Europe [do not] have an official and clear policy on nuclear power,” he wrote in an e-mail to ENInews.

The Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) has no formal policy on nuclear energy, “although the issue has been under discussion for decades,” Guillermo Kerber, WCC’s program executive on care for creation and climate justice, told ENInews.

Some faith leaders believe that Fukushima demonstrated a need for urgent action on this issue. On March 14, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, “passionately” appealed to “all those responsible for a reconsideration of the nuclear policy of nations throughout the world” and said he supported safer “green” forms of energy.

On May 25, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in France, one of the world’s largest nuclear power-generating countries, wrote on its website that “after Fukushima ... sustainable development is more relevant than ever!”

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