Shouldn’t Infants Be Given Priority for Shelter?
The Situation of the Weak Having Their Lives Exposed to Danger
Rev. Kanjo Umemori
Bukkyo (Buddhist) Times
June 9, 2011
Rev. Kanjo Umemori is the abbot of Ho-un-ji, a Nichiren sect temple in the tsunami hit region of Miyagi Prefecture. Born in 1956, he is a part-time researcher at the Nichiren Contemporary Research Institute. As a representative of the Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy, he has been participating in the anti-nuclear movement, pointing out the problems of the Japanese government’s nuclear power policy, and presenting his views to the National Atomic Energy Commission.
Some 20 years ago, with colleagues in the movement, we put up a signboard very near the Onagawa nuclear power plant in Miyagi Prefecture, which said, “In an accident, can it be shut down? Can we together shut it down?” To see that the sign is still in good condition has only deepened my anger and vexation. In talking about my original purpose, if there had been a small accident previously, public opinion might have heightened and the ossified nuclear energy policy might have undergone some gradual change. This is something that I might have actually been hoping for. However, the incident that did finally happen is where I live and is only a little more than 100 kilometers from an accident so severe that it is on par with the scale of the Chernobyl accident. As we approach the three month mark since the disaster, a resolution can still not be seen. Radioactivity is still being continuously emitting into the atmosphere everyday. This is a kind of cruelty piled onto the situation that has already happened with the tsunami, to the point where we can remember when the catastrophe began.
Over 20 years we had the aim to ring alarm bells on this issue. In a booklet published in 1989, I wrote, “The Japanese archipelago is almost entirely a region of earthquakes. The nuclear power plants along the coasts are continually exposed to the dangers of earthquakes and tsunamis. Moreover, since the reactors are concentrated in one area it is impossible not to think of the nightmare in which there are multiple meltdowns of their cores all at once.” If there was a voice from heaven, it would have sent messages several times of the chance to turn back. If we also look at the limits of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), we see the scandal in 2002 of the false reporting in routine governmental inspection of its nuclear plants and the systematic concealment of plant safety incidents; in 2007 the dangerous situation of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plants caused by the Chu-etsu earthquake in nearby Niigata Prefecture, and also last year in June 2010 the incident of the Fukushima #1 Reactors almost losing power. It is impossible to say the incident in March was “beyond expectation” as the TEPCO authorities have. We have been bracing ourselves for a while for this situation today.
After the disaster, I got telephone calls from friends and acquaintances from all over the country worrying about our safety saying things like, “The things that you continuously talked about have come true.” Originally, in order to prevent this situation from happening, I lodged formal complaints about the dangers and explained a different course for basic national policy. However, my voice could not reach the government or businessmen, not to mention the common people.
The real severity of a nuclear disaster is difficult to express in spoken words. Can anyone condemn the relief vehicles that turn back at 20 to 30 kilometers from the plants? In the damage of the tsunami, the search for bodies and rescue was completely abandoned. At the time of the disaster, there were reports of impressive relief efforts being undertaken, but there were no reports from in front of the nuclear accident. Volunteer groups of supporters from Nichiren sect headquarters who piled relief goods into trucks and visited on their own could also be heard expressing anxiety about the radiation.
My knowledge of the fear of nuclear power comes from the nuclear meltdown incident at Three Mile Island in the United States which happened when I was graduating university in March 1979. I have clear memories of images of pregnant women and children rushing to evacuate. Because the building which housed the reactor near the Harrisburg Airport had thick walls, it narrowly escaped having the explosion that blew up the building at Fukushima. However, in the area around the plants at Three Mile Island, the soil contaminated by the radioacitivy sprouted giant sunflowers.
The incident at Fukushima this time is of the same type but it is much more severe. Three of the reactors have melted down and a fourth has had a hydrogen explosion. Buildings have been destroyed exposing a pitiful structure that has created further trauma. This Level 7 incident continues to progress today.
The incident at Fukushima is beyond that of Three Mile Island, yet there is no evidence that pregnant women and small children were given priority for evacuation. During the initial stage, we also didn’t hear of the wide distribution iodine which blocks contamination of children’s thyroid. This is because it was not been determined to be a severe disaster. In order to carry out the so-called duty of stopping widespread panic, the media and compromised academics have issued pathetic statements of “reassurance” which have made fools of the hearts of people who cling to this information and have resulted in a direct impact on the lives of the defenseless and weak. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) accepted an annual radiation level of 20 milisieverts for the schoolyards of Fukushima. I and filled with sorrow and shame with this country because it is not ashamed to accept a radioactive environment 20 times higher than a normal community in which children are already several times more susceptible to radiation. In the critical incident at the Tokaimura nuclear plant in 1999, I knew the real situation of how the government did not protect the people, and I am shuddering that slogan “Believe in Japan” has been used again to kill people.
In the Kamakura Era (1192-1333), Master Nichiren encountered great earthquakes and wrote the Rissho Ankokuron to admonish those who had endangered peace and slandered the true dharma. Amidst this, there were formal threats by other countries towards Japan, such as when the Mongols launched an invasion in the final years of this period. Nichiren suggested that the government had brought these natural and human disasters upon themselves. On further reconsideration, what does slandering of the true dharma mean in the present era? Will anyone not point out the fact that the Buddha’s home country of Shakya was destroyed?
This may not be the right time to say this but I feel sorrow for the deceased country of the Buddha who himself tried three times to intervene to stop it. But the Buddha in his farsightedness saw that it was all right that the Shakya Kingdom should fall into ruin due to its previous bad karma, and so he remained silent from then on. A country that doesn’t grasp for a renewed intention will otherwise come to ruin it seems. I think we can verify this. It is profound that the 49th day anniversary of this disaster coincided with the anniversary of Nichiren founding our denomination on April 28th. In this way, we chant towards the morning sunrise over the Pacific Ocean that wrought the great tsunami and nuclear accident to raise awareness of the illumination to guide us to revival.
Translated by Jonathan Watts