TOKYO – Pope Francis called on Monday for courageous decisions about future energy sources after meeting with victims of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in which an earthquake and a consequent tsunami, followed by a nuclear power plant failure, left around 20,000 dead and tens of thousands of people displaced.
“We are a part of this land, part of the environment; because everything is ultimately interconnected. The first step, in addition to making courageous and important decisions about the use of natural resources, and in particular on future sources of energy, is to work and move towards a culture capable of combating indifference,” he said.
This was an indirect message echoing his “concern about the continued use of nuclear energy” in the country and as he recalled “the petition by Japanese bishops for the abolition of nuclear power stations.”
The earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 caused a nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant, which was the worst recorded since Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.
On the third day of his Japan visit, the pope heard the accounts of three survivors and then held a minute’s silence for the people who lost their lives, their families and for those still missing.
Regarding nuclear power plants, the pope said that “our age is tempted to make technological progress the measure of human progress.”
“This ‘technocratic paradigm’ of progress and development shapes people’s lives and the functioning of society and often leads to a reductionism that affects all areas of our societies,” he added.
At times like this, he said it was important to “pause and reflect on who we are and, perhaps more critically, who we want to be. What kind of world, what kind of legacy do we want to leave to those who will come after us?”
To protect the environment, the pope added, “we must realize that we cannot make purely selfish decisions and that we have a great responsibility towards future generations.”
“In that sense, we need to choose a humble and austere way of life that takes into account the urgencies we face,” he said.
During his address at the Tokyo conference hall, the pope thanked the efforts of local governments, organizations and people working to rebuild the areas where the disasters occurred “and to alleviate the situation of the more than 50,000 people who were evacuated, (and remain) currently in temporary houses, still unable to return to their homes.”
The magnitude-9 earthquake on Japan’s east coast caused a huge tsunami that crashed into the coast almost unannounced, flooding more than 500 square miles of land and killing thousands of people, destroying a million homes and businesses, and leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
Matsuki Kamoshita, who was eight years old when the catastrophe occurred, narrated the ordeal of her displacement, and how she was harassed at different places she went, causing her to wish for death.
She also spoke about how her father became mentally and physically unwell and stopped working, and said despite everything, they were lucky because they were able to survive the disaster. But she also said that the country had stopped worrying about the displaced.
The pope stressed that initial aid “cannot be lost with time and disappear after the initial shock, but must carry on and sustain.”
After the Fukoshima earthquake, there was a total shutdown of nuclear power plants in the country; however, they have gradually been reactivated and nine reactors are currently operational at five power plants.
Moreover, the government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has advocated the need to resume nuclear energy to stimulate economic growth and aims to have 20 to 22 percent of electricity from nuclear power plants by 2030.
Nuclear energy accounted for 30 percent of the total power in the country before the Fukushima accident.