In an audience with Japanese Bishops, Pope Francis had criticized nuclear power by comparing it with the Tower of Babel, as reported by Takeo Okada, the Archbishop of Tokyo. When human beings attempted to reach heaven they triggered their own destruction. “Human beings should not break the natural laws set by God,” the Pope said. (Mainichi Shinbun March 22, 2015; Asahi Shinbun March 25, 2015)
This is probably the first clear-cut criticism of the “civil use” of nuclear power issued by the Vatican. The Pope expressed his conviction during an ad limina meeting with the Japanese bishops on March 20. “The destruction of nature is a result from human beings claiming domination (over the earth).” With these statements the Pope referred to the TEPCO-nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011. Soon after the terrible disaster, the Japanese Catholic Bishops’ Conference had publicly demanded from the government the immediate shutdown of all nuclear power plants.
During the audience, Bishop Katsuya Taiji, head of the “Council for Justice and Peace” of the Japanese Catholic Bishops’ Conference, had handed over letters of two activists from Fukushima to the Pope. The first author was Takumi Aizawa, a school clerk from Iidate Mura, the most contaminated place in Fukushima Prefecture, who is involved in health care and protection of children since the disaster. In fact Mr. Aizawa had the great wish to inform the Pope personally about the real situation of the people in the contaminated area because the government, the administration, many doctors and scientists, and the media try to cover up the extremely dangerous situation. The second author is Mako Oshidori, a well-known journalist from Tokyo, who attended most of the TEPCO press conferences with critical questions and who is investigating the contaminated region constantly.
Shortly before, Mr. Aizawa and Ms. Oshidori had delivered presentations about the situation in Fukushima at the international and interreligious conference on “Contributions of religious groups to the energy shift” which was organized by the Center for Ecumenical Work in March 3.-6. 2015 in Arnoldshain (Germany). Prof. Ichiro Mitsunobu S.J., a representative of the “Council for Justice and Peace,” also participated in the conference and gave a talk about the position of the Catholic Church in Japan. Triggered by this conference, the “Council” asked the two activists to write letters to the Pope which the bishops wanted to hand over during their audience two weeks later.
One of the main goals of the conference in Arnoldshain on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the TEPCO nuclear disaster was to stimulate international and interreligious networks to abandon nuclear power and to engage in climate protection. The developments outlined above may be considered a first result of such an endeavor.
Until now the Vatican had condemned only the military use of nuclear power. Since the Vatican is member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it seems that with his critical statements about the “civil use” of nuclear energy Pope Francis deviates considerably from the position of his predecessors und is pursuing a new direction. Many Catholics hope that in his next encyclica on the protection of the environment the Pope will clearly voice also his critical attitude towards nuclear power.
Wolfgang Buff and Martin Repp