Japan’s Anti-Nuclear Bishops and Citizens Garner Support From Pope Francis

Pope Francis shakes hands with Matsuki Kamoshita as he meets with victims of the March 11, 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in northern Japan, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

Members of this country’s small but vocal opposition to the government’s nuclear energy policy took heart Monday (Nov. 25) from Pope Francis’ last speech of his visit to Asia, in which the pontiff voiced his “concerns” about the use of nuclear power.

“Our age is tempted to make technological progress the measure of human progress,” Francis told the crowd at Bellesalle Hanzomon convention center in downtown Tokyo. “So it is important at times like this to pause and reflect upon who we are and, perhaps more critically, who we want to be.”

Hajime Matsumoto, a founder of the collective Shirōto no Ran (Amateur Revolt), said the inhabitants of Tokyo’s bohemian Kōenji district agree with the pope’s misgivings.

“If there is another big accident, this community will disappear. This is very, very bad,” he told Religion News Service in an interview Monday at his small recycling shop in Kōenji, the birthplace of the city’s punk scene.

The debate over nuclear power in Japan is almost entirely framed by the March 2011 disaster at Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, when a tsunami struck the country’s east coast, short-circuiting the reactor’s backup cooling system and causing the worst nuclear spill of radioactive material since the Chernobyl accident 25 years earlier.

“In Fukushima now, many small villages and communities cannot live inside the radius. So, we are very angry. This is very dangerous,” said Matsumoto.

In highlighting the risks of nuclear power in his Monday speech, Francis also buttressed Japan’s Catholic bishops, who have called for the abolition of nuclear power plants.

Pope Francis also met three survivors of the Fukushima disaster on the last day of this week’s apostolic visit to Thailand and Japan.

“We cannot fully convey our suffering. So please pray with us, Holy Father,” Matsuki Kamoshita told the pope. Eight years old when the disaster occurred, Kamoshita told of being forced from home, then bullied at the evacuation center.

“Pray that those who have power will find the courage to follow another path,” Kamoshita said. “Pray that we can all overcome this injury. And please pray with us that people from all over the world will work to eliminate the threat of radiation exposure from our future.”

Known as the Triple Disaster, or 3/11, the failure of the Fukushima plant reshaped public opinion about nuclear energy in Japan. The number of Japanese who said they do not trust nuclear power energy jumped from roughly 10% in 2010 to more than 24% after the disaster. In 2017 that number grew to 30.2%, according to a 2018 survey by the Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization.

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Source: Religion News Service