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Radiation burns Japan’s awareness

· Interview with Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki ·

“Developments within the nuclear power plant in Fukushima and the sacrifice of everyone involved in the work of shutting down the reactors and in preventing the escape of radiation that risks polluting the surrounding environment for ever, are profoundly disturbing. Yet these thoughts have less weight than the acute sorrow for the thousands of victims of the earthquake and the tsunami”. This is what Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki said in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano. Speaking of this tragic event, the Japanese Prelate revealed his deep sensitivity for the bereavement and suffering caused by the natural disaster and drew attention to the risks of contamination by radioactive emissions from the central nuclear plant, the degree of whose security is still an unknown quantity.

Archbishop Takami, you say that you are worried about the problems caused by the central nuclear plant in Fukushima. Is the alarm at the damage caused by radiation at this nuclear plant in any way comparable to the damage the inhabitants of Nagasaki suffered at the explosion of the atomic bomb?

Definitely not. The tragic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was linked to warfare. The present situation, on the contrary, is one consequence of a grave natural disaster which, in any case could have had less devastating consequences had there been better prevention.

It is of course undeniable that the shock caused by the atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima still endures today, because of the atrocious consequences suffered by those affected by radiation. I think it is understandable that what is happening at the Fukushima plant should make a deep impression on all those who have engraved in their minds the suffering caused by radiation. The accident at this nuclear plant is only the most recent in the long series that has affected nuclear plants in Japan from 1981 to today.

How is your diocese helping the victims of the disaster?

We are taking part in all the initiatives promoted by Caritas Japan. In addition, we are sending volunteers from our dioceses who are humanitarian aid experts.

We do not of course have any doubts about the efficiency of the assistance that is already being provided, but would like to make a direct contribution to people in a desperate plight. The help that comes from those who are direct descendents of the victims of the atomic bomb may have a strong value as a testimony.

You said that the accident at the central plant in Fukushima is the most recent in a long series. Do you think that nuclear technology may not be quite safe?

I cannot answer this question because I am not an expert in atomic energy. Yet I cannot but note the long series of incidents that have occurred in Japan prior to the present one: from 1981, with the escape of radioactivity at the Tsuruga plant, to the incident in July 2007, which concerned the plant at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the largest nuclear power plant in the world which provides energy for 20 million inhabitants.

Here, too, the structure was damaged by an earthquake. An electric transformer caught fire, causing 1,200 litres of radioactive water to leak into the Sea of Japan. Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (iaea), declared that the “earthquake was more powerful than those the plant had been built to withstand”. There is a well founded suspicion that the seismic fault lies beneath the plant.

Is it possible that Japan might discontinue the use of nuclear plants?

That is simply unrealistic! In the country the 52 functioning plants driven by nuclear power supply a quarter of the country’s total energy. Their closure would give the economy a great shock. Of course, it is possible to improve safety standards and to encourage the development of other, safer sources of energy. As a bishop I can say that energy is a gift of God to man and must only be used for the common good.




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 18, 2019