Book Review: ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR POWER ~An appeal from the Catholic Church in Japan
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, Compilation Committee for Abolition of Nuclear Power
Published in July 2020
English version available at www.cbcj.catholic.jp/2020/07/08/20963/
<Reviewed by Caitlin Stronell>
The Editorial Committee on Nuclear Power of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan was established in September 2014 and the Japanese version of Abolition of Nuclear Power was published in 2016. It has taken a little longer to get the English version published, but this substantial work of 239 pages finally came out in July this year. And it’s well worth the wait. Although some of the material it contains is now dated, the basic concepts that this book is based on are ethical and indeed timeless. As the tenth anniversary of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi disaster comes up in March next year, it is a good reminder of the most basic reasons why nuclear power must be abolished.
My general image of the Catholic Church was that it tends to be a conservative organization that is not prone to making political statements on controversial issues. Pope Francis has certainly changed this image, his visit to Japan last year a case in point, where he met with victims of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and also referred directly to the dangers of nuclear power generation in a press conference on his way back to Rome. In May 2015 Pope Francis wrote an encyclical ‘On care for our common home’ which sounds an alarm on various ecological crises that Planet Earth faces. It seems that the encyclical also inspired this book.
In their earlier message of 2001, ‘Reverence for Life,’ Japan’s Catholic bishops did not go so far as to call for the abolition of nuclear power, although they sounded a strong warning of the dangers. Even immediately following the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011, the bishops still went along with the Japanese government’s policy of restarting nuclear plants that passed stricter safety tests. But in November 2011 they issued a statement calling for the abolition of nuclear power, the starting point of this book, which aims to provide as much information as possible to back up their statement.
The bishops do not rely on the word of God alone in order to convince readers that nuclear power must be abolished. Part One of the book covers the history of Fukushima Daiichi, with a focus on understanding responsibility for the accident, including voices of the victims and the severe social upheaval they are still experiencing. Part Two explains the science and technology of radiation and nuclear energy generation and the inherent and unacceptable dangers. Part Three includes a section on what other religions say about nuclear power as well as a comprehensive explanation of the potential of renewable energy and many examples of local areas in Japan where it is being effectively used. It is this combination of history, science, practical solutions and morality that is, I think, very powerful.
Part Three is described as ‘the heart of the book’ where the use of nuclear energy is interpreted through Catholic social teaching and contemporary environmental ethics. Pope Francis’s idea of ‘integral ecology’ is introduced as a way of rebuilding the relationships between humans, nature, society and God. Right now, those relationships are way out of balance, which is why we are facing environmental crisis. In the context of nuclear power, human beings, in their greed and arrogance came to believe that they could control the energy of the atom. Fukushima Daiichi was another reminder that we cannot, and that we are a part of nature, not above it. Nature is God’s creation, as are human beings and we need to fulfill our responsibility to God to look after His creation, and ourselves – including future generations. To do this, we must create a social order that is not based on centralized power (both political and electrical), but on respect for nature and our fellow human beings, where there are open dialogues to determine our future. Not only quotes from the Bible are used to illustrate this point, but also many comments from scientists such as CNIC’s founder, Takagi Jinzaburo, as well as philosophers and sociologists, are also included.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a Christian and I have many disagreements with the Catholic Church, but I found myself very much in agreement with the moral arguments presented in this book. Perhaps because I usually deal with the technical, economic and political reasons why nuclear power should be abolished, the moral arguments seemed even more compelling. I certainly hope that this book will be widely read by Catholics around the world, who would not perhaps otherwise have been informed about the devastation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. May it inspire all of us to think about the deeper reasons within ourselves and our society why this nuclear disaster happened and how we can together build a nuclear free world.