Series 5

 Series 5
Towards a Nation Founded on Natural Energy:
Religion Has a Role in Controlling Greed

Mutsuji Yamaoka
Bukkyo (Buddhist) Times
July 7, 2011

Mutsuji Yamaoka is the head of Public Relations and Publishing for the Japanese religious group Seicho-no-Ie. Born in 1955, he also serves as the Director of the Religious and Scholarly Eco Initiative (RSE), a new organization working cooperatively on preservation of the global environment.

Still today we are being taught the lesson of the suffering of trying to control the radiation emitting from the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima #1 Nuclear Power Plant. What is it that this “The Future and Religion” Series is asking about this incident? If we can speak of a conclusion or judgment, in terms of the future, it must be the decision to shift from the present Japan dependent on nuclear power to “a nation founded on natural energy”. In this way, Seicho-no-Ie is working to achieve the role of confronting human greed, which is a shared teaching of all religions. At the same time, we think it is important to show how to realize a society that harmonizes nature and humanity.

In what way then should we think about nuclear energy? The President of Seicho-no-Ie, Masanobu Taniguchi, wrote an article entitled “Is a ‘Nation Founded on Nuclear Power’ OK?”, which appeared in his blog, “Lots of Thoughts in a Short Space” on June 24, 2006. In three points, he clearly shows that that we cannot endorse “The Plan for a Nation Founded on Nuclear Power” in which the National Agency of Natural Resources and Energy and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) would be combined. The first point states that nuclear energy does not fit with “the realization of a cyclical society (of production and consumption)”, an idea generated by the reflection on global warming. The second point calls for respect for intergenerational equity, which gives way to the third point, the realization of a decentralized society using natural energy. Nuclear energy is at odds with all of these points.

First of all, the fuel used in nuclear power cannot be said to be cyclical in nature. The fuel that is finished being used from all the nuclear reactors in Japan is about 1,000 tons annually. This used fuel is put into storage pools within nuclear reactors or in storage pools at reprocessing sites located in the huge Rokkashomura complex in northern Aomori Prefecture. After some years, these storage pools become filled to the brim. The final storage facilities for this fuel have also become full and additional facilities have not been decided upon. In this way, we see that a society that depends on nuclear power is absolutely not a cyclical one.

So what about intergenerational equity? For the time being, we must quickly shut down the nuclear power plants and store the approximately 16,000 tons of used nuclear fuel sitting in pools in places that will not bring harm to humans. It is said that to pay the price for reprocessing nuclear waste will take 10,000 years and span across generations. In this way, nuclear power goes against intergenerational equity. This sort of nuclear problem has revealed the physical dangers to the citizens in the surrounding areas, and so the decision to get rid of reliance on nuclear power is the most basic choice to be in accord with intergenerational equity.

If we adopt the viewpoint of realizing a cyclical society that uses natural energy, nuclear power based on a large scale centralized system cannot work. The problem then becomes reforming the structural monopoly over the production and delivery of energy by the electric companies. If we can realize the division of production and delivery throughout the country, we will be able to promote the full scale use of natural energy, such as wind and solar, that is in tune with different localities.

In 2001, Seicho-no-Ie acquired ISO14001 certification, which establishes standards, guidelines, and policies governing correct environmental management. In this way, we not only try to reduce the consumption of each unit of energy, but we also produce natural energy through the active promotion of the installation of solar generation equipment. The result has been that for 863 members in 712 work places we have installed solar panels that have generated a total of more than 5,253.45 kW.

entrance to "the office in the forest"
entrance to “the office in the forest”

We have also decided that by the Spring of 2013 we will move our headquarters, presently located in Shinjuku in downtown Tokyo, out to “an office in the forest” located in Yatsugatake-nanryo in Hokuto City in Yamanashi Prefecture (near Mt. Fuji). In this plan, we will begin to deal with the long term process of the nuclear problem by creating energy from solar and biomass and making ourselves self-sufficient. The completion of such an office we think will offer one model of a society based in cyclical natural energy.

However, can we say that the large scale production of cyclical natural energy will match the amount of energy produced by existing nuclear energy? Absolutely not. Our present society expects that we will once again promote a lifestyle that pushes forward with prioritizing greed and the destruction of the natural environment. However, religion originally seeks to hold down human greed and speaks of a way of living that has gratitude for the blessings of heaven and earth that have been granted to us. If this is so, I think that religion has an important role to spread the idea of human happiness through a lifestyle of gratitude and the control of human greed, and this points towards a nation founded upon natural energy.

We must now practice the Four Divine Abodes of Buddhism (brahmavihara: the mind of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) not just for fellow humans but for the natural world. The move of our office to the forest will also add to the meaning of the practice of the fourth brahmavihara of equanimity by cutting off from the attachment to materialistic greed that “big city society” continues to awaken in humans.

solar panels at new "office in the forest"
solar panels at new “office in the forest”

At our new offices, I think that humanity and nature will be harmonized and that we can learn directly from the Yatsugatake-nanryo forest and experience a mentally luminous lifestyle with a low carbon footprint. These are the practical responses by Seicho-no-Ie to the question of the future after the nuclear incident.

Translated by Jonathan Watts

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