The decision of the Inter-Religious Conference on Nuclear Issues to hold its 2012 gathering in Fukushima, Japan, site of the nuclear crisis provoked by last year’s earthquake and tsunami underscores the conference’s focus on the effects of radiation or energy poison since the disaster.
By James J. Rollins*
Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima, Japan—Eighty-seven participants representing 23 religious communities and 11 countries convened here for the Fourth Inter-Religious Conference on Nuclear Issues, from December 5 to 7.
The conference first met in 2007 at the prompting of Rev. Toshimasa Yamamoto, then a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church and general secretary of the National Christian Council of Japan. Observing that a growing movement in Japan toward militarization, nationalism, and the alteration of Japan’s Peace Constitution had propelled nongovernmental organizations to gather to respond, Yamamoto called for a similar meeting of faith-based leaders to add their voice.
Tokyo, Seoul, and Okinawa have each hosted the conference since then. Holding this year’s gathering in Fukushima, site of the nuclear crisis provoked by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, underscores the conference’s focus on the effects of radiation or energy poison since the disaster.
Hironori Shinohara, a nuclear engineer from the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan, opened the 2012 conference, and spoke of his experience growing up in Japan after World War II. He summarized the history of nuclear power and spoke of a desire for peaceful use of nuclear technology. But he cautioned that the world has been lured into a “myth of safety.”
“The fail-safes designed to protect against major nuclear fallout (which no one thought could happen) were designed by humans, and humans make mistakes,” he said. “When a nuclear plant accident, involving the release of massive amounts of radiation, takes place, the most important thing is to measure the levels of radiation and concentration of radioactive materials in the environment.” At the time of the 2011 disaster, he said, all of the devices needed for this critical task had been concentrated in one location, and all were washed away by the tsunami.
The effects of radiation exposure and energy poisoning are not immediately visible, and their impact is long term. People who were exposed to radiation after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki more than 67 years ago continue to suffer its ill effects today. Other case studies that demonstrate the devastating effects of radiation exposure have been documented following the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island incidents.
When the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant occurred on March 12, 14, and 15, 2011, the radioactive plumes covered more than 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). The majority of the Fukushima Prefecture falls in the range of exposure, which means that a large number of people are living in conditions affected by radiation contamination. “The damage all of this will inflict in the future is of great concern,” said Shinohara.
“The information presented at the conference informs UMCOR’s long-term strategy to support survivors affected by the nuclear crisis in Japan,” stated Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR’s associate general secretary for International Programs. “In addition, it provides the connections necesary for the creation of a holistic response that strengthens communities, focuses on children and the needs of the elderly, and aids foreign residents.”
As Japan copes with energy poison in the decades to come, UMCOR will continue to support programs that rebuild lives and help equip communities to return to a new normal.
Your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450 will help UMCOR respond to the unfolding needs in Japan and to emergencies around the world.
*James J. Rollins is the Director of Communications and Marketing for UMCOR. He attended the Inter-Religious Conference in Fukushima.