It has been 68 years since the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These cities have been the only places to be intentionally attacked with a nuclear weapon in the history of humankind. More than 200,000 were killed and the effects of the radiation can still be seen in the region today. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is an increase in leukemia and thyroid cancer, as well as mutations in DNA linked to birth defects.
But there are signs of hope. Today, the cities have risen from this devastation. The oleander flower, their native flower and sign of hope, is not only growing; it is thriving. People thought after the bombing the cities would turn into a nuclear wasteland, never to be inhabited again. The repopulated cities are a sign of determination and faith. Even in the wake of such tragedy and devastation, there remains hope for a brighter future.
Unfortunately, Japan faces another nuclear tragedy. In March of 2011 the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear tragedy unfolded. It was a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, poor management by government and power company officials, and the release of radioactive materials following an earthquake and tsunami. It is known as the largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl incident. Fukushima ranks as level seven, major accident, on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) established by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is the highest INES ranking.
Columban Father Sean McDonagh documented the downfall of the nuclear plant and the role the government and company played in it in a recently published book entitled Fukushima: The Death Knell for Nuclear Energy? that addresses not only security and sustainability issues with nuclear energy, but also the moral dilemmas.
Nuclear radiation was released mainly into the Pacific Ocean. Trace amounts of radiation have been found all over the world, including the West Coast of the United States and Canada.
The Columbans’ U.S. Regional Director, Father Tim Mulroy, traveled to Fukushima after the disaster to hear how local farmers were affected. They found it impossible to grow vegetables due to the water and soil contamination. They considered leaving Fukushima to find work. Similarly, fishing families are not able to sell fish due to the perceived or real contamination. The unemployment rate is high since the plant closed and local economy collapsed.
There are signs of hope. Fukushima recently opened two of its beaches 40 miles from the Daiichi plant. The radiation levels normalized this month and they are equal to levels in New York City.
Columbans are working to prevent another nuclear disaster. Whether it is nuclear weapons or nuclear energy, the possibility of putting God’s creation in danger is too high. Columbans and the Catholic Church in Japan and all over the world have urged world leaders to stop the production of new nuclear energy plants and to work towards nuclear non-proliferation. The CCAO works for energy policies that are truly efficient such as solar and wind as opposed to nuclear that depends on mining and transporting uranium. Together as a global community, we can build a nuclear-free world for future generations.