Explaining the Sin of Nuclear Power

Symposium at Soto Zen’s Main Temple Eiheiji
Spreads the No Nuke Movement amongst the Buddhist World

November 3, 2011

Tokyo Shimbun

By Aso Izuta 出田阿生 & Kei Sato 佐藤圭

With the restarting of the Genkai nuclear power plant on November 2nd by the Kyushu Electric Company in Saga Prefecture and the reconfirmation of the export of nuclear power to Vietnam by the Noda Administration, we can see the revival of the nuclear power faction in Japan in one great leap. On the other hand, Eihei-ji, one of the main temples of the Soto Zen denomination with over eight million followers, held a two-day symposium to consider our lifestyles and a way of living from the viewpoint of “de-nuclearization”. Could this be the starting point of a great wave?

On the stage, a hanging scroll of the slender figure of Yoryu Kannon drew many gazes. With willow branch in hand, she symbolizes flexibility to bend to the will of all beings as willow branches to the wind. With the offering of incense, the lighting of candles, and the sound of chanting reverberating through the hall, the symposium with the theme, “Caring for Life: The Way to Live without Choosing Nuclear Power” began.

The conference venue was a public facility in Eiheiji town in Fukui Prefecture into which around 200 people crowded in. One could see priests with robes dotted throughout the audience. The speakers were Kenichi Hasegawa, a 58 year-old dairy farmer from Iitate village in Fukushima—a radiation hot spot located outside of the 30 kilometer exclusion zone from the Fukushima #1 nuclear facility which on December 5th still had a radiation reading of 2.039 microsieverts/hour. The other speaker was Rev. Tetsuen Nakajima, the sixty-nine year-old abbot of Myotsuji temple (Shingon sect) in the nearby area of Obama city and an activist in the anti-nuclear campaign for over 40 years.

Hasegawa addressed the audience first, and while showing photos and animation on a screen explained the situation after the nuclear incident in Fukushima in March, saying, “If you took a measurement near the houses in these areas using a dosimeter, the needle went off the scale exceeding 100 microsieverts. The government has muzzled attempts to inform the local inhabitants of these high levels. Experts have continually said the areas are now ‘safe’, and there have been no efforts to evacuate people.”

Hasegawa went on to talk about the heartbreak of putting down his dairy cows, leaving his hometown, and watching his whole life built up over 35 years come to an end. A fellow dairy farmer friend in a note left behind after hanging himself wrote, “If only the nuclear incident hadn’t happened.” A 102 year-old elderly person from the area said before taking his life, “I don’t want to be a burden to others in the evacuation”. During Hasegawa’s talk there could be heard sobs from the audience.

Hasegawa explained further that, “Pigs are eating the corpses of cows who have died of starvation. This is the present situation in Iitate village”. Next month there will be an experiment in decontamination of topsoil in which 400 square meters will cost 600 million yen. Hasegawa has doubts about the government’s plan to have people return to the village saying, “It’s not just about the radiation that has become stuck on things. Can the radiation that wafts through the air everywhere also be decontaminated? Further, it will be impossible to decontaminate the forests. Even if we do go back, it’ll be impossible to resume farming, and it is not an environment for young people to have and raise children.”

Rev. Nakajima then addressed the audience pointing out the “sin” of nuclear power that has given birth to more than 470,000 nuclear contaminated workers in the past 40 years. He emphasized that, “Fundamentally, Japan’s modernist spirituality does not bother to look at the negative side of the goal of ‘Leave Asia, Enter Europe’—a slogan developed by the Japanese government in the 19th century during its initial industrial drive. Japan today is caught up in the ethos of ‘public sacrifice for personal service’ rather than ‘personal sacrifice for public service.’ We must begin by changing this society of extravagant and wasteful energy use.”

One of the conference participants, a 62 year-old Fukui housewife named Yoko Watanabe, remarked with admiration that, “We have had anti-nuclear gatherings here and there in this community, but I think it’s very significant that a Buddhist temple has hosted this one. All of these conversations have energized and impressed me.” On the other hand, the Wakasa Bay, where a cluster of nuclear power plants are lined up, is also a region of many Soto Zen followers. Amongst these followers, there are many connected to the nuclear industry here, and so the stance the temple adopts is very complicated. In this way, the title of the symposium also received a number of negative responses from such people.

Rev. Tesshin Matsubara, the Vice Administrator of Eiheiji and head of the organizing committee for the symposium remarked, “The point is not about approving or disapproving of nuclear power.” Rev. Shokoku Nishida, the head of the Department of Propagation, said, “It is not that Eiheiji is starting an anti-nuclear campaign. The necessary evil that lurks behind the existing system of nuclear power is the lifestyle of unchecked greed. I am proposing that this is what we need to re-examine.” As the tension in the hall rose at this point, tape recorders and video recorders were asked to be turned off.

Afterwards, at the press conference held by Eiheiji, questions arose about the connection with the temple and nuclear power, such as how the Monju fast breeder reactor and the Fugen Advanced Thermal Reactor were named after the two bodhisattvas Monju (Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom) and Fugen (Samantabhadra, the bodhisattva of practice and meditation)

According to Eiheji, the then Chairman of the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation of Japan [Mr. Susumu Kiyonari] visited Eiheiji and explained to a Zen master, “We named [the reactors after Monju and Fugen] to receive the benefits of the bodhisattva’s wisdom and compassion.” A master is reported to have responded, “That is fine”. In response to a reporter’s question, “Did the temple declare such approval?”, Rev. Matsubara denied so saying, “That cannot be confirmed”. He acknowledged that, “Eiheiji has done nothing concerning nuclear power,” and repeated that, “It has been acknowledged that nuclear power is not compatible with the theory of the earth as sentient life.”

[Translators note: The Bukkyo Times reported on November 17th about this press conference and the naming of the reactors: “There was a debate among Zen priests over the naming. However, there is no evidence that priests were directly involved in giving the names Monju and Fugen. In an article from theBukkyo Times dated June 6, 1970, there is a written contribution by Susumu Kiyonari that mentions ‘Buddhism and nuclear power’ and ‘the name of Monju and Fugen’. Kiyonari himself had a good awareness of the horror of nuclear power when naming the reactors. He also had a strong interest in Buddhism, which led him to study it. In this account, there is no mention of a ‘certification’ in the ‘naming of (the reactor)’ in 1970. This is what is in the published account of the time.”]

A 67 year-old Soto priest from Fukuoka city named Rev. Wajo Kansha praised Eiheiji saying, “It’s not just now. Eiheiji has already been doing good work in this area.” For example, after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, his wife, Taeko Kansha, wrote the popular book “It’s Still Not Too Late” (1987), which had a strong influence on individuals joining the anti-nuclear movement.

A person connected with Eiheiji said that at present, “Soto as a denomination has no clear intention”. However, it is very true that there are concerned priests at Soto’s other main temple, Sojiji in Yokohama City, who want to support this work. Rev. Kansha further remarked that, “From now, I’m not sure if all the Buddhist denominations will exert their influence on this matter. However, not just Soto but all Buddhist denominations should begin the work of rethinking about nuclear power. This is my hope.”

Fukui Prefecture: the number one spot for the establishment of nuclear power in Japan

Nuclear Power Facilities in Fukui & Eiheiji Temple (northeast)

In Fukui Prefecture, there are:

  • 3 reactors at the Mihahama facility
  • 4 reactors at the Oi facility
  • 4 reactors at the Takahama facility

run by the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO)

  • 2 reactors with 2 more planned at the Tsuruga facility which also hosts
  • the Monju fast breeder reactor and
  • the Fugen Advanced Thermal Reactor which is currently shut down and awaiting decommissioning.

run by the Japan Atomic Power company

  • At present the only ones that are active are Mihahama #2, Oi #2, and Takahama #2 and #3.
  • In February of next year 2012 all of these reactors will be halted for scheduled inspections.

On October 28, KEPCO submitted to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which is within the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI), the first results of the necessary “safety evaluation” in order to restart operation of the Oi #3 reactor that is undergoing scheduled inspection. The submission of safety inspections has begun for all reactors in the country. KEPCO, which has a higher degree of reliance on nuclear power at 40% of capacity, is aiming the restart its reactors by next spring. However, the governor of Fukui Province, Kazumi Ishikawa, has established conditions for safety preparations that include lessons from the Fukushima incident and unforeseen situations that could arise with the resumption of operations.

The Japan Buddhist Federation: A Lifestyle without Dependence on Nuclear Power

The Japan Buddhist Federation (JBF) was created by the traditional Buddhist denominations and associations from all regions of Japan. On December 1st, they will hold their meeting of Board of Directors to create a declaration and adopt a course of action concerning the Fukushima nuclear incident.

Rev. Jitetsu Nara, Head of the General Affairs Division, explained that, “In asking each denomination and its followers, we found that their answers differed on how to deal with the nuclear issue. Nowadays, events like the one Eiheiji hosted are appearing. It is not just large temples but also small ones that are grappling in various ways with the tsunami and nuclear disasters. In this way, we wanted to inquire as to what kind of joint declaration we could make from the entire traditional Buddhist world.”

In a statement from JBF on August 25th, President Rev. Kono Taitsu said, “The nuclear reactor incident has become a subject of our thoughts.” He appealed, “In order that this type of incident does not happen a second time, we must re-examine and adjust our daily way of living.” Rev. Nara notes that in the present declaration there is the idea that, “In parallel with the dialogue with the President, we wanted to also do something concrete. The phrase ‘anti-nuclear’ should not be used because of its political connotations. I think we should instead speak of a lifestyle without dependence on nuclear power.”

There are about 60 temples within the 30 kilometer exclusion zone of the Fukushima reactors, and it was unavoidable that together with their lay followers these priests and their families had to evacuate. JBF is now supporting each temple to engage in compensation negotiations with TEPCO. In this way, the incident is still unresolved, and as long as the fear of radiation contamination exists, nuclear power will be a major theme in the Buddhist world.

Editorial Comment[by the Tokyo Shimbun]:

At the risk of speaking in a sinful manner, we feel that since the nuclear incident, the actions of the religious world have been naïve and unsophisticated. The lives of many tens of thousands of people have been destroyed, and the children, filled with fear, cannot speak of their future dreams. In the face of this tragedy, there are certainly many things that religious professionals should be doing. To begin with, we would like them want to say “NO” to nuclear power. Is there a reason to hesitate here?

Translated by Jonathan Watts

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