Japanese-Korean Buddhist Exchange Program on Nuclear & Clean Energy

The Transnational Structural Violence of Nuclear Energy & Building Environmentally Sustainable Temple Communities in Korea and Japan 

July 3-5, 2014

Wolsong Nuclear Power Plant on the southern coast in Kyungju City


From July 3 to July 5, 2014, 4 representatives of the Japan Network of Engaged Buddhists (JNEB) visited South Korea to conduct a 3 day study and networking tour on the common crisis facing both countries on climate change, nuclear energy, and the challenge of clean, renewable energy. This tour was the first step in JNEB’s International Project on Energy focused on learning from the Fukushima disaster and building “green temple communities”. This project aims to expose foreign Buddhists, other religious professionals, activists, and media to: 1) the realities of life in Fukushima, 2) the structural violence caused by nuclear energy in other parts of Japan, 3) community support and activism by Japanese Buddhists and other religious professionals in these regions, and 4) renewable energy initiatives by Japanese Buddhist groups and other religious organizations. Through sharing the perspectives and skills of South and Southeast Asian Buddhists in community development and Japanese and East Asian Buddhists and other religious professionals in anti-nuclear activism and renewable energy, we wish to create an international network for sharing best practices on building “green temples” and “green temple communities”. The project is part of INEB’s larger Inter-Religious Climate and Ecology Network started in 2012, which will host its 2nd international conference in South Korea in April, 2015.

Since 2011, JNEB has been building a wider national network in Japan of Buddhist anti-nuclear and alternative energy activists; much of this work having been started by the Interfaith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy, founded in 1993, of which JNEB representative Rev. Hidehito Okochi is a leader. We have also been reaching out to activists in the larger civil society movement, which has been facilitated not only by Rev. Okochi’s contacts but also another JNEB member, Mika Edaki who works in the NGO sector with the AYUS International Buddhist Cooperation Network. In this way, working from the local outward to the national and international, we felt that before initiating the network in South and Southeast Asia we needed to connect with Buddhist and civil society activists in East Asia, where nuclear energy has already been developed for some decades. South Korea, with a nuclear program dating back to the 1960s and presently operating 23 reactors located at 4 facilities with 5 more reactors under construction, was a natural starting point for building international solidarity. Through the support of Korean members of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), especially Ms. Junghee Min of Lotus World, we were able to have a very meaningful three day exchange.

Public Symposium with the Jogye Buddhist Denomination

IMG_2001Our tour began with a public symposium entitled “Japanese-Korean Buddhist International Seminar for No Nukes and Energy Paradigm Shift” sponsored by the Environmental Committee of the Jogye Buddhist Order, Korea’s largest Buddhist denomination, at their International Conference Hall in Seoul. Besides the support of Ven. Jang Myung, Chairperson of Environment Committee of Jogye Order, the symposium and much of the three day tour was supported by Prof. Ik Jung Kim. Prof. Kim is from the Department of Microbiology at Dongguk University as well as serving on the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission of South Korea.

Spiraling Electrical Use at the Heart of Korea’s Nuclear Industry

Prof. Kim opened the symposium with a presentation on the situation of energy use in South Korea called “Living without Nuclear Energy”. His first emphasis was how nuclear energy and the development of nuclear power facilities in Europe and the United States have been in decline over the past decade[1], noting that in the next 20 years the number of reactors globally will be cut in half with 250 slated for decommissioning. This decline in the West comes from a growing perspective that nuclear energy entails not only too many high cost risks in the event of accidents and potential disasters, but also the incredible costs involved in the normal construction and maintenance of nuclear reactors.

In contrast, Prof. Kim noted how the South Korean government continues to emphasize the safety and the low cost efficiency of nuclear energy, while ignoring the development of renewable energy. South Korea creates about 70% of its energy from fossil fuel power plants, 30% from nuclear reactors, and only 0.4% from renewable energy, which compares unfavorably to the global average of 20%. At the same time that South Korea has been ignoring renewable energy development, its electrical consumption has skyrocketed since 1995, from roughly 4,000 kWh per capita to 10,000 kWh per capita in 2010, far outpacing Japan (7,848) and other Western European nations whose consumption levels have remained relatively steady during this time.[2] Prof. Kim cited the low price of electricity in Korea as a main problem in its increased consumption, which has been exacerbated by the number of foreign companies entering Korea to take advantage of these low rates. An important change for Korea is therefore to develop realistic pricing for its electricity, which will support a reduction in consumption and less reliance on nuclear energy. Aggressively developing renewable energy sources is of course also important as a replacement for nuclear energy and has been found to be a better stimulus for employment than nuclear reactor construction.[3]

Korean Buddhist Responses to the Energy Issue

Prof. Kim was followed by Ms. Wonhyung Chae, Director of the Institute for Buddhist Ecology, who spoke on the theme “Climate Change, No Nukes, and Buddhist Interdependence: The Core of the Korean Buddhist Movement Against Nuclear Energy”. Prof. Chae introduced some of the activities of Korean Buddhists in this field, such as the Jogye Order itself, which in 2009 created a renewable energy study team and has promoted the reduction of energy and the use of renewable sources in its member temples and solar energy generation in some, though the study team has now become inactive. She also introduced the activities of other individual temples, such as Chonkuk temple which in 2005 installed solar and geo-thermal systems at their temple in Pohang City on the eastern coast; Munbin temple which installed 40kWhs of solar panels on the roof of their cafeteria in 2011; and Nae Won forest temple in Yangsan City in the southeast which is using 33,000 tons of biomass per year generated from forests in its area.

Prof. Chae also spoke about the citizen’s movement begun in the Autumn of 2013 in the four small towns in Miryang in South Gyeongsang Province to prevent the Korea Electricity Power Company (KEPCO) from resuming construction of high-voltage power towers from coming the two nearby nuclear power complexes of Wolsong and Kori. The residents have argued that the high-voltage power towers will cause serious health issues to residents, including a high rate of cancer cases and deformed babies, citing the example of other regions in the country that have suffered this way. Connected to this issue was a six-week march against nuclear power plants organized by a Catholic group and civil society organizations, represented by Professor Kim. The march began at the Kori nuclear power plant on June 30 of this year and stopped in Yangsan on July 4th near to Miryang to express its solidarity with the elder residents campaigning against the electrical towers.

The final presentation was made by JNEB member, Rev. Hidehito Okochi. Besides his anti-nuclear work, he has rebuilt two temples of which he is abbot to generate their own electricity using solar panels and encourage low consumption and chemical free housing. Details of his presentation “Nuclear Power in Japan and Buddhist Activism for the Children and People of Fukushima” can be found here and in the recent book Lotus in the Nuclear Sea: Fukushima and the Promise of Buddhism in the Nuclear Age.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government’s “One Less Nuclear Power Plant” Campaign

After a luncheon with the organizers and speakers, the JNEB team along with Ms. Junghee Min and Prof. Chae visited the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s “One Less Nuclear Power Plant” center. Understanding the South Korean government’s strong promoting on nuclear energy both within the country and overseas, we found it extraordinary that the government of Korea’s capital city has an active and concrete campaign for the reduction of energy and the abolition of nuclear power. This campaign in part comes from the impetus of the mayor of Seoul, Won-soon Park, who is in opposition to the pro-nuclear policies of President Geun Hye Park’s administration. The reasons for this campaign begun in 2012 are: 1) fears for the energy security of the city amidst escalating electrical use; 2) the influence of the Fukushima disaster; and 3) concerns about the overall effect of global warming. The goal of the campaign is to cut energy use in Seoul by 2 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE)[4] by the year 2014, which is equivalent to cutting out the need of the entire #2 reactor at the Wolsong nuclear power facility as well as 9.43 million barrels of oil and LNG. This plans also envisions the creation of 34,000 new green jobs through a 10 point action plan of: 1) increasing the use of solar panels and sunlight, 2) developing hydrogen fuel and small scale hydro-electric facilities, 3) retro fitting old buildings to prevent heat and cooling leakages, 4) widespread installation of LED lights, 5) improved urban development emphasizing a compact and low consumption city, 6) an energy cap on buildings and green building design standards, 7) green driving and transport practices like bikes and care share, 8) job creation in the renewable energy industry, 9) the promotion of green lifestyles among citizens, and 10) the formation of the Seoul Natural Energy Foundation to promote these goals. Mika Edaki from our JNEB team noted that although no major cities in Japan have developed such a campaign like Seoul’s, some smaller ones like the Setagaya ward in Tokyo have embraced anti-nuclear and renewable energy policies. She feels this promotion of alternative living and new social paradigms should not be co-opted into another new growth strategy under the old paradigm of national economic development.

Local Religious Activities towards Right Livelihood

Umyeon Dong: A solar powered Catholic Church in Seoul

The day’s events concluded with a visit to the Umyeon Dong Catholic Church in the Gangnam suburb of Seoul under the leadership of Rev. Myeong Jin Baek. Besides being beautifully landscaped, the church was conspicuous for Rev. Myeon’s use of both solar and geo-thermal energy to make the facility energy self-sufficient. There was a palpable connection we felt to meet Rev. Myeong, who seemed like a Christian Korean counterpart to our own Rev. Okochi, both priests possessing the courage and foresight to initiate change in their community towards ecological living. We concluded our last day in a similar fashion visiting a very small Buddhist center of the Won Buddhist denomination located in an urban area of Seoul. It is run by Ven. Seo Yeon Choi, a co-representative of the Won Buddhist Solidarity for Ecology. As a single nun living at this center, she is making extensive use of solar energy as well as rainwater to grow her own vegetables. After a day of looking at the global, national, and local situation, we developed a sense that the anti-nuclear, climate change, and renewable energy movement is one that must incorporate a wide range of strategies on all levels. The movement must not limit itself, but rather combine individual and local actions towards right livelihood with collective and national/global work to deconstruct the structures of the industrial growth civilization that has already caused so much environmental tragedy.

The Korean Nuclear Energy World and the Wolsong Nuclear Power Plant

The entire day of July 4 was spent driving 5 hours down to the southern coast of South Korea to Kyungju City to visit the Wolsong Nuclear Power Plant. Because of Prof. Kim’s role on the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, we were allowed special access beyond the visitor center and onto the grounds of the reactor itself, including an internal tour of the #2 new light water reactor slated on go on line next year. The entire complex consists of 4 heavy water reactors built in cooperation with the Canadian government: reactor #1 is now over 30yrs old and has been taken off line, while reactors #2-4 were brought online between 1997-2000 with reactor #2 presently operating at 60% capacity at 126 MW, reactor #3 at 88% at 350 MW, and reactor #4 which was off line until July 18th for regular inspections. There are also two new light water reactors built by Samsung: reactor #1 coming on line last year and presently operating at 100% and 1,053 MW. The complex also includes one major used fuel disposal site.

Education vs. Propaganda

An atomic superhero tells of this “wonderful energy and beautiful future”

The tour began at the visitor’s center and an informational video explaining, among other things, that South Korea’s superior technology and virtual lack of earthquakes are reasons why a Fukushima-like incident will not happen here. The main section of the visitor’s center is marked by an entrance that reads “ENERTOPIA”. As in similar centers at Japan’s nuclear complexes, this “enertopia” presents nuclear power in South Korea as one of the technological wonders of the world with children’s cartoon characters attesting to its safety and efficiency. This message was made strong and clear as we moved onward to the main complex and the new #2 light water reactor building, where the entrances, doors, and walls were covered with messages emphasizing safety, technological development, and the promise of a future based on nuclear energy. While the complex is indeed a testament to the wonders of human engineering, the exaggerated style of information presentation became almost comic and led us to serious doubts.

For example, the Korean nuclear industry’s standard is to operate individual reactors for 18 months consecutively with only a 40-50 day break for inspections, which is in contrast to Japanese standards that operate reactors only 13 months consecutively with a 2 to 12 month offline period. In many other regions in Asia, critics have pointed out that if the Japanese, who are well known for strict safety standards, cannot run their own nuclear industry without numerous incidents that don’t even include Fukushima, then what will be the fate of such programs in other countries less well known for their safety standards and history.[5]

Nuclear Reactors and their Oceanic Ecosystems

IMG_2039The highlight of this cognitive dissonance around safety was the large fish farm built within the Wolsong complex. We learned that in the normal process for cooling the reactors’ cores, the amount of water that flushes out of the plant and into the ocean is 50 tons per second at a temperature of 7 degrees C higher than the outside ocean temperature. In this warmed ocean environment, the builders of the complex developed an idea to raise a variety of species of fish to donate to the local communities for consumption. This kind of situation brings into doubt the augment that nuclear power helps to combat global warming when reactors are themselves contributed to the change in oceanic ecosystems, as recognized by the World Nuclear Association which concurs in “the change in ecosystem conditions brought about by the increase in temperature of the discharge water (of nuclear reactors).”[6] It is also commonly known that the water being discharged from nuclear plants often contains radioactivity, which is under legal limits as part of a regular waste cycle. The Union of Concerned Scientists based in the United States notes that, “When the water discharged from a nuclear power plant contains radioactivity, it is by design and not by accident”[7] Fortunately, according to Prof. Kim who has conducted inspections on the water around the plant, they have yet to find significant rates of radiation.

Exporting Nuclear Technology Abroad

One of the final impressions of our visit to Wolsong came from the special training center built for scientists and workers from the United Arab Emirates. On May 20, 2014 the South Korean government concluded an agreement to build 4 reactors with a 60-year life span in the UAE to be completed by 2017 by Hyundai and Samsung. The construction costs for this project will be US$6 billion, reinforcing what we knew about nuclear energy in Japan that it is a big business profitable to a number of vested political and economic interests at the top of national power hierarchy. While the Shinzo Abe administration in Japan is actively seeking to export Japanese nuclear technology despite constraints that have come up since the Fukushima incident, the South Korean government has shown a keen interest and ability to jump ahead of Japan in offering support for nuclear energy development in Finland, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China. As we left the Wolsong complex and drove by a nearby site of ancient Silla dynasty ruins attesting to the cultural heritage of the region, our translator and guide. Ms. Bok Yeo Kim, noted that the local community has now become strongly anti-nuclear. When the trickle down benefits of the plant came to bring little benefit to them, their concerns for safety grew in the aftermath of the Fukushima incident, officially labeled by the Japanese Diet itself as a man made, and not natural, disaster.

Roundtable Reflection with Korean Civic Group Leaders

On the final day of our trip, we spent the entire morning in dialogue with Prof. Kim, Prof. Chae and some Korean civic group leaders working on the nuclear issue, which included: Jung Gil Ryu formerly from the Eco-Buddha circle of the Jungto Buddhist Group and now the Director of Wisdom Cooperatives; Prof. Pyong In Yi of the Department of BioEnvironmental Energy at Pusan National University; Mr. Sung Hyon Min who runs an anti-nuclear education center; Prof. Sung Soon Kim from Geumgang University; and Prof. Dogin Bae, a retired professor of sociology.


In leading the session, Prof. Kim first asked the JNEB group for their individual reflections on the tour. Rev. Okochi spoke first saying that he noticed 2 things similar in Japan and Korea: 1) the way nuclear energy is promoted as part of national development policy and its fundamental links to large and vested business interests; 2) the promotion of the myths of safe, clean, and necessary, which he feels is the epitome of ignorance (avijja) in Buddhism. The different aspects he discovered are: 1) the much higher fixed price of electricity in Japan than Korea. Prof. Kim noted the low price of electricity in his talk, but responded that extra costs are eventually passed on to the Korean citizens in indirect ways, such as the way taxes are used for subsidies to nuclear power development; 2) the Korean civil society movement, especially on the nuclear issue, seems much stronger than Japan.

Another difference appears that Japanese localities hosting nuclear power plants have received greater economic benefits and subsidies than Korean ones. Prof. Kim remarked that numerous localities in Korea have also accepted such benefits and subsidies for hosting nuclear power plants. However, they harbor deep misgivings in doing so, and these doubts act like an internal emotional time bomb that eventually creates trauma. In this way, two major, localized anti nuclear movements have developed in Korea that have been able to make it an electoral issue. Prof. Kim concluded that there is a greater need and potential for common action among Japanese and Koreans, but thus far there has been little such exchange and cooperation.

“Manufacturing Consent” for Nuclear Energy in Japan

Mika Edaki noted that some local groups in Japan are against nuclear energy, but the problem is how to articulate a local development vision to replace the one implemented by the government that makes localities dependent on the subsidies and jobs offered by the nuclear industry. Fukushima created a moment for Japanese to consider a big change to society, but the power of the Japanese electorate is small. Japanese still don’t know well how to participate on the socio-political level. Further, young people are scared of political movements, especially student political movements that have an image of violent protest from the 1960s. Rev. Okochi added that young Japanese are not raised or taught to develop an independent stance on society. Money, business, and work dominate their thinking, and so they vote for the long ruling Liberal Democratic Party because of the business machine they continue to run. Prof. Kim noted that after Fukushima, many anti nuclear groups were formed in South Korea including those among students and teachers, such as members of today’s discussion.

Prof. Pyong In Yi asked what the Japanese government’s reaction was to the German government’s sudden policy shift away from nuclear energy in the weeks after the Fukushima incident began. Prof. Yi feels the Germans have a very rational approach to their policies, but the Japanese seem less so. Rev. Okochi responded that nowadays there is much more information available and rational argumentation about policy, even among various Diet members. However, the issue is being swallowed up by the more recent attempts by the Abe administration to change the constitution and develop an active military. Historically, there has actually been a lot of thought on the nuclear issue. However, the power of the so-called “Atomic Village” – a constellation of vested interests of government bureaucrats, politicians, construction firms, major banks, and sympathetic academics and media – and an emphasis on economic growth took over and won the day. One of the greatest strategic moves made was the ministries of education and technology being put together. This has compromised the independence of university people to oppose nuclear energy, which has been national policy, while raising generations of Japanese on national textbooks for primary and junior high schools promoting the myths of nuclear safety and necessity.  In this way, the Atomic Village is able to dominate and suppress people, who are more fundamentally worried about their person economic security. Rev. Okochi concluded that nowadays, although Japanese citizens do not go out and protest much, there is a prevalent cynicism among them about nuclear energy.

The People of Fukushima Left to Drift on Their Own

Prof. Ik Jung Kim

Concerning Fukushima itself, Prof. Kim expressed worry that no one is taking responsibility for the victims and that the responsibility cannot be pinned on anyone. Rev. Okochi said that because the Japanese government completely denies there is any danger outside the 20km evacuation zone, the people of Fukushima have struggled to understand how to respond and live. They have had to figure things out for themselves, such radiations levels for food security and for safe environments for children. Since all the previous education affirmed the safety of nuclear energy, Japanese have had to get studies from the U.S. and Germany on the dangers of living near nuclear power plants, because there are no such studies from Japan. Concerning the workers cleaning up the disaster at the Fukushima #1 complex and its environs, the Japanese government raised the annual dosage rate for them from 100 to 250 millisieverts/year – the civilian rate is 1 millisievert/year. However, even this raised rate is insufficient to avoid the mounting problems, because as workers quickly use up their allotted rate at Fukushima #1, others must be brought in who work in other nuclear power plants. This is causing an overall national drain in workers who are needed for regular maintenance in the other 48 reactors located all over the country.

Mika Edaki noted that more civil society groups are working in the tsunami affected regions of Iwate and Miyagi, where reconstruction has begun. Because there are few concerns about radiation in these regions, they can think, envision, and plan how to rebuild their communities. In Fukushima, some people have remained, especially the elderly, and are trying to rebuild their communities and livelihoods. Many mothers have formed groups calling out for ensuring child safety in these areas, but the government is ignoring them. In this way, it is hard for civil society groups to form a coherent policy in aiding the people of Fukushima when there is no national consensus or direction on the situation. There is also a strong concern that the Olympics will overshadow and take priority over the reconstruction of the entire Tohoku region.


In conclusion, Rev. Okochi feels that ultimately nuclear energy will be replaced and die out in Japan. What he is more concerned about is the export of nuclear technology to other countries, and more recently, the export of various military armaments. Japan’s next focus seems to be on making money in this way, as the United States before them did. Prof. Kim responded that if Japan does not abandon nuclear energy, then it is very hard to get South Korea to initiate the change since they tend to follow Japan. Mike Edaki noted that there is also a movement in Japan against the export of nuclear technology but that it is hard to interfere with such high level economic and technological exchanges. Therefore, it is important for Japanese and Koreans to create links on clean energy action as a way to oppose the nuclear movement. Prof. Kim responded that it has been difficult to get news on opposition and alternative movements in Japan from the Korean media.

Final Comments & Future Action

Ven. Seo Yeon Choi, a co-representative of the Won Buddhist Solidarity for Ecology

In reflecting on our time in South Korea and our previous experience in Japan, one of critical common points of view was seeing how very powerful structures and cultures have been built around unbridled economic development, of which high levels of consumption fuel the need for high levels of electricity generation and the promotion of nuclear power. The structure is epitomized in what the Japanese called the Atomic Village, while the culture is epitomized in the way the Japanese have combined education and technology ministries to make economic development and educational development a united front for nation building. These are what Rev. Okochi and Buddhist writer David Loy have called the institutionalization of the 3 Poisons of greed in unbridled consumption and growth, delusion in the promotion of nuclear energy as safe and necessary, and anger in the building of competitive nation states on these two foundations with the potential to use nuclear technology for nuclear armaments.[8]

A Buddhist response to such giant structures of Self (atman/atta) requires a comprehensive level of engagement, as noted earlier in this report. On a cultural level, Buddhists, hand in hand with other communities of faith, must expose the mis-education of our people who are taught that endless amounts of consumption and growth lead to individual happiness and national well being. However, this cannot take the form of simplistic, religious moral platitudes, like it is sinful or deluded to be money and power hungry. A Buddhist vision, in particular, works towards developing a 3rd Noble Truth in the vision of a healthy and wholesome society and a 4th Noble Truth in the concrete pathways to such societies. In Japan, in terms of the 3rd Noble Truth, Prof. Jun Nishikawa, a leading development economist, has used Buddhist principals to develop a post-Fukushima development model, going far beyond the rather simplistic response of mainstream Buddhist institutions in their promotion of the Buddhist value of santuti (少欲知足), “know what is enough”. In terms of the 4th Noble Truth, a few Buddhist temples in both Korea and Japan have begun to develop specific measures for not only consuming less but becoming self sufficient in their energy consumption. This is a localized measure that can have powerful effects on the larger system if more and more communities can develop decentralized forms of production and consumption, promoting interconnected “nested economies”[9] not dependent on the subsidized schemes of national and global vested interests.

JNEB and its Korean partners are looking to develop greater cooperation and exchange on these levels. While slow, incremental work is going on today to shift Japanese Buddhist denominations in this direction, we also hope to influence the Korean Buddhist community through further exchange with Jogye Order with the support of its Environmental Committee. On these foundations, we look forward to further outreach within East Asia and then throughout the entire INEB Network.


[1] “The contribution of nuclear energy as a percentage of total global electricity has declined rapidly through the 2000s, falling to about 13% in 2010. Concerns about hazards and unfavourable economics have stopped the growth of nuclear energy in all but two Western countries, Finland and France.” Mark Diesendorf, “The Ecomics of Nuclear Energy” in Basrur, R & Collin, K.S.L, Nuclear Power and Energy Security in Asia. (Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2012) p. 50.

[2] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.USE.ELEC.KH.PC/countries/1W?display=default

[3] “Renewable Energy Would Create More Jobs Than Nuclear Power: The Union of Concerned Scientists Weighs in on the Nuclear vs. Renewables Debate.” http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/renewable-energy-would-create-more-jobs-than-nuclear-power

[4] the tonne of oil equivalent (toe) is a unit of energy defined as the amount of energy released by burning one tonne of crude oil.

[5] Cabellero-Anthony, M, Alexandra, L, and Punzalan, K. “”Civil Society Organizations and the Politics of Nuclear Energy in Southeast Asia.” in Basrur, R & Collin, K.S.L, Nuclear Power and Energy Security in Asia. (Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2012), p. 181, 188.

[8] see their articles in Lotus in the Nuclear Sea: Fukushima and the Promise of Buddhism in the Nuclear Age. Ed. Jonathan S. Watts (Yokohama: International Buddhist Exchange Center, 2013).

[9] A concept articulated by David Korten in When Corporations Rule the World. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995)

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