Stopping the Vicious Cycle:
What Now for the People Gasping in Suffering?

by the Editors
Bukkyo (Buddhist) Times
July 28, 2011

At the beginning of July, it was disclosed that beef cattle from a number of farms inside Fukushima Prefecture had eaten grain tainted with high amounts of radioactive cesium. Furthermore, it was also disclosed that this beef in which was detected cesium exceeding standard allowable levels had then be sold throughout the country. After these disclosures, rice and grains were examined for contamination in all the northern prefectures affected directly by the March disaster, which included Miyagi, Iwate, Ibaraki, and Tochigi as well as Fukushima. Now four months since the beginning of the nuclear incident, we have begun to see the influence of it on family dinner tables. The boundary of the Fukushima nuclear incident has now expanded to the entire nation, and we are having to confront the influence of the radiation and the situation of not being able to secure our lifestyles.

In the first installment of this series, Rev. Tetsuen Nakajima pointed out the three forms of structural discrimination in nuclear power in Japan: the discrimination of urban areas over rural areas, the problem of workers poisoned by radioactivity, and the vulnerability of the young. He gave proper warning that especially children have a high sensitivity to the radiation and are very easily affected. For all the children in Fukushima Prefecture under the age of 18, it has been decided to provide them with health examinations for radioactivity for their thyroid glands over their entire lifetime. At the same time, though, there is a need for urgent measures to protect them from the ongoing radioactivity in the region.

In terms of the problem of cesium contamination, “discrimination towards farm products” has become an unfortunate part of the recent discrimination towards nuclear energy. When radioactivity is detected in farm products coming from Fukushima or its adjacent prefectures, shipments of these products come to a halt. Agricultural and animal products have been the first to be affected in this way by the contamination of the soil and water by radioactivity, and this has become a life or death problem for many. In addition, we have still not arrived at a resolution for overcoming the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima #1 Reactor.

We can make a sketch of the structure of present situation in the following chain: radioactivity à grains à beef à family dinner table. If this vicious cycle continues onward, the connection between food safety and our national health will continue to be endangered. This is not just an issue of the Fukushima reactors but also the latent danger of nuclear power to our entire country.

Compared to last year, we have established a goal to reduce energy by 15%, but there is the need to totally reconsider the means of generating energy. Energy consumption has increased every year since 1980, when it was 485 billion kilowatts, to 2009 when it was 956.5 billion kilowatts – a doubling of consumption over a 30-year period. In this period, nuclear energy also increased from 17% to 29% of total national output. Beyond just saving energy, we must fundamentally re-examine our basic lifestyle patterns and habits.

Electrical power generation has certainly supported Japan’s core industrial production and has enriched the lifestyles of its people. However, above all, electrical generation by nuclear power has put a large number of people at risk. Ironically, the standardization of such comfort and luxury has been accompanied by various social problems such as suicide and poverty. This leads to the question as to what is the causal link to our enriched lifestyles? In order to shift our way of living and develop mental and emotional fulfillness, there is surely a role that religious persons can play.

It goes without saying that energy has become an indispensible thing for our lifestyles, but there is no reason why the source of the energy has to be nuclear power. There must be the potential to shift to natural forms of energy. Today the “myth of nuclear safety” has crumbled, and once an accident occurs there is only the situation that all life becomes endangered. This danger has surely been covered over by “the myth of nuclear safety” and “the myth of necessity”. The contributors to this seven part series have continuously emphasized this point.

Hiroshi Kitahara is a journalist who recently published a book called The Village that Stopped Nuclear Power: The 37 year War Over the Ashihama Nuclear Reactors in Mie Prefecture (Gendai Shoken Books). In the postscript, there is a brief account of the situation between the promoters and opponents of nuclear power in the area near the Ashihama Reactor since the Fukushima incident. The promoters have said, “We truly believed in the safety of nuclear power plants, but then were convinced of the collapse of this safety from the unavoidable images on television.” The opponents have remarked, “The consultation of the neighboring town of Minami Ise-cho consistently maintained an opposition, and in its declaration said, ‘If there is no human sacrifice, can nuclear power be stopped?’ It is with deep emotion that we must say the human predicament from the Fukushima #1 Reactor incident has given credence to this idea.”

Religious persons must now consider how to deal with this problem. They must ask what we should do in order to not have any new people emerge with nuclear contamination. In this series, the authors have raised numerous times the practice of the Four Noble Truths and the awareness of suffering from a Buddhist perspective that leads towards a resolution.

The bodhisattva takes on four great vows in establishing him/herself in the way of the Buddha: 1) sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to liberate them; 2) delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to eradicate them, 3) dharma doors are innumerable, I vow to master them, 4) the way of the Buddha is immeasurable, I vow to realize it. These vows offer suggestions on how to resolve problems. In the first vow to sentient beings, “The Bodhisattva establishes him/herself in the life and death suffering of innumerable sentient beings and vows to liberate them.” (The Kosetsu Dictionary of Buddhist Terms). In this way, what sort of liberating hand can we extend to the victims struggling from the effects of the earthquake and tsunami and the people who have been robbed of their places to live from the nuclear incident? These are the very people immersed in suffering.

Translated by Jonathan Watts

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