The Catholic Church and Nuclear Power, the Philippines and Japan Fr. Seán McDonagh

 

In February 2009, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement opposing the rehabilitation of the Bataan Nuclear Power (PNPP) station. In a pastoral statement, the CBCP urged the Philippine Congress to “completely and irrevocably reject the opening of the nuclear plant as the  most dangerous and expensive way to generate electricity.”[1]  The statement was issued by the then CBCP president Archbishop Angelo Lagdameo of the Archdiocese of Jaro. He went on to state that, the multiple risks and possibilities of corruption outweigh the dreamed benefits. We recommend with other groups anti-BNPP congressmen and the Greenpeace Forum that the facility in Morong be mothballed.

On March 17th 2011, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines  issued a statement claiming that the crisis at Japanese nuclear power plant vindicated their opposition to the development of peaceful nuclear power. Bishop Deogracias Iñiquez, who is the chairperson of the Filipino bishops’ public-affairs committee, said that “what is happening Japan right now has confirmed our fears.” The bishops’ conference has consistently opposed building nuclear power plants. [2] There are no nuclear power plants active in the Philippines today.

 

 

The current president of the Philippines,  Benigno Aquino III is on record as saying that the mothballed Bataan nuclear reactor will never be used for its original purpose.

The Philippines is under a 25-year moratorium on the use of nuclear energy which expires in 2022. The government says it remains open to harnessing nuclear energy as a long-term solution to growing electricity demand, and its Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has been making public pronouncements in favour of pursuing nuclear energy since the Fukushima accident.

Given the opposition of the Catholic Church and many civil society organization the  DOST officials acknowledge that the accident has put back their job of winning the public over to nuclear by four or five years. This has not stopped the Philippine government from attempting to build capacity in various aspects of nuclear science and technology. The country lacks, for example, the technical expertise. Carmencita Bariso, assistant director of the Department of Energy’s planning bureau, says that, despite the Fukushima accident, her organisation has continued with a study on the viability, safety and social acceptability of nuclear energy.

Japan

 

In an interview with  Joshua J. McElwee of  the National Catholic Reporter,  August 4th 2011, Bishop  Paul Otsuka of the Kyoto diocese, spoke in advance of the annual gathering in Hiroshmia  to commemorate the dropping of the atom bomb  66 years ago. He said that  this event takes on a new significance in the light of the accident at Fukushima.  As a result he felt that it  is an appropriate time for the Japanese people to reflect on their relationship with nuclear power.  The bishop referred to a letter sent from the Tokyo diocese to the entire Japanese Church.  The bishop wrote that “ Japan, “which is the only country in the world to have been attacked with atomic weapons,” now “stands in danger of becoming a country fundamentally damaged because of atomic energy generation.”[3]

 

The military use of atomic weapons and the impact on the nuclear accident at Fukushima calls on the Japanese to “discern whether atomic energy, which threatens mankind and the environment, comes within the acceptable limits of our legitimate use of science and technology.”[4]  Bishop Otsuka has called for discernment about nuclear energy use and a new approach to world energy thinking.

 

In the interview, the bishop was asked for his reflection for the on-going disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  In reply he stated “I wanted to write about nuclear energy because the damage from March’s accident at the Fukushima plant continues. And many people sincerely wonder if it is possible for humankind to use nuclear energy safely. Until the incident we believed it is possible for humankind to use our nuclear knowledge for peaceful use safely. It is good to use our nuclear knowledge for peaceful use if we have perfect technology to protect our planet. But this incident shows this is impossible. The perfect technical system is impossible.” [5]


[1] Dona Pazzibugan, Alcuin Papa Christian V. Esguerra and Leila B. Salaverria “Recommends Bataan facility ‘must be dismantled, ’” Philippine Daily Enquirer, February 27, 2009.

[3] Joshua J. McElwee,  “Nearing Hiroshima Day, Japanese bishop calls for discernment on nuclear energy,” National Catholic Reporter,  August 4th 2011,  http://ncronline.org/print/26025

[4] ibid

[5] Ibid…

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