Nuclear Energy is Actually the “Establishment of Self”

Rev. Hiroaki Osada

December 20, 2012

Chugai Nippo Buddhist Newspaper


Osada-Hiroaki1Rev. Hiroaki Osada was born in 1960 in Ishikawa Prefecture located on the Sea of Japan. He graduated from the Department of Physics at Nihon University and then from the Otani Institute for Advanced Studies of the Jodo Shin Pure Land Higashi Honganji (Otani) denomination. His is presently the Abbot of Hoten-ji Temple in Hyogo Prefecture near Kyoto. He is the Secretary of the Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy and author of the following Japanese language publications: Emancipation from the Demonic Myth of Atomic Power (Aokusajin-no-kaikan) and co-author of Nuclear Power Steals Life (Higashi Honganji Publications) and The Crisis of Nuclear Power and Total Nuclear Contamination (Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy). For more on is background and activities, read this article

1. The Call for Finding a Basis for Anti-Nukes in the Buddhist Teachings is Nonsense

“Which sayings of Shinran (1173-1263) form the basis for opposing nuclear energy?”; “Among the teachings of Buddhism, in what way can we explain the problem of nuclear energy?”. These are the kinds of questions that have been cropping up often in my Japanese Pure Land Buddhist denomination since the Fukushima incident of March 2011. In the discourses of the Buddha and the words of Shinran, there are, of course, no references to “nuclear energy”, and the people who ask these aforementioned questions already know that. In this way, I feel there is a clear difference between “studying about Buddhism” and “learning from Buddhism” in regards to the way such questions are framed. I feel the development of such questions is nothing more than “propagation specialists engaged in philosophy” and “third parties disconnected from reality” using the Buddha’s and our denominational founder’s words to back themselves up.

2. The Reality of Unawakened Religious Scholars

The other day I had the opportunity to listen to the dharma talk of a scholar who teaches at my denomination’s university. Concerning the root of the human problem, the speaker pointed out the Buddhist doctrine that the defilements (kilesa) are the very “establishment of self (atta)”. He then drew the conclusion that, “There are people who think in truly frightening ways. So even though the people of Tohoku have become victims of the recent disaster, there are people in other parts of the country who oppose having any radioactive wreckage and debris disposed of their localities.” I think this way of speaking really reflects that of a “third party disconnected from reality” and a “propagation specialist engaged in philosophy”. To begin with, by emphasizing “there are people in other parts of the country who oppose having any radioactive wreckage and debris disposed of their localities”, he was indicating that such people were acting selfishly and not being supportive of efforts to revive the areas in northern Japan struck by the tsunami and nuclear incident.

copyright Chugai Nippo
copyright Chugai Nippo

The more specific problem of this issue of “the widespread disposal of wreckage and debris contaminated by radioactivity” are the ash and emissions created from burning such debris. The Japanese Ministry of Environment has determined that 20% of 23 million tons of wreckage and debris (about 4 millions tons) from the prefectures of Iwate and Miyagi (north of Fukushima) is fit for widespread disposal in other parts of the country. This debris has a level at or below 100 becquerel per kilogram, so the ministry has determined that it does not pose an immediate threat to human health. However, according to a report in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper on February 11, 2012, the burning of lumber from forests contaminated by radioactivity in private homes in Miyagi creates emissions and ash measured at 59,000 becquerel/kg. Since radioactivity becomes concentrated in the burning process, it becomes 200 times the allowed level. Thus, even if the level of radioactivity of this collected debris is 40 becquerel/kg (40% of the safety standard) and it is burned, the consequent ash has a radioactive level of 8,000 becquerel/kg. Therefore, although the radioactive level of the wreckage and debris itself may be low, people may have unavoidable contact with the ash that is being emitted when it is burned, and so this creation of emissions from burnt radioactive debris has become a problem.

In order to dispose such highly radioactive ash, the Ministry of Environment has decided to reclaim land in various localities where it is to be shipped and then incinerated. They have explained that by using bag filters to clean up this ash, 99.9% of the radioactivity can be removed. However, according to an article in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper on January 21, 2012, “There is not enough data (on the use of bag filters) but a policy had to be formed quickly (to deal with the issue)”. In this way, it has become clear that from the beginning the safety of citizens has been disregarded. Although from the start, there was no data about the removal of radioactive materials, it was decided before confirming the reality of radioactive contamination that had befallen Miyagi and Iwate to proceed forward with a plan of “widespread disposal throughout the country”. If, for example, such ash were to be spread in a layer of 5 centimeters throughout the grounds of a Buddhist temple, it would come to 520,000 becquerel per square meter and be the equivalent in radioactive contamination of the evacuated residential areas in Chernobyl. In this way, should we really be accepted the reclamation of land in various localities for the disposal of such highly radioactive ash?

This past March marked a full year since the disaster. During this time, all the television networks said, “Everyone in the nation should give a hand in the rebuilding process”, while in the background showing images of the mountains of wreckage and debris in Tohoku. This was a time when our “good intentions” were mobilized. However, it didn’t take long to notice how our “good intentions” were being used.

At the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, 20 million tons of wreckage and debris were disposed of in that region of Osaka and Kobe. The price of that debris at that time was 22,000 yen ($230)/ton, but in this disaster the price has become 63,000 yen ($660)/ton. When you come to learn that the total value of this wreckage is some 1 trillion yen (over $10 billion), you understand clearly how the structure of vested interests of those in power has moved into action. In this way, the diversion of funds earmarked for reconstruction in the disaster areas being used instead for the disposal of wreckage and debris has recently become a problem.

The issue of “the widespread disposal of radioactive wreckage and debris throughout the country” is really about the proliferation of radioactive materials, the exposure of workers at these disposal centers and local citizens to radiation, and the inevitable exposure of future life to such radiation. Any voice of opposition to this must ask about the responsibility towards the existence of living things. While there is this aspect of emphasizing the rights of living things at present in terms of radioactive exposure, I think we should also point out that it is this system itself that is the kilesa and the very “establishment of self (atta)”. Understood this way, it becomes the work of Buddha, which is, of course, to open one’s eyes to the reality of life being trampled by the forces of anger and sorrow.

3. Forsaking “Life”

Four years before the disaster, the Chairman of the Japan Nuclear Safety Commission, Haruki Madarame (presently a professor at Tokyo University), appeared in court as a witness for the defense in a case brought by the local citizens calling for the turning off of the Hamaoka nuclear reactors in Shizuoka Prefecture. In the records of the court, there was a discussion concerning the emergency safety equipment, which was referred to many times by officials from the government and the electric company. When asked about the possibility of this safety equipment not working at the time of a massive earthquake and tsunami, Madarame testified that, “If you want to bring up this issue, then you cannot even talk about design measures. Absolutely nothing would work. Therefore, you have to draw a line somewhere.” The phrase “draw a line somewhere” has the meaning of forsaking something in order to preserve something else. The thing that gets inevitably abandoned in the process of promoting nuclear energy is “life” itself; life that has been contaminated by radioactivity.

By March of 2012, according to the newsletter published by the non-profit organization The Association of the Effects of Radiation, the number of laborers involved in the nuclear energy industry who had been overexposed to radiation had gone beyond 490,000. The meaning of this becomes clear if you take into account that the number of victims up to today of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb explosions comes to a total of 220,000. The concepts of “safety” and “necessity”, which lie behind the promotion of nuclear energy, are therefore nothing but “myths” based on a concealing of the real situation of the radioactive contamination of laborers. The inability to make this situation of the laborers an issue of concern has led to a nuclear disaster being brought upon a wide group of citizens.

This kind of problem is now happening with the children of Fukushima whose thyroids have been overexposed to radiation. Since October 2011, examinations have been carried out on the thyroids of 360,000 children under the age of 18 in Fukushima prefecture. According to the report of the Fukushima prefectural government issued on November 18, 2011, 95,954 children (about 40%) were found to have lesions or cysts (an abnormal growth like a sac with bodily fluids in it). While the parents of these children have been trying to cope with the anxiety, the Japan Thyroid Association under the chairmanship of Shunichi Yamashita issued a notification to its members on January 16, 2012 effectively saying, “do not conduct further examinations”. The result has been that people are not able to get second opinions of their child’s examination result as well as an inability to monitor how the situation is developing. The continued disregard for the anxiety of parents and the shameful vested interests of adults point to “an underestimation of the influence of radioactive overexposure”.

Nuclear energy, as such, is clearly a social system of the kilesa of “the establishment of self (atta)”, which has become swollen and in essence is the forsaking of life. In November of 2011, I attended a study group held in Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan where the reality of nuclear contamination was discussed. I will never be able to forget during the question and answer session the words of the recently repatriated Japanese who had been left behind as orphans in China at the end of the Pacific War. Crying as they told their stories, they said, “Has this country changed?”; “Have the adults of this country begged for the pardon of the children?” To these questions, we Buddhists must provide a response.

UPDATES: Three Miyagi Prefecture Sites Eyed for Fallout Waste Disposal (January 21,2014)

Translated by Jonathan Watts (with support by Ryu Yabana)

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