Life or Nuclear Power:
Standing on the Brink of 100 Million People Being Exposed to Radiation
By Tsutomu Shoji
former General Secretary of the NCCJ representing the Association of Religious Organizations Against Nuclear Power
1. Being forgiven and starting again
When the March 11 earthquake hit eastern Japan, I was at the Korean Christian Center in the Ikuno Ward of Osaka listening to a talk by the head of the center, Chong-Il Lee. We felt only a strange slow roll of the building there, but later as I headed back to Tokyo and arrived home, I was horrified by the scenes I beheld on TV. Then I began seeing reports of the nuclear accident and realized how serious the situation was. My immediate thoughts were to get my two grandchildren, who lived with us, out of harms way by sending them to western Japan. My daughter's and her husband's jobs didn't allow them to simply leave, and so we took the kids with us, leaving on the 16th. Their parents were later able to follow, and with the kindness of some relatives, we spent 6 days away from the scene in safety. Nevertheless, I felt convicted, asking myself, "What on earth have you up until now?" I had been involved with the nuclear issue for some time, but it was always about someone else. Now, it wasn't about the exposed workers or residents in Wakasa or Rokkasho-mura, but it was about my own grandkids. I was getting quite depressed, but then I talked with Dr. Toshiyuki Yamazaki, who helped care for the children of Chernobyl and now serves on the committee dealing with the nuclear issue in the Osaka District. He told me that it was a really good idea that I got my grandkids out of the area so quickly. Yes, we must first protect our own and then reach out to others to help them so that we can protect humans and indeed all life from the threat of the nuclear industry. We must demand that they be shut down and deactivated. My own complacency had been shaken up, but through Dr. Yamazaki, I felt God's forgiveness and a renewed commitment to continue on. After that, I also received confirmation of God's forgiveness and encouragement from my friend Mitsuhiko Tanaka.
2. The deception and violence of nuclear power
On April 23, representatives from various Buddhist sects and both Protestant and Catholic Christians met at the Japan Christian Center in Nishi Waseda (Tokyo) for an emergency conference sponsored by the NCCJ Committee on Peace and Nuclear Issues. The featured speaker was Kazuhiko Tanaka, a nuclear engineer who had directed the design and building of nuclear reactors. He went into great detail explaining that Tokyo Electric's explanation of the nuclear accident being the result of the tsunami is actually a ruse designed to deceive the public. The official story has been that the tsunami knocked out all of the pumps that circulate water to cool down the reactors were disabled by the tsunami and that it was this lack of ability to cool the reactors that led to the meltdown. In response to this, Tanaka stated that the exposing of the rods due to the lack of water was in fact due to the earthquake damage prior to the arrival of the tsunami. Tanaka deduced that the pipes connecting the pumps to the reactor, along with other equipment, had been damaged by the earthquake itself, which led to this very dangerous situation. I say, "deduced" because Tokyo Electric and the government have been hiding essential data.
Now, however, more than 7 months after the disaster, that data is being made public. TE and the government had admitted to some of the issues pointed out by Tanaka and other experts, but they still are holding to the tsunami explanation. This, however, is not a trifling matter, since the very lives of everyone in this nation are tied up in this. Tanaka's take on things is that nuclear reactor system itself could not withstand the force of the quake, and so the problem isn't limited to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors but, in this narrow, earthquake prone archipelago, the more than 50 other nuclear power plants are likewise vulnerable. Moreover, Tanaka and other engineers have been pointing out that most of Japan's nuclear power plants have design flaws, plus they are aging and deteriorating, necessitating more frequent inspections. But as there are insufficient numbers of experienced technicians and their morale is low, among other issues, the situation is indeed serious.
On top of this, then, is the added problem of human error. No matter how many protection measures are taken, can we really deal with situations resulting from such errors when the "opponent" is unseen radioactive materials that have uncontrollable properties? Moreover, Tokyo Electric and the government have not taken protective steps that cost a lot of money, and simply ignored the risks, all along spending their money to promote the idea of nuclear power's safety. Tanaka and his cohorts woke up to this reality early on and have been making their appeal to take actions to prevent a disastrous nuclear accident. But even now, after the myth of nuclear safety should have crumbled, various financial, industrial, governmental and academic sectors are still promoting nuclear power. Why is that the case?
Nuclear power generation, of course, uses the same nuclear fission process that made possible the horrific weapons of mass destruction used in war. It is simply coupled together with huge equipment to utilize for "peaceful purposes," the "spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down." Beginning with the 5 major nuclear powers, all of the countries that have this capability have pursued the development of both nuclear power and nuclear weapon capability, as the technology for both civilian and military use have developed together. In Japan, Yasuhiro Nakasone and other political leaders began the nuclear policy in 1953, and by 1969, under Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, they had decided on two points: 1) for the time being, Japan would not possess nuclear weapons, but 2) that they would develop the economic and technological capability of producing such weapons. As long as this second point is in force, the government will continue to pursue nuclear reprocessing plants and fast breeder reactors in order to maintain the future capability of producing nuclear weapons. These 2 facilities are for the purpose of obtaining highly refined plutonium, which in turn makes possible strategic nuclear weapons that can pinpoint and destroy enemy military facilities.
The radioactive materials that have been produced by nuclear power generation in Japan since 1966 total some 1.2 million times the total of the "ashes of death" produced by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. So, even if we say that these will all be sequestered deep under the ground, it will take a million years or more for their poison to dissipate. In an earthquake-prone region such as Japan, we can't guarantee that these materials will be quarantined for even a thousand years. On top of that, Japanese politicians and bureaucrats have bragged of this "dormant capability of future production of nuclear weapons." This is the reason that they have continued to pursue development of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and the fast breeder reactor "Monju" at Tsuruga for years without them actually being used. In fact, there is little prospect of them ever being used, and indeed, we must not allow that to happen. They are both examples of extreme wastefulness as well as extreme danger.
Even as I say these things, however, I realize that I have become used to the "comfortableness" of electric power use, and so my involvement I the peace movement and the antinuclear movement has been somewhat half-hearted. We need to clarify the close relationship there is between nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons, and we need to realize that the former is also a form of violence against the dignity of humans and the value of all life. Thus, we all need to promote the movement to move away from nuclear energy. We must demand that people in the "nuclear villages" close down the nuclear reprocessing plant and the fast breeder reactor, as well as deal with prodigious amounts of nuclear waste.
3. Discrimination against workers
The severe accident at the Fukushima power plant has clearly shown that nuclear power can come against human life just as nuclear bombs do.
The threat against life posed by nuclear power begins the mining of uranium. Uranium companies displace native people from their lands in order to mine the uranium, and when those people are employed in the minds, they are exposed to radiation. People in the area, then, are forced to live with mountains of mine tailings that expose them to further radiation, and people who live downstream or downwind likewise are exposed. Native peoples in Canada, Australia and Africa have suffered such destruction, and their numbers are indeed great. Thus, the procurement of the uranium that powers our nuclear power plants is based upon a great deal of human sacrifice. Similarly, the enrichment process, along with the manufacture and transport of the fuel rods, produces more nuclear pollution. On top of that, then, is the radiation produced by the actual operation of the plants. This is especially so during the 2 month process of regular inspection, when thousands of workers are exposed.
Media coverage of the aftermath of the March 11 accident has really highlighted the reality of the workers involved in nuclear plants. Workers at such plants are gathered through a system of subcontractors, with the jobs subject to high radiation exposure being parceled out to unskilled workers. The more dangerous work, such as removing radioactive materials and doing maintenance on the reactors involves high radiation and high heat conditions, and so workers are sent in for only a few minutes at a time, with frequent replacements. Thus, they are in effect "throwaway commodities" gathered from the lowest classes of society, often from the ranks of the poor and homeless. The subcontractors often engage in practices such as using the resident certificates of other people to gather such workers, and in order to avoid making it difficult to get new contracts, send these unsuspecting people into harm's way without the proper radiation meters and alarms. The number of power company employees who are exposed to significant radiation is few, with more than 96% of those exposed coming from those employed by these subcontractors.
Regular employees of nuclear power plants have a radiation exposure limit of 50 mSv over a 5-year period, or an average of 10 mSv per year. But with the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, that limit was raised to 100 mSv per year up to a total of 250 mSv allowable. This amounts to a form of murder. Unless these workers overcame their fears and went all out, there was the danger that the reactors could explode, leading to a truly monumental disaster. Since the accident up until mid-October, a total of 450,000 people worked on this situation, with most of them being exposed to harsh conditions and grave danger.
Some of the technicians have likewise been exposed to high levels as they labored feverishly to fix broken equipment, etc. Their strong sense of responsibility led them to sacrificially give of themselves to bring things under control and back to a safe condition. Even knowing the dangers, they have willingly sacrificed their own safety to prevent further damage to all of us.
Now, let's turn to the issue of compensation and health maintenance for workers exposed to radiation. Prior to the March 11 earthquake, there were more than 400,000 workers who were registered with the center established by the Radiation Effects Association, a foundation established with funds from the electric power industry. This number exceeds the number of radiation sufferers from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, and that number has grown further to some 470,000. However, unlike the "hibakusha health card" received by the atomic bomb victims, along with similar health cards for victims of industrial exposure to benzene, inhaled dust, etc., the "radiation management health cards" received by these workers have no legal backing, and so they are of little value in helping these workers receive workers' compensation or actually manage their own health. This system mainly serves as a means to help the nuclear industry keep track of the amount of radiation workers are exposed to and determine what those effects are on the health of these people. Prior to March 11, of the approximately 400,000 workers registered in the system, only about 10 had been recognized by workers' compensation insurance. Those in the system, particularly the day laborers who are sent into the most dangerous jobs, are basically abandoned. Recently, the voice of these workers is finally beginning to be heard, and so the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare appears to be moving towards a system of care for these people. We beneficiaries of electric power have a responsibility to encourage our government to protect the lives and human rights of these workers who have been exposed to radiation.
4. Discrimination against local citizens
The very act of the central authorities having brought nuclear power plants to rural areas is a form of discrimination against the local residents. They bulldozed places of beauty in the Sanriku area, with its bountiful sea and mountains, its peaceful fishing villages, established local industries, and the local and varied cultures, along with the bonds that tied communities together and replaced them with the authoritarian rule of national interest, the "drug" of financial subsidies, poisonous radiation and falsehood of safety. What remains after the hydrogen explosions of the reactors is the serious radiation pollution, the split-up of families and communities as they evacuate the area, and the fear of genetic damage particularly in unborn babies and even young children.
Even within this situation, however, the government claims they'll be able to stabilize the situation by getting the reactor temperatures below 100º C, but this is really a posturing to support the contract they have to export two nuclear reactors to Vietnam. This exporting of nuclear technology has as its showpiece economic development, but its real effect is just a new form of colonialism, as it puts the economy, industry and culture of the receiving countries under the influence of Japan. We need to ask whether Japan, which can't even maintain its own nuclear safety, isn't bringing in great danger to a country that doesn't have the technical skills to deal with it.
Coming back to the situation in Japan, the government took the step of broadening the disaster evacuation zones around nuclear power plants in late October. The immediate evacuation zone was left the same radius of 5 km, but the zone in which evacuation or remaining indoors was expanded from 8 – 10 km up to 30 km, and the region in which iodine tablets would be stored for immediate use was expanded to 50 km. When one considers the danger of radioactive materials, these actions are way too late and way too narrow in scope. Immediately after the accident, when the radiation was at its highest, they did not let people know of the danger or immediately evacuate the, instead letting them be exposed. What I see in these measures is simply a further attempt to hide the seriousness of the damage. What takes precedence is the promotion of nuclear power, which only makes matters worse.
Likewise, at the end of October, they announced the plan to store radiation-polluted materials in a medium-term storage area to be built by 2014. It would be made of concrete and have an area of between 3 and 5 square kilometers. Materials from within the prefecture would be stored there for 30 years prior to being finally disposed of outside of the prefecture. In reality, these materials would be stored for there for at least 30 years, because there is no guarantee that they would be disposed of outside the prefecture.
5. A ray of hope
Citizens who have been consigned to live with radiation are now beginning to lift their voices in anger, as they band together with like-minded fellow citizens to join forces against the deception and violence of the nuclear industry and to demand their rights: What are you going to do with our home towns? Don't fudge on the radioactive cesium pollution! We're going to fight for compensation! Etc. These are basic to the fight for justice, but they also are a self-recognition of their own human dignity. Such citizens are standing up in Fukushima, but also from around the nation. We may be a minority still, but this just may be the beginnings of a kind of revolution. We may be just "small herds" and even individual "small persons," but we are of value still and we value each other. Unfortunately, we may be faced with only the two choices of "life or nuclear power," but this is what brings us together and pushes us forward. In reality, the radiation is not only in eastern Japan, but has been carried far and wide by air and sea currents, and through foods, cars and equipment shipped from there. So we are all in this together, and this is what draws citizens from around the nation together in solidarity. We are different as individuals and groups, but we recognize and value each, all the while being united by our decision to "choose life over nuclear power." It is my hope that through this we can build a new society, where the most valued people will be those who have suffered under the reign of deception and violence of the powerful. It is those people who long for and search after a just society that values human lives. These are the kinds of people that the Lord Jesus stood with as he shared their grief, and that gave them the strength to stand up against tyranny.
Support is certainly not limited to this country, as words of encouragement have come from around the world. Crossing barriers of ethnicity and nationality, they say, "You are not alone. We are standing with you." Likewise, they are generous with logistic support, even though we don't really disserve it. After all, as a people we were ignorant and passive about our nation's reckless pursuit of nuclear energy, which resulted in suffering in other nations from radiation exposure. And now, we haven't been able to prevent those in power in our nation from exporting that technology to other countries. Thus, we see a sense of forgiveness in the support we get from people of other countries. God is leading us into a new life through his Spirit as he too forgives us of our wrongs. That new life is one of receiving one another and cooperating together rather than trying to outcompete with others in a colonial-style domination.
As a result of the "Christian Forum for Abolition of Nuclear Power" held last April that I mentioned above, Seungkoo Choi, who has been leading the human rights movement for Koreans in Kawasaki for many years, founded a new network, called the "Christian Network for Nuke-Free Earth." [This is the English title they give it. The Japanese name literally translates as "Network of Christians Critical of the Nuclear Power System."] This network focuses on the issue of nations such as Japan, Korea and the US competing with each other to export nuclear power technology to developing countries and in the process dominating them economically. In consultation with members of the network and with the support of the NCCJ Committee on Peace and Nuclear Issues, Choi is planning on travelling to Korea and Mongolia to establish solidarity with grass root movements against nuclear power in these countries. Koreas has plans to double the 27 reactors it already has and to increase its efforts to export that technology abroad. Mongolia is a uranium producing country and both Japan and the US are looking towards it as a site for nuclear waste disposal.
I think that my experiencing the quake of March 11 with Chong-Il Lee while in Osaka and then working with Seungkoo Choi to found the Christian Network for Nuke-Free Earth were not just coincidences. Colonialism and nuclear power share a relationship. Thus, I feel that one message the Church as a whole has a responsibility to disseminate around the world through its worldwide connections concerns this issue. It is not that I have confidence in our ability to do that, but that I pray that God will have compassion on us and use us as a means to that end.
Both from within and outside of Japan, the demands for liberalization of electric power through new forms of generation and improvements in efficiency, along with movements towards local production and consumption of energy designed to reduce the need to send power over long distances, is showing that we can get along without nuclear power. Moreover, more and more people are now seeing it for what it is, namely the immoral and anti-human imposition of poisonous waste on future generations for hundreds of thousands of years. Several countries have already declared their intentions to eliminated nuclear power, and I think it is only a matter of time before our country does too.
Jesus taught us to learn the most important things from flowers of the field, the birds of the air and little children (Mat. 6:26-30, Mark 10:13-16). The small living things in nature praise their Creator, and little children know from the time they are born to depend on their elders and also on the God of love and blessings. Adults protecting children from radiation and the unborn from genetic damage leads to a life in which the small and vulnerable are the center of society and in effect lead us forward.
In the midst of nations vying for power, the prophet Isaiah shared his vision of a future with no exploitation and a world of love, freedom and equality.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isa 11:6-9)
Isaiah calls on us to a world of life dependent on God, who will have compassion on his people, forgive their sins and bring a world of peace. In the words of Isaiah, we can see them leading to the manger of Jesus.