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.



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,

[4] ibid

[5] Ibid…

The Catholic Church and nuclear power Fr. Seán McDonagh


Soon after the Fukushima disaster the Japanese bishops issued a statement stating their continued concern about the Fukushima nuclear accidents that followed the March 11th 2011, earthquake and tsunami. A Japanese bishop told the Fides news agency that he opposes the construction of nuclear power plants worldwide. “The issue about the direction we are taking, to build other nuclear power plants, is an important question,” said Auxiliary Bishop Michael Goro Matsuura of Osaka. “Together with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Japanese Bishops, which I headed up until last year, we have raised awareness to fight the construction of new nuclear power plants in Japan and globally. I believe that this serious incident should be a lesson for Japan and for the entire planet, and will be an incentive to abandon these projects. We call on the solidarity of Christians worldwide to support this campaign.” [1]


In June 2009, the Catholic Bishops of Alberta in Canada issued a document entitled Pastoral Reflections on Nuclear Energy in Alberta. The bishops pointed to the “serious ethical questions that must be adequately addressed before a decision (on nuclear power) is reached and implemented. [2] They questioned whether there was sufficient river water available to meet the needs of the proposed nuclear power plant in Alberta.  They argued that there are other ways to reduce greenhouse gases.  In the face of the potential risks to human beings and the environment, the Bishops called attention to the “precautionary principle.” This moral principal states that, if an action can potentially cause major harm to human beings or the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that the action will not be harmful, the burden of proof that it will not be harmful lies with those who are proposing the action not with those who are opposing it. The bishops are aware that nuclear power plants or trains carrying nuclear waste are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. They raise the cost and value for money of going down the nuclear route and there has been a cost overrun in building many nuclear reactors. [3]  The pastoral calls attention to the lack of a permanent place to store nuclear waste. This means that future generations will have to deal with this carcinogenic and toxic legacy.  They also point out that the risk posed by nuclear reactors is such that it is impossible to get full insurance cover for a nuclear reactor.


Four days before the German government agreed to phase out all Germany’s nuclear reactors by 2022, the German Bishops’ conference published a 52 page document in which it repeated its call to the government to shut down their nuclear reactors as soon as possible. They stated that the production of nuclear energy was “unethical.” The document was published on May 26th 2011 was prepared by a commission of experts under the leadership of Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. The cardinal was also a member of the German Government’s Ethics Commission of safe energy which recently published a report calling for an end to the use of nuclear power. [4]  Writing in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung  on May 29th 2011, Cardinal Reinhard  said  that he felt a technology that had incalculable consequences for entire generations could not be trusted.[5]


In an article in the monthly magazine Kyeonghyan, the president of the Korean Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Cheju, wrote that nuclear power is a monster which cannot coexist with living things.  He said it is a lie to say that nuclear power is a green or clean energy. He urged the Korean government to review its energy policy.  He said a visit to tsunami-hit Saitama and Sendai dioceses in Japan last month to deliver aid, made him question whether nuclear power is really safe.[6] He went on to say that everyone needs to pay attention to nuclear power as it could lead to a catastrophe. Citing Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, he said: “Our natural environment is God’s gift to everyone, and we must take care of it as we have a responsibility towards the poor, future generations and humanity as a whole.” Bishop Kang said the God-given right to rule the earth is not absolute. “We must limit ourselves when it comes to nature,” he said, adding that nuclear power is beyond that limit.


[2] downloaded on April 5th  2011.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, “Bishops applaud nuclear phase-out,” The Tablet, June 4th 2011, page 30.

[6]  Nuclear power ‘monster,’ Bishop warns

Posted By Ivan On May 18, 2011 @ 4:58 pm In UCAN News

Trees and ‘God Talk’ Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC


I grew up in rural Ireland in the 1950s, surrounded by trees.  A ribbon of horse chestnuts lined both sides of the road that linked the Killaloe and Limerick roads.  In summer their intertwining canopies shut out the light which gave the road its name – the Dark Road. In the fields around our house there were stands of oak, birch and sycamore. About 40 yards away to  the south and west my father planted  a shelter belt of  leylandis.  We had different varieties of apple trees in the orchard and two pear trees.

I entered St. Columbans seminary at Dalgan in 1962. The estate in which the seminary was built had extensive woodlands, full of indigenous trees such as oak, hazel, holly, ash, Scots pine, willow, elm and rowan.  The woods also contained a number of exotic species, including a number of sturdy Cedars of Lebanon and a few Californian Redwoods.  The trees had been planted in the 1820s by General Taylor who had fought alongside Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.  According to local the woodlands were planted to mark where different British regiments were lined up to do battle with Napoleon.

During my seven years in the seminary I heard very little that might increase my love or respect for trees.  Students were not allowed to walk in the  woodlands and we were not even encouraged to give the trees the basic respect of knowing their names.  There was one ceremony each year which gave prominence to a tree. It was the beautiful, plaintive melody which was sung during the Exaltation of the Cross on Good Friday. As the celebrant unveiled the Cross, the celebrant sang, Ecce lingnum crucis in quo salus mundi perpendit (Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the saviour of the world). The faithful answered, Venite Adoremus ( come let us adore).  The truth is that we were not being asked to focus on the Cross, but on the figure of Christ which was nailed to it.  Unfortunately, the natural world did not figure at all in our education for ministry in the 1960s.  Little has changed in the intervening four decades in seminaries.  Theology and scripture presentations focus almost exclusively on the divine and human realms with little consideration for the rest of creation.

Ministry in Mindanao in the 1970s

My generations of missionaries were blessed for a number of reasons. The main one was that we were given an opportunity to learn local languages in a professional way, using the insights of modern linguistics.  After studying the local language, Cebuano in the autumn of 1969 and the first half of 1970, I was assigned to the parish of Oroquieta in northwest Mindanao, Philippines.  It was quite a peaceful place, but there were significant pockets of grinding poverty, especially among those living in the barrios.  The Catholic Church in Mindanao was dedicated to promoting the well being of people through a number of initiatives, especially in the area of land reform.

Everything changed in September 1972 when, the then president,  Ferdinand  Marcos declared martial law.  Many Church workers, especially those who were involved in promoting social justice, were arrested and some were murdered. For the next 14 years, the energies of Church people were focused on protecting the human rights of the people against both the military and the guerillas as well as promoting social justice. During this time I had little knowledge of or concern for the environment.  The only time environmental degradation crossed my mind was when Panguil Bay in northwest Mindanao turned chocolate brown  after a day or so of monsoon rains or a typhoon. Even then, my concern was more for the farmers who had lost the precious topsoil than for the integrity of the forest and the well-being of other creatures in the web-of-life.

Working among the T’boli

My interest in trees and forests blossomed during the twelve years I spent working among the T’boli people in the province of South Cotabato in Mindanao.  The rainforests are a world of beauty, colour and fruitfulness which encircle the globe in the tropical areas of Africa, Central and South America and Asia. At least half, and possibly as many as 80% of the world’s animal and plant species live in the rainforests of the world.  Unfortunately, this has not spared them from the bulldozers and chainsaws of global logging companies, In Mindanao, international and local logging companies plundered the rainforests, especially in the years following World War II. A few companies and individuals became extraordinarily wealthy.

Ethno-linguistic communities such as the T’boli, who for many centuries had depended on the tropical forests for all their needs, including food, building material, medicinal plants and inspiration for their music, poetry and religion, were devastated by the destruction of the forest. The destruction of the tropical forests in the Philippines has greatly impoverished the country from the perspective of biodiversity and many species have been driven over the precipice of extinction.

Importance of Forests for the local climate

A study carried out in Central America in the 1980s showed that a single rainstorm can dislodge up to 150,000 kilogrammes of top soil from one hectare of hillside once the trees have been cut.  The comparable figure from a forested hillside is a mere 44 kilogrammes. Intact forests regulate water run-offs and thus mitigate risks of flooding and droughts.  Destruction of forests also impacts on rainfall. Cutting  trees leads to a reduction in evapotranspiration which in turn leads to less rainfall.  Much of the rainfall in southern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay is a direct result of the water recycling activity of the Amazon basic. According to James Astill in The Economist,, “a decrease in regional precipitation would be calamitous, but the actual effect could be much worse.”[1] On hydrological grounds alone, protecting forests is essential for the future of agriculture.

Soon after arriving in the T’boli  ancestral territory in the Philippines, I realized how important the forest was for these tribal people. It became clear to me that, unless the remaining area of forest was protected, the T’boli would literally have no  future. So, one of the major goals of my 12 years working among the T’boli was geared towards helping them to protect what was left of the forest. I was also involved in initiatives to replant indigenous species of trees in areas where the forest had been destroyed. That meant learning as much as I could about the rainforest from the T’bolis themselves and also from the writings of biologists, botanists and entomologists.  It was an exciting but often dangerous journey.  In April 1988, Fr. Carl Schmitz,  a 70 year old Passionist missionary was murdered partly because he spoke out against illegal logging. In July of that year, Fr. Mario Escoba a Divine World Missionary was murdered in Butuan city in northern Mindanao.  He had documented atrocities committed by logging companies against local settlers in the local area.



Rainforests under attack across the globe

 The rainforest are under attack, not just in the Philippines but right across the globe from the Amazon to   New Guinea.  In 2011, only 60 percent of Earth’s original tropical forests remain.  According to Astill writing in the Economist, “ Despite many campaigns by NGOs, vigils and rock concerts for the rainforests, and efforts to buy it, lease it, log it and not log it, the destruction proceeds at a furious clip. In the past decade, the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) records show that around 13 million hectares of the world’s forests, an area the size of England, have been lost each year. Most of this was tropical rainforest, razed for agriculture.”[2] Astill reports that the destruction of rainforests has slowed down in recent years in Brazil, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Guyana.

Climate change will also have a negative impact on global forests. While forests  will thrive in high northern latitudes such as Finland, this will be off-set by increased forest dieback elsewhere, caused by “rising aridity, drought, pests and fires – all symptoms of global warming. Melting permafrost will also release billions of tonnes of methane into the atmosphere.  Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.  Scientists also warn that if the average global temperatures increases by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of 2100, this will effectively destroy all rainforests and release 50 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. [3]

A viable theology of creation

As a religious person, I believe it is important to have an adequate  “God Talk” or theology about, trees, forests and the natural world. When I began writing about ecology and theology in the early 1980s there was very little treatment of the subject in Catholic Social Teaching. In fact, despite a number of initiatives by Pope John Paul II, Pope  Benedict XVI and bishops conferences, concern for ecology and  trees is still very much on the margins of Catholic though. For example, in the  in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Chapter X on “Safeguarding the Environment,” is the weakest chapter in the book. There is only one reference to the plight of forests.  No 466 which states that, “in this regard, each person can easily recognize, for example, the importance of the Amazon, one of the world’s most precious natural regions, because of its biodiversity which makes it vital for the environmental balance of the entire planet,”[4]  

Cedars of Lebanon (Dedus liban)

In reality, it is not difficult to find a theology of trees and the environment in the Bible and the experience of Christians down through the centuries. In the Bible trees can, set the moral and religious context for the life both of the individual believe and the community,   For example, the Cedars of Lebanon grew to a height of 120 feet. Many cedars were more than a thousand years old. The long life and erect stance of cedars represented a symbolic challenge for humans. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age, they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap showing that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” (Ps. 92: 11–15).  The cedar tree was chosen for the construction of the temple of God in Jerusalem probably because the wood was resistant to a variety of insects and that that it lasted for a long time. (I Kings 6: 9-20).

The Olive (Olea europaea)

In the bible the olive tree is seen by St. Paul as a symbol for the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:15-25).  Olive oil was widely used for cooking in Israel.  It was also used at night as a fuel for lighting a room. Olive oil was used in the tabernacle both as a fuel for lighting an area and also for the ceremonial anointing by the priests of God (Exod. 30: 24- 25; Lev. 24:2-4).  In Psalm 52: 8, the psalmist compares himself to an olive tree in the house of God. “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”  The olive tree even plays a role in the book of Genesis.  When the dove returned to Noah’s ark with an olive leaf in its mouth, Noah knew the waters had receded from the earth.

Vines (Vitis vinifera)

In the New Testament in chapter 15 of his gospel, John presents Jesus as the true vine.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. (Jn. 15:1) The believers are the branches, but they cannot bear fruits unless they are joined to and sustained by the  vine tree.  “ Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you re the branches.”(Jn 15: 1-5).  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15: 5).  Being cut off from the vine has serious consequences for the believer. “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.”  (Jn. 15:6).

The Palm tree, (Phoenix dactylifera)

The date palm tree is one of the most useful and beautiful trees in the Bible. Its deep tap-root system means that it can grow where there is very little water.  Not alone did it produce dates, it also produced sugar, oil, wine, thread, tannin and dyes. The seeds could be fed to animals, especially cattle and leaves were used as roofing material. The popular belief that the fruit became sweeter as the tree aged, is reflected in Psalm 92. Mats and bags were also made out of the fibre of the palm trees.  The inhabitants of Jerusalem waved palms and placed them on the road when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass’s colt. (John 12:13; Matthew 21:8).

In the Book of Revelation, the great multitude of the redeemed will greet the resurrected Lord Jesus. They will be “clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands”; crying, “Salvation belongs to our  God who is seated on the throne and to the  Lamb” ( Rev 7: 9-10).


Trees used as Satire.

The author of the book of Judges uses the contrast between useful trees such as the olive, the fig and the vine, and ‘problems’ trees such as brambles to ridicule the ambition of Abimelech to become king. (Judges 9: 7-15).


Susanna and the Judgement of Daniel.

Daniel saved the life of Susanna who was accused by two judges of having sex with a young man.  Daniel separated the judges and asked them,  what tree did they see Susanna and her supposed lover lying under? One said a mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) the other a holm oak (Quercus ilex). Both were seen to be lying, so Susanna life was saved and the wicked judges put to death.   (Dan. 13: 50-59).


Parable of the Mustard Seed (Brassica nigra)


This is one of the shorter parables of Jesus. It appears in three of the Canonical Gospels of the New Testament. The differences between the Gospels of Matthew (13:31–32), Mark (4:30–32), and Luke (13:18–19), are minor, and the three parables may be derived from the same source. At the most obvious level the parable suggests the growth of the Kingdom of God from tiny beginnings to worldwide Church. .

Matthew’s version, “He set another parable before them, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.

The plant referred to here is generally considered to be black mustard, a large annual plant up to 9 feet tall, but growing from a proverbially small seed (this smallness is also used to refer to faith in Matthew 17:20).

The nesting birds may refer to Old Testament texts which emphasise the universal reach of God’s Kingdom. However, a real mustard plant is unlikely to attract nesting birds, so that Jesus seems deliberately to emphasize the notion of astonishing extravagance in his analogy.  In the natural world trees do support an enormous amount of biodiversity. Both species of the oak tree (Querus petrea) and Quercus robur) support 284 species of insects.[5]

Some commentators claim that, there is a “subversive and scandalous” element to this parable, in that the fast-growing nature of the mustard plant makes it a “malignant weed” with “dangerous takeover properties.”

Ben Witherington notes that Jesus could have chosen a genuine tree for the parable, and that the mustard plant demonstrates that, “though the dominion appeared small like a seed during Jesus’ ministry, it would inexorably grow into something large and firmly rooted, which some would find shelter in and others would find obnoxious and try to root out.”[6]

The drama of redemption is played out between two trees at the beginning and end of the bible.


Finally, the drama of human history is framed between two very significant trees, In Genesis, the first book of the Bible we find that God planted,” the tree of life and the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the Garden of Eden” ( Gen. 2:9). In chapter 3, Adam and Eve were admonished “not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. You must not eat it or touch it under the pain of death.” (Gen. 3.3).  The serpent then told Eve that “No, you will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods.” (Gen. 3).  Eve and Adam disobeyed God’s command when they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  As a result, they were expelled from Paradise and  found themselves in need of  salvation and redemption. Their disobedience also affected their relationship with nature. “Accursed be the soil because of you. With suffering shall you get your food from it every day of your life. It shall yield you brambles and thistles and you shall eat wild plants. With sweat on your brow you shall eat your bread, until you return to the soil, as you were taken from it. For dust you are and to dust you shall return. (Gen. 4: 17-19).  In the  last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation we find that one of the signs that salvation has been achieved by the death and resurrection of Christ is the reappearance of  the “tree of life” planted in the new Jerusalem along the banks of the river and bearing leaves which bring healing and comfort.”(Rev. 22:1).


Nature in Celtic Christianity

Dr. John Feehan in his book, Farming in Ireland, History, Heritage and Environment, makes the point that, “the sacred places of pre-Celtic Ireland were not the caves and buildings of stone which Christianity inherited from Rome, nor were they like the temples of other great religions. For the Celts the sacred place was the nemeton; the grove of trees, living, full of spirit, whispering of things in our own spirit we can hardly comprehend and barely articulate.


Groves and individual trees played an important role in the lore of the Druids, and there is no doubt of the pre-eminence of the oak, tree which of all the trees was most full of symbolism for European druids and the Celtic people they served.”[7]


Feehan tells us that the sacred groves of the pre-Christian era were carried over into the Irish Christian Church of the 5th century. “It is more than likely that many or even most of the early Christian churches were founded on the site of druidic oaks or other sacred trees which still echo faintly in the names of these places; cill dara,(Kirdare), dair-mhagh (Durrow), doire Calgaich (Derry).”[8]


Columban and creation

If, in my theology courses in the 1960s,  I had been exposed to the thinking of our patron, St. Columban and other early Celtic saints instead of authors such as Adolphe Tanquerey, I would have been much better placed to have developed a theology of creation much earlier in my missionary work. In his Sermon, ‘Concerning the Faith,’ Columban wrote about the  presence of God in nature and the importance of understanding nature if we wish to know God. Amplius non requires de Deo; quia volentibus altam scire profunditatemrerus ante natura consideranda est.  (Seek no further concerning God; for those who wish to know the great depth of things must first know the natural world). [9]


Bishop Chamnoald, at one time a disciple of  Columban  tells that Columban would call out to the creatures when he went into the woods to fast or pray, and that they would come to him at once. He would stroke them with his hand and caress them: and the wild things and the birds would leap and frisk about him for sheer joy as pups jump on their masters. Even the squirrels would answer his call, climbing into the hands and onto the shoulders of Columban and running in and out of the folds of his cowl. Chamnoald said that he himself had seen this, and that we should not marvel that bird and beast should obey the command of a man of God. Animals are involved in several of his principle miracles including: escape from hurt when surrounded by wolves, and obedience of a bear which evacuated a cave at Columban’s command.


With this intense Celtic love for nature it is understandable that nature poetry developed in Gaelic almost one thousand years before it appeared in English or other European vernacular languages. One of the best known of these poems comes from the monk Marban. He feels nurtured and protected by nature, especially when he is alone. Trees figure very prominently in the poem.


For I inhabit a wood

Unknown but to my God.

My house of hazel and ash

as an old hut in a rath.


And my house small, but not too small,

Is always accessible:

women disguised as blackbirds

take their words from the gable.


The stag erupts from rivers,

brown mountains tell the distance;

I am glad as poor as this

Even in men’s absence.

death-green of yew,

huge green of oak


and apples grow

close by new nuts;

Water hides.


Young of things,

bring faith to me,

guard my door;

the rough, unloved,

wild dogs, tall deer,

Quiet does.


In small tame bands

the badgers are,

Gray outside;

and Foxes dance

before my door at night.

All at evening

The day’s first meal

since dawn’s bread;

Trapped trout, sweet sloes,

and honey, haws

beer and herbs.

Moans, movements of


birds rouse  me:

Pigeons perhaps,

and the thrush sings,



Black-winged beetles

boom, and small bees;


though the lone geese

a wild winter

music stirs.


Come fine white gulls

all sea-singing

and less sad,

lost in heather,

the grouse’s song

little sad.


For music I

Have pines, my tall


So who can I

Envy here my

Gentle Christ.[10]


The Christian community must begin to see itself once more as part of the wider community of life. Insights from biology, botany, zoology and entomology show us the wonderfully cooperative community of forests. These insights will help us celebrate the beauty and wonders of  forests and trees with poets, musicians and other artists.  They will also help shape an ethical consensus which will guide human interaction with trees, forests and the wider natural world.


Need for a relevant and viable theology of creation.


In the past two decades, both the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have addressed the ecological issue on a number of occasions. The most notable documents are :  Peace with God the Creator: Peace with All Creation (January 1st 1990),  Chapter 10 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004), Caritas in Veritate (July 2009), If you want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation (January 1st 2010)  and The Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps, (January 11th , 2010). But it is not all words.  The Vatican has installed photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Pope Paul VI auditorium.  In addition, it is funding tree-planting in Hungry as a way of off-setting its carbon omissions.  However, I will argue that despite the above writings and initiative it is difficult to support the claims that the documents are very competent and insightful from an ecological perspective.


True magnitude of the ecological crisis

Firstly, none of the above documents give any overall sense of the magnitude of the current ecological crisis facing the planet, humankind and every other creature living on the planet. The only document that has any sense of the overwhelming nature of the problem was an address by Pope John Paul II on January 17th 2001, in which he called for an “ecological conversion” for everyone. In that address he used the word catastrophe, and he stated that humanity needed to stop before the abyss. This document is not found in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nor have I seen it quoted in official documents since.  It seems to me that, if an individual or institution does not have an accurate appraisal of the true magnitude of the ecological challenges facing the earth, one cannot claim that that individual or institution understands the current ecological crisis. Furthermore, unless one understands the magnitude of a problem, one cannot design an appropriate response. So, despite an increased sprinkling of ecological language and concerns in addresses and documents from the Holy See, these still lack an accurate analysis of the problem.  One can make all kinds of excuses, for example, that the immediate problems facing the human community are so immediate and pressing that there is little energy left to look beyond this to what is happening to the wider earth community, even though such oversights will have dire consequences for every creature, including humankind.

Take the two most serious ecological issues facing the planet – climate change and the destruction of global biodiversity, or, in theological language, the irreversible destruction of global biodiversity, God’s creation. Both of these concerns merit only one paragraph each in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  Given the enormous pain, death and destruction caused by these human-created global phenomena, and the devastation they will continue to wreak on the planet, every living creature and humankind, into the future, a single paragraph from the leadership of the Catholic Church is, in my opinion incompetent and not very responsible.

Urgency of Dealing with Ecological Crisis

The second element which must inform any ecological analysis is clarity about the urgency of tackling the issue.  Is it something that must be addressed on a massive scale immediately, or is it something that can be postponed until other issues, such as poverty or unemployment are first confronted and solved? Once again, in reading the above documentation, one gets no sense that the authors are aware of the urgency of the particular issue. On climate change, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that, unless greenhouses emissions begin to drop by 2016, there will be no realistic chance of keeping the average rise in global temperature below 2 degree Celsius.  In the past two years, the scientific consensus has moved towards the conclusion that we will need to reduce carbon emissions to 350 parts per million if we want to achieve that goal.  The scientific consensus is also clear that, if the average global temperatures rise by more than  2 degrees Celsius, huge areas of the planet will be uninhabitable for humans and many other creatures.  This is why the failure to reach a fair, ambitious and binding treaty at Copenhagen in December 2009 was such a tragedy.

On December 6th 2009, after praying the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI wished success to the world leaders who would gather in Copenhagen to seek an agreement on how to tackle climate change in a fair and just way.  In his brief remarks, the Pope recalled that the way to protect the earth was to include respect for God’s laws and the moral dimension of human life. He went on to say: “I hope that the work will help identify actions respectful and favourable to solidarity – development founded on the dignity of the human person and oriented towards the common good”   (  December 6, 2009). He spoke about protecting the interests of the poor and future generations. It is regrettable that he did not include the public details of the Holy See’s position at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

At all the previous UN Climate Conferences, the Holy See was represented by the local Nuncio who could not be expected to have a detailed knowledge of the various strands of the negotiations.  In Copenhagen, the delegation of the Holy See was headed by Archbishop Celistino Migliore, the Permanent Observer for the Holy See at the United Nations in New York. He has written and spoken regularly about climate change within the UN.  The delegation included a climate expert Marcus Wandinger and Paolo Conversi, an official from the Vatican Secretariat of State, who also teaches human ecology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The Vatican delegation lent its support to a robust treaty which involved sufficient curbs on greenhouse gas emissions to keep the average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. The target set for rich, industrialized counties was a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases before 2020.  It also championed a scaling up of the Adaptation Fund to at least, $195 billion per annum. This fund would be made available to economically poor countries in order to help them adapt to the climate change consequences which are already affecting the planet. I believe that it would have been very effective, in terms of moral pressure, if Pope Benedict XVI had included these figures and the rationale behind them in the Angelus address of January 6th or in Caritas in Veritate for that matter. As it is, very few people know what is the Vatican’s position on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, at the UNFCCC in Cancun in December 2010, the Vatican reverted to its previous practice of being represented by the local Nuncio. It also made no public statement.

Ecology is a science based on data

Thirdly, ecology is a science which is based on empirical data about what is happening in particular ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. Despite this data-focused nature of ecology, none of the above documents based their ecological reflections on scientific data.  The drafters of these documents have available to them competent scientific data from reputable bodies such as the IPCC or, in the area of the destruction of Biodiversity, from the UN Convention on Biodiversity. There was no reference to these bodies or to any other scientific authorities in the documents.

The Vatican has no problem quoting UN documents on economics, social, political and historical data in dealing with almost every other aspect of Catholic Social Teaching. They have no difficulty referring to research conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Why is there one modus operandi when dealing with economics and a different one when it comes to looking at ecological issues? Other religious organisations such as the World Council of Churches include scientific data in their reflections on issues such as climate change. Similarly, Bishops’ Conferences in Germany, Ireland, the Philippines, the United States and Australia have written pastoral letters on ecological issues. The majority of these documents base their moral and religious reflections on ecological issues on a number of sources. These include empirical data on the topic in question, the new perspective we have gleaned in recent decades on the Universe and the Earth and the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Archbishop Giampaolo Grepaldi’s defence of Caritas in Veritate

In a reflection entitled, “Benedict XVI Offers Middle Ground on Environment,”  on (January 10, 2010).  Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace gave, what I consider, an extraordinary explanation for this lack of scientific data in Papal documents on the environment. He claimed that “in the countries of north-central Europe, and especially in Germany, Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” was the object of severe criticism, precisely in regard to the question of the environment, and particularly in regard to climate change.” Archbishop Grepaldi continued “So it was logical to look forward to the message of this year’s World Day of Peace dedicated to the theme “if you Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.”  “Benedict XVI did not miss the opportunity to restate his teaching and, thus probably upset once again all those who tend to weigh down ideological themes with excessive ideological burdens.  The central point of the message is, in my opinion, found in paragraph 13, where the Pope says that ‘a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment’ will not end by absolutising nature or by considering it more important than the human person.”

Speaking about the papal document Crepaldi continues “the Church expresses misgivings ‘about notions of the environment inspired by eco-centrism and biocentrism’ because it eliminates the difference between man and other living things, favouring an ‘egalitarian vision of the dignity of all living creatures’”. He goes on to say that,“ this  gives rise to a new pantheism with neo-pagan accents which ‘would see the source of man’s salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms.’”

These same sentiments were already expressed in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Number 463 states that “a correct understanding of the environment prevents the utilitarian reduction of nature to a mere object to be manipulated and exploited. At the same time, it must not absolutise nature and place it above the dignity of the human person himself. In this latter case, one can go so far as to divinize nature or the earth, as can readily be seen in certain ecological movements that seek to gain an international guaranteed institutional status for their beliefs.” In the second paragraph of No. 463, it goes on to state that, “the Magisterium finds the motivation for its opposition to a concept of the environment based on eco-centrism and on biocentrism in the fact that, ‘it is being proposed that the ontological and axiological difference between men and other living beings is eliminated, since the biosphere is considered a biotic unity of undifferentiated value. Thus man’s superior responsibility can be eliminated in favour of an egalitarian consideration of the ‘dignity’ of all living beings. [11]

Vatican’s vision based on inadequate understanding of modern science

The problem with the above texts is that they are based on an inadequate understanding of modern science.  In his book, The Singing Heart of the World: Creation, Evolution and Faith, the Irish scientist Dr. John Feehan writes about the unity at the heart of the universe and, in a special way the unity that marks the living world.  He writes that “the animal, mammal or bird or insect or worm, is from its unique perspective the subject, each at the centre of a world, and all their worlds overlap and influence each other and this is what in the words of Albert Schweitzer is the ‘science of the architecture of creation.’…. “The differences that distinguish one species from another exist to the extent that each species is uniquely adapted to exploit the resources of one particular niche, which is different from another creature.” [12]

Earlier on in the book, he points out that “if you speak the language of belief in God and embrace what the revelation of science tells you, then no species is insignificant. Each is worthy in the eyes of God, deserving of our respect and study and admiration. Even and, perhaps especially, the most obscure.”[13] He quotes Saint Augustine “for heaven God has created the angels, for the earth creatures that crawl, and neither is superior to the other; because the hand of man can no more create a worm than an angel.”[14]

One might ask does the approach of people such as Fr. Thomas Berry or Dr. Feehan denigrate the human as the Vatican documents seems to fear. Not at all.  Feehan critiques the hubris of believing that we are the only beings on earth that have intrinsic value, but also celebrates what is truly unique about the human mode of being and the responsibilities which accrue to knowing our proper place in the scheme of things. He writes, “We are, of course, very conscious that we humans are unique. We are so aware of it that for a long time we thought of ourselves as altogether superior because of this special human talent, in the process losing sight of our place in creation, so firmly were our eyes fixed on a destiny that would see us enjoying eternity with God, in whose image we conceived ourselves to be made – unmindful of the fact that so is every other creature on the earth.” He goes on to write that “we can now ask the question of what is special about the human mode of being in a more essential way: what is this special human talent, and how are we meant to use it, knowing our place in creation as we now do, and having a better grasp of family history?

We are no less a part of the family than before, but we have been promoted to a new post of responsibility in the family, so to speak. If our living, in common with all that lives but in a way distinct to us, can in some sense be thought of as sharing in an incomprehensible well-spring of life that out of infinity infuses the cosmos (we might call it Divine Life), we can through this new human mode of apprehension be said in some sense to share in the Divine Mind.” [15]

I will agree, of course, that some of the ideas that the archbishop Crepaldi challenges are found in the Deep Ecology movement associated with the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess. This movement insists that “all things in the biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom and reach their individual forms of unfolding and self-realisation with the larger Self-Realisation.[16]” I do not know of a single Catholic theologian who accepts this position. Many competent theologians such as Fr. Denis Edwards from Australia, Dr. Celia Dean-Drummond or Dr. Mary Grey from Britain, Elizabeth Johnson, Mary Ellen Tucker or Thomas Berry from the U.S, Leonardo Boff from Brazil or Dr. John Feehan , rightly situate humankind within an emergent cosmology and a living, evolving world. But even before modern scientific discoveries gave us an insight into the extraordinary age of the  universe and its evolutionary emergence,  Francis of Assisi was telling us that all nature are kin, in other words part of our family.  He expressed this most beautifully in the Canticle of the Creatures. All creatures are understood as kin. St. Francis was not a pantheist and he is the Patron of Ecology.

Donal Dorr on Caritas in Veritate

In an otherwise positive review of Caritas in Veritate, the Irish theologian Fr. Donal Dorr writes that “the whole encyclical is written from within an older anthropocentric paradigm, the ecological issues are treated almost entirely in terms of present-day human concerns. What is needed today, however, is a kind of Copernican revolution leading to a major paradigm shift. We need to locate all our human concerns – and especially our approach to economics – within the far wider context of an ecological and cosmic vision. Nothing would be lost and much would be gained if what the pope had written in this encyclical about economics and business were framed within this wider vision.” [17]

I am aware that the translation from the Italian of what the archbishop said may be crude and may distort his meaning.  I cannot see however what all this fear of an eco-centric approach to the biosphere and possible pantheism has to do with the fact that Pope Benedict XVI did not deal in any substantive way with climate change, in an encyclical issued five months before one of the most important conference of the 21st century. I do not understand how a scientific analysis of the causes of climate change, or the horrendous consequences which it holds for the future of all life, and the steps that need to be taken to avoid this catastrophe, could lead to pantheism.

An exclusively homocentric view of creation is understandable for people such as Archbishop Ussher of Armagh (1581-1656) who, using the Hebrew Scriptures and other ancient documents, calculated around the year 1630 that the earth began on October 23rd  4004,and that all the creatures which are now on earth were there from the beginning.[18]   According to Ussher Within this kind of cosmology it is easy to see how someone even as perceptive as Aristotle would place man at the pinnacle of the world and claim that everything else on the planet was there to serve man. In the book Politics Aristotle writes that “nature makes nothing without some end in view, nothing to no purpose, it must be that nature has made (animals and plants) for the sake of man.”[19]

What does ‘human ecology’ mean?

Right throughout the recent papal teaching on ecology we find a very strange and confusing notion called “human ecology”. Caritas in Veritate (51) states“when ‘human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits”. I presume that what the pope is saying is that societies which respect human beings, especially the most vulnerable – the unborn, the young and the elderly –  will also be more inclined to respect the environment. But, does one have to invert the scientific categories of the Linnaean taxonomy to make this point?

The Linnaean system, which is still used in biology, begins with the widest category called Biota (all life). The next step up is known as Domain. In that category we are Eukarya  since we are composed of eukaryotic cells. In terms of Kingdom we come under Animalia or animals. We fit into the Phylum  of Chordata. On the next step up we come under the Class  of mammalia or mammals. We are of the Order of primates, of the Family of Hominidae, or hominids, and the Genus Homo or humans. Finally, in terms of Species we are Homo sapiens.   Humans are at the end point of this evolutionary process which emerged over 3.8 billion years ago. The latest  research indicates that modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago and migrated out of Africa about 125,000 years ago.[20] Yet, the term “human ecology” claims that every facet of the evolution of life above, plus other aspects of ecology, such as the relationship between the biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere are subsumed by the term “human ecology” even though modern humans are probably less than 200,000 years old.

This notion seems totally at odds with what we know from the various sciences which is that the earth is almost 5 billion years old and that life on earth is about 3.8 billion years old. There were fully functioning ecosystems in the Lower Carboniferous period from 354 to 324 million years ago. At that time there were no flowering plants or birds, but there were giant horsetails and ferns and an array of creatures, most of which are now extinct. In religious terms I am sure that God would have spoken the Genesis words, “it is good” over this and other phases of the evolution of life on earth. God would not be waiting for home sapiens to arrive over one million years ago to give meaning to the broad sweep of creation. It is important theologically to remember that God has a history with nature which is independent of His/Her relationship with humanity.

In developing its teaching on the Earth the Holy See would do well to incorporate many of the insights from Bishops’ Conferences around the world, going back to the first pastoral letter on the environment entitled, What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land? that was written by the  Philippines Bishops as far back as 1988.  The Australian Bishops’ 2002 Social Justice Statement: A New Earth, The Environmental Challenge, contains a lot of insightful material. In 2007, the Committee on Domestic and International Policy from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops produced, Faithful Stewards of God’s Creation: A Catholic Resource for Environmental Justice and Climate Change.

In 2009, the Irish Bishops’ Conference wrote a Pastoral Reflection on Climate Change.       In dealing with issues such as “solidarity” that document avoids the homocentric language of Vatican documents. On page 21, it reads “As Christians we cannot consider ourselves or our obligations in isolation from others or from the endangered earth and its creatures. Further on in that paragraph they state, “ this responsibility extends to the whole creation and to all the finely balanced life-systems of our world, which may be threatened by even marginal changes in the earth’s climate.    One of the most effective ways for the Catholic Church to give leadership in the area of protecting the planet would be for Pope Benedict XVI to call a Synod for Creation.  Each local Church could begin to reflect on creation in its own area and see how Christians could give leadership in moving towards a more sane and sustainable world.  In preparing for such a Synod, everyone in the Church, young, old, farmers, industrial workers, bankers, scientists, fishermen, theologians, contemplatives, religious, teachers, doctors, liturgies, artists, poets and writers would be able to share their insights and wisdom.  This would give a great impetus to the tasks of caring for the earth that cares for every creature. I believe it would also give new life and focus to the Catholic faith in our contemporary society.

Promote the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Some practical suggestions. Religious congregations should support the FSC. This is an independent, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC label provides a credible link between responsible production and consumption of forest products, enabling consumers and businesses to make purchasing decisions that benefit people and the environment as well as providing ongoing business value. FSC’s forest certification standard is recognised as the global gold standard for responsible forest management.[21]   The Vatican and all religious congregations should pledge that they will only use FSC certified lumber in any building programme.

The REDD Debate


REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) has been part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for over a decade.  It is seen as vehicle to lower CO2 emissions since forest degradation accounts of 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Apart from the carbon sequestration dimension of REDD, it  has the potential for reforesting countries, such as the Philippines, which had been denuded during the 20thcentury.  REDD could deliver multiple benefits in the area of climate change, protecting biodiversity and securing a sustainable agricultural base for many countries, where food security is becoming a major issue.

The recent UNFCCC conference in Cancun Mexico earmarked $60 billion dollars for REDD initiatives. I have suggested that Catholic Development Agencies such as Caritas Internationalis, CAFOD and Trocaire to get involved in REDD.  I think the Justice, Peace Ecology office of Religious and Missionary congregations might also monitor REDD.

Religions must support for the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CDB)

The Convention on Biodiversity emerged from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  It objective is to protect biodiversity and to ensure that there is a fair and equitable distribution of any financial benefits derived from biological and genetic resources.  The Nagoya meeting wrestled with these questions and ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits (ABS). Initially, governments from the global North and especially Northern biotech and pharmaceutical corporations were opposed to sharing the benefits of biological resources with countries from the global South where the biological and genetic resources originated. They feared that lawsuits might be brought against them for some products which they developed based on biological resources from countries in the South.  Under the Nagoya Protocol a multi-billion dollar fund will be set up to compensate countries in the Global South for any benefits which accrue from the commercial use of their biological resources. The Protocol is potentially worth billions of dollars to countries which are rich in biodiversity and could act as an incentive for them to protect the biodiversity of their forests and marine resources.

The Nagoya meeting also drew up a strategic plan to conserve biodiversity in the period between 2010 and 2020.  The delegates from the 193 countries agreed to protect 17 percent of the land area of the world and 10 percent of the oceans by  2020.  At the moment, about 13 percent of the land area of the world and only 1 percent of the oceans are protected areas.  Details of the roadmap to achieve the above targets by 2020 are quite vague and critics say that the targets are not ambitious enough.

Unfortunately, the United States, the richest country on the planet, has not signed the UN Convention on Biodiversity.  Organisations of civil society and Churches in the U.S. need to lobby their government so that it signs the CBD immediately.

Despite claiming to be a pro-Life Church, the Catholic Church has very little teaching on biodiversity.  Biodiversity only merits one half of a paragraph in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and the concern is completely homocentric.  No 466 states that, “the environmental value of biodiversity, (which) must be handled with a sense of responsibility and adequately protected, because it constitutes and extraordinary richness for all humanity.” Eight hundred years ago, St. Thomas Aquinas taught that each creature has the ability to represent the goodness of God in a unique way. Therefore the extinction of species does not merely impoverish the biosphere, it also diminished our understanding of God. Today the vast majority of creation theologians argue that species have intrinsic value, in other words value in themselves and not merely because they can be of benefit to humankind. In responding to the present ecological crisis the Catholic Church urgently needs to develop a viable theology of creation.


[1] James Astill, “Seeing the Wood,” The Economist,  September 25th to October 1st 2010, page 4

[2]  Ibid.

[3]  Ibid.

[4]  Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Veritas, page 220-221.

[5] Our Trees: A Guide to Growing Ireland’s Native Trees in Celebration of A New Millennium, 2002, page 44.

[7]  John Feehan,  Farming in Ireland, History, Heritage and Environment, Walsh Printers, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, page 304.

[8] Ibid

[9] Scriptores Latini Hiberniae, Volume II, Sancti Columbani Opera, ed. G.Sl M. Walker, School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, 1957 page 65.

[10]  John Montagues (ed.) The Faber Book of Irish Verse, Faber and Faber, London, 1974, pages 57-58.

[11]  Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 2004, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

[12]   John Feehan, 2010, The Singing Heart of the Universe, Creation, Evolution and Faith, Columba Publications, Dublin, page 86.

[13]  Ibid page 76.

[14] Ibid 76. “Creavit in coelo Angelos, in terra vermiculos, non superior in illis, non inferior in istis, Sicut enim nulla manus Angelum, it nulla posset creare vermiculum. “ Augustin, Liber soliloquiorum animae ad deum.

[15]  Ibid, page 110.

[16]  Bill Davis and George Session,   Deep Ecology and Living as if Nature Mattered,  Salt Lake City, Gibbs-Smith, 1985, page 64.

[17] Dr. Donal Dorr, Theology, the Economy and Ecology, edited by James Noyes and Adrian Pabst, forthcoming this year (2010), SCM Press, London

[18] Mary Mulvihill, “Humane hanging and other stories,” The Irish Times,  June 27th 2009, page 6.

[19] Aristotle, Politics, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1985, edition. Page 79

[20] Ian Sample, “Out of Africa, 55,000 years early? Human migration backdated,” The Guardian, 28 January 2011, page 11.

Is Sustainable Development Possible in our Contemporary World? Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

 The 19th session of the UN Commission on Sustainably Development open on May 2, 2011 and will continue until May 13th 2011.The word “sustainability” became part of the vocabulary of many missionaries and development workers in the wake of the publication of deliberations of the UN Commission on Environment and Development in a book called “Our Common Future.”  The book is often called the Brundtland Report after the name of the Chair of the Committee, Gro Harlem Brundtland who was Prime Minister of 1990 to 1996. In a nutshell, Sustainable Development means meeting the needs of this generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The Commission on Sustainable Development emerged from Agenda 21, the programme for action for sustainable development adopted in June 1992 by the United Nations Conference in June 1992 by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) also known as the “Rio Earth Summit.” Agenda 21 called for the creation of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to ensure on the effective follow-up of the UNCED. The CSD has 53 member states.

The CSD held its first substantive session in June 1993 and has convened every year since then at the UN Headquarters in New York.  In the five years after 1993, the CSD systematically reviewed the implementation of all chapters of the Agenda 21.

One of the most significant meetings of the CSD took place in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2002.

The 19th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-19) was opened by H.E. Mr. Lászlo Borbély, The Minister for Environment and Forests of Romania.

Here in Washington D.C. there is an institution called. WorldWatch  It researches, analyses and publishes environmental and development data from across the globe from an interdisciplinary perspective.  In its State of the World Report 2010, sixty renowned researchers and practitioners describe how we must harness the world’s leading institutions to reorient cultures towards sustainability. This would include education, the media, business, governments, traditions, and social movements to reorient cultures toward sustainability.   In the preface of the report, Christopher Flavin the President of WorldWatch Institute, wrote about “the Great Collision” between a finite planet and the seemingly infinite demands of human society. More than 6.8 billion human beings are now demanding ever greater quantities of material resources, decimating the world’s richest ecosystems, and dumping billion of tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere each year.”

The really worrying statistic is that “despite a 30 percent increase in resource efficiency, global resource use has expanded 50 percent over the past three decades.”[1] The growth in consumption is staggering.  It includes a six-fold increase between 1960 and 2008, that is from $4.9 trillion to $30.5 trillion.  Even with the population growth, per capita consumption has tripled, helped by sophisticated advertising by transnational corporations. Increased consumption means consuming more of the earth’s resources. This means using more fossil fuel which involves opening coal mines and prospecting for more oil. Rapid increases in consumer spending involves opening more mines, building more factories roads, railways and shopping outlets. Increased consumption leads to more waste. It also means expanding agriculture often into crucial ecosystems such as the Amazon and the tropical forests South East Asia. The forests are burned to provide land for palm and soya plantations, thereby destroying valuable biodiversity.  Essential habitats are being systematically destroyed which is an immense impoverishment for the biosphere and yet, so few seem to notice because the culture of consumerism has trained them to keep their eyes fixated on growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 130.000 km2     of tropical rainforest are cleared each year and since the 1960s, one third of the world’s farmland has been abandoned because the land has been exhausted as a result of overexploitation and degradation of the soil.[2]

According to Flavin, from a justice perspective the main responsibility for the current ecological devastation must be placed at the foot of rich nations.[3]

Since humankind appeared on the planet 2 million years ago, people have depended on other creatures for their food, clothing and shelter. As civilizations developed two thousand years ago, levels of consumption continued to increase. The exponential rate of consumption which emerged in the 20th century, was driven by advertising, planned obsolescence, the search for economic growth and the enormous  dependence on non-renewable source of energy.


Aggressive advertising is probably the most important factor in spreading the culture of consumerism. In 2008, global advertising reached $643 billion. The media in its various forms promotes consumerism. The author Duane Elgin was correct when he wrote that “to control a society you don’t need to control its  courts, you don’t need to control its armies, all you need to do is control its stories. And it is television and Madison Avenue that is telling us most of the stories most of the time to most of the people.”[4]  The link between Madison Avenue and advertising began in the early 1920s when many advertising companies were situated on that street. In 1957, Vance Packard’s book, Hidden Persuaders explored how advertising agencies use the insights of psychological research and depth psychology to manipulate the expectations of the public in an effort to get them to buy more products [5] He accused the industry of using subliminal messages in order to induce the consumer to buy more goods. Even though the book sold over one million copies, the power of advertising corporations grew and grew in the U.S and later in Europe and right across the world.

In the U.S., Flavin claims that an individual hears hundreds of advertisements every day and of course, they have been hearing these since the day they were born.  Consumerism and consequent unsustainable lifestyles were confined to Europe, the US and Australia until a few decades ago. Today, consumerism has taken a hold right around the world, and is practiced by millions of people in Brazil, India, China and other emerging industrial economies. In the past decade  advertising has grown by 20% per annum in emerging economies such as China and India.[6] Many see consumerism like a tsunami which has engulfed human cultures and is degrading the Earth’s ecosystems. Left unaddressed, we risk global disaster.

Planned obsolescence

Another factor which drives consumerism is known as planned obsolescence or built in obsolescence. It means manufacturing things that will be functional only for a limited period of time. In a presentation to an advertising conference in 1954  Brooks Stevens, a designer of appliances, automobiles, motorcycles and furnished used the phrase as a title for a talk.[7]  He suggested that new and improved products are in constant demand by consumers and that corporations can best respond to this demand by manufacturing items that do not last very long.  Many people even here in the United States may not have heard of Brooks Stevens, but in 1991 on the occasions of his 80th birthday the Chicago Tribune newspaper wrote that while many of its current readers would not have heard of Stevens in the 1950s he was a household name in the U.S.[8]On the occasion of his eightieth birthday in 1991, a Chicago Tribune retrospective began with the words “Brooks Stevens is hardly a household name.”4 But that was not the case in the 1950s, when he was recognized as America’s controversial “crown prince of obsolescence.”5 Stevens claimed—publicly and often—that it was he who actually invented the phrase “planned obsolescence,” and he was certainly the term’s most vocal champion. Due to his efforts at self- promotion, many …  A few examples of planned obsolescence will suffice. In 1921, General Motors’ executive committee began to articulate a principle which would be known as Sloanism after the longtime president of GM, Alfred P Sloan. This meant that planned obsolescence and product differentiation, highlighting different aspects of motoring such as speed, power, style and elegance became central to GM’s way of building cars.[9]  A favourite slogan was “a car for every purse and purpose.” A recent example of planned obsolescence is Apple’s launch of iPad 2 in March 2011. This device is 33 per cent thinner and up to 15 percent lighter than the original iPad. It has other features such as cameras etc. The underlying message is that one needs to get rid of the iPad which was bought less than 12 months ago and buy this new device.  We expect that another similar device will appear in 2012 making iPad2 redundant.

While there were critics of planned obsolescence such as Vance Packard who claimed that because it was producing mountains of waste, planned obsolescence was unethical.[10] Unfortunately, however, planned obsolescence has made its way into almost every product today.

Writing in The New Yorker, James Surowiecki refers to Amar Bhidé claim the U.S., is a “Venturesome Economy.”

By this he means that the American consumer, businesses, and individual alike, are inordinately willing to take a gamble on new products. American farmers, for good or ill, have been the world’s most ardent adopters of genetically modified crops, and American businesses have consistently been avid adopters of technologies.”[11]

Economic  Growth

The final element in the trinity promoting consumerism is the constant striving for economic growth. The question as to whether there are upper limits to the Earth’s capacity to cope with human activity was first raised in the book Limits to Growth which was published in 1972.[12]  The book various chapters addressed a number of issues from the sustainability debate, beginning with the notion of ‘overshoot.’ This term refers to whether human activity at this moment in time has overshot the capacity of the Earth and some vital ecosystems to renew themselves.  A further recognises what are the main forces driving the dynamics of growth in a finite world. Other chapters look at the impact of technology on sustainable development and consider how to move from the current unsustainable framework of development to a sustainable way of living on the planet.  While some commentators challenged the methodology used and some of the predictions, the main significance of the book is that it that it focused people’s attention on the fact that the earth is finite, and cannot sustain continuous depletion of resources and the irreversible destruction of ecosystems. The ‘Limits to Growth’ perspective challenged one of the main assumptions of the current economic-development model. This was that the 5.6 billion people living on the planet in 1970 and the 9 billion who will be living on the planet in 2050, will be able to aspire to the present standards of affluence enjoyed by the majority of people living in the Minority world and by the elite and middle class in the Majority world. In reality some of the demands which humans are currently making on the planet have already breached important limits in the biosphere. Continuous spiraling demands are not possible in a finite world.

Thirty years later, the author produced a book called Beyond the Limits which confirmed most of the predictions of the earlier book.[13]  It went on to warm that humanity had already overshot the limits of the Earth’s support capacity.  Other researchers such as Mathis Wackernagel have developed new measures which calculate the impact humans have on the planet. He called it the ‘human ecological foot print’ (FP) This they define as the land area which would be required to produce the resources (grain, food, wood, fish and urban land) and absorb the emissions from industry globally. There are on-going attempts to refine some of the methodological weaknesses of this measure.[14] Nevertheless it is very useful and according to FP global society had overshot our ecological foot print by 20 per cent by 1990 and humans have continued this upward curve ever since.

Unfortunately, few people in government or in the economic disciplines have understood the importance of these findings. In fact, governments have played their part in developing a consumerist culture by promoting economic growth. After the terrorist attacks on New York in September 2001, President George W Bush exhorted the American people to go out and shop after the attacks in September 2001.  In 2009, after the near collapse of the global financial system, governments around the world poured $2.8 trillion in stimulus packages to stimulate consumption.[15]  In fact, since the financial crisis of 2008, many commentators are hoping the world economy will move quickly out of recession into a prolonged period of economic growth through increased levels of production and consumption. Recently I was listening to an economic commentator talking on radio about the global economy and the possibilities for recovery. According to him, even though there were some signs of recovery, the global economy was still rather unhealthy. It would need sustained growth in 2010 and 2011, to return to full health. The economist had no understanding of the fact that this growth-oriented economy is plundering the natural world in an extensive and, now often irreversible way. He wasn’t aware of the irony of using a health metaphor about an economic system which is destroying the planet.  He also seems to be unaware of the fact that although the government can bail out commercial banks which made extraordinarily irresponsible lending decisions, no one can bail out ecosystems which are irreversibly damaged.  For example, if commercial pressure and lack of regulation facilitates the overfishing of blue-fin tuna in the North Atlantic to the point of their extinction, no amount of money can resurrect this fish. Furthermore, those of us who have worked in economically poor countries, know that economic growth is often at the expense of the poor, in countries such as China where people are paid a pittance for manufacturing the wide array of goods that we now use. It is also at the expense of the fruitfulness of the Earth.


Few economists or politicians are willing to look at the long-term effects of economic growth on the well-being of the earth and its people. In June 1993, I attended a week long symposium on Sustainable Growth- A Contradiction in Terms? It challenged economists to “find theoretical and practical criteria to help make decisions about efficient allocation, just distribution on what may best be termed a sustainable scale. The choice of appropriate scale to ensure sustainability does not imply that the market-economy must be traded for one or another kind of centrally planned state. What is needed rather, is to create conditions, particularly with regard to the maximum use of resources and the maximum allowable emission of such pollutants as carbon dioxide.”[16]

From a faith perspective, it is ironic that, the good life or development, as it is defined by Western culture, cannot be sustained by our Earth and could never be extended to the 7 billion people who inhabit the planet in 2011. The film, “The economics of Happiness” provides an excellent critique of the arguments in favour of economic growth.[17] It also shows how local economic initiatives can improve the quality of  life for people and the planet.


One other reason why sustainable development is not achievable at present is that the affluence of the North and more recently the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa, is based on a non-renewable source of energy, mainly crude oil. In 2008, it was estimated that 78% of global energy came from fossil fuels, 19% from renewable energy sources and 2.8% from nuclear.  Almost 40 years after the oil shock of 1973, the world is still overwhelmingly dependant on fossil fuel.

In March 2011, the price of oil broke through the $100 a barrel ceiling because of fears that political instability in North Africa and the Middle East would disrupt supplies. It breached the $100 mark in October 2007 marks but fell back because of the global recession between 2008 and 2010.  Will it drop back again if stability is restored in the Middle East? In 2007, a German-based group called Energy-Watch released a report claiming this week that global oil production peaked in 2006 and that we can expect at least a 7% drop in oil production each year from now on. One of the authors of the report, Mr. Schindler states that, “the world is at the beginning of a structural change of its economic system. This change will be triggered by declining fossil fuel supplies and will influence almost all aspects of our daily lives.” [18]

‘Peak-Oil’ does not mean that oil will run out tomorrow. What it does mean is that 60% of the oil which was in the ground has already been used.  Oil extraction follows a bell-curve pattern.  Initially extraction costs are very low, but then, as oil becomes more difficult to access, the costs rise dramatically.  For example in the 1940s, it took the energy value of one barrel of oil to produce 100 barrels of oil.  By 2004, a barrel of oil used to extract oil, produced only 10 barrels of oil, and the number is falling as the amount of available oil decreases and it becomes more difficult to access.  In 1999, when the UK’s oil fields in the North Sea reached the peak oil mark, they were producing 3 million barrels of oil each day. In 2007, the figure stands at 1.6 million barrels of oil a day.  This dramatic drop in just 8 years gives an idea of how quickly the effects of ‘peak-oil’ will be felt now that it is a global, and not just a UK, phenomenon. Oil production was down in 32 countries in 2006. These included Norway, Indonesia and Venezuela.

Even some oil companies admit that the era of cheap and readily available oil is over. In 2006 Chevron, the second largest oil company in the U.S, took out a double page advertisement in some of the world’s leading business newspapers, such as The Financial Times, and The Economist. The advertisement stated that, “energy will be one of the defining issues of this century. One thing is clear, the era of easy oil is over”…It was signed by David O’Reilly, chairman of the corporation.

But, has not the International Energy Agency (IEA) been telling us that there is no need to worry? They estimate that there are 1,255 gigabarrels of oil still available. In terms of the current rate of consumption this should last for over 40 years.  There are problems with these estimates. Matthew Simmons, chairman of the Wall Street energy investment company Simmons, told a conference in Edinburgh in April 2005 that, there is a big chance that Saudi Arabia actually peaked production in 1981. We have no reliable data. Our data collection for oil is rubbish. I suspect that if we had we would find that we are over-producing, in most of our major fields and we should be throttling back.  We may have passed the point.  He went on to say that demand was pulling away from supply and that it could be catastrophic if we do not anticipate the arrival of “peak oil”.

With ‘peak-oil’ the supply becomes limited. Unfortunately, the demand is increasing as growing economies like China, India, Brazil and South Africa need more energy. The demand for oil in China doubled in the past ten years, which is why Chinese economic and diplomatic activity in Africa has increased accordingly during the past decade.  The Chinese want to secure as much oil as possible from diverse sources around the world. The country’s largest company, PetroChina, expects that approximately half of its overall production will come from overseas production within the next five years. And in order to achieve that goal, PetroChina expects to spend at least $60 billion on takeovers. So, with ‘peak oil’ a reality and no cheap source of energy to replace it, the global economy will begin to shrink and slow down.

Growth in Human Population

In the debate about sustainability, Catholics in general, shy away from one important area, namely the question of human population levels. There are now over 6.8 billion people on the planet. This is expected to grow to around 9 billion by the year 2050. Most of the additional 2.8 billion will be living in the Majority world. The Republic of the Congo at present has a population of 70 million. This is expected to double by 2050.  Demand for food and other resources will double putting extra pressure on already stressed and fragile ecosystems.

I explored the population issue in some detail in my book, The Greening of the Church. In that book, I pointed out that the earth’s carrying capacity of different levels of population was not addressed in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.  Today, when measuring tools like the human ecological footprint are available both in bioregions and globally, there is an urgent need to revisit the debate on human populations levels. [19]

It is important to state that a fall in population levels will not, in itself, reduce the stress on the planet unless it is accompanied by a drop in our consumption patterns, particularly in the Minority world. The fact is that the opposite is happening. About 3 billion people in the newly emerging economies such as China, India, South Africa and Brazil are moving up the food chain and consuming more grain-intensive livestock products. Furthermore, in the U.S. in 2010, 119, out of 4000 million tonnes of wheat was used to produce ethanol for transport. [20]

Nevertheless, I believe that the time is ripe for the Catholic Church to revisit its teaching on birth control. The basis of that teaching is that each act of sexual intercourse must be open to life. But if this leads, as it inevitably must, to larger families, then there will be an increased stress on global ecosystems. This could trigger a major collapse of these systems within twenty or thirty years.  As a result the dramatic fall in human population levels, through hunger and famine, may well be permanent because the damage done to the earth’s fertility could be irreversible. The irony then would be that a strict adherence to Humanae Vitae, which set out to promote respect for human life, could in the longer term undermine the conditions which are necessary for human life in the future. I believe that an ecological ethic must focus on reality in a holistic way rather than on the interaction of individual entities or actors. We know from the extinction spasm which is at present crippling the biosphere, that if we are to protect other species from extinction, humans must show much greater generosity in sharing the global commons with them. At this moment in time most of our economic, political, religious and cultural systems believe that all the global space – on land, in the sea and the air – primarily belongs to humans.  Unless we abandon this hubris, sustainable development will be a pipe-dream. The dramatic increase in human population from one billion in 1870 to almost 7 billion in 2011 was facilitated by the easy availability of fossil fuels. We know that fossil fuel is finite and that we may have in fact achieved ‘peak oil.’  In this context, the sustainability question is, how are we going to maintain population levels in a post-carbon world? Christian de Duve Professor Emeritus at Catholic University of Louvain (UCL), Belgium and Rockefeller University, New York believes that we must limit population levels if we are to survive as a species.[21] The tropical ecologist Joseph Wright has demonstrated a strong inverse relationship between human population density and forest cover.  In support of his thesis he mentions the Philippines, Honduras and Madagascar.[22]  The most effective way of reducing population levels is to educate women.

However, I do not in any way condone the brutal way the one-child policy has been enforced in China for the past 30 years. The method often used is forced abortion of full-term babies. Women are also forced to accept sterilisation after the birth of their first child. One of the social consequences of the one-child policy is  that in 2011 there are more men than women.[23] Amartya Sen, the Indian economist who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1999, wrote an article in The New York Review of Books entitled, “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing.” In the article he analyzed the impact of unequal rights for men and women on mortality rates.[24] He argues that global food supply has kept ahead of population growth which leads him to claim that population increase alone is not a significant factor in why some countries fail to develop. In other words, I am arguing that the population debate in the Catholic Church should include many different voices.

Role of technology

New technologies can sometimes help reduce the resources used in manufacturing goods and provide renewable energy sources. All one needs to do is to compare the large cumbersome computers which were used in the 1960s or the early cell phones, to modern computers or cell phones. One of the difficulties which offsets the gains in reducing the material used in manufacturing, is the volume of computer or cell phones which are currently being produced today. This is why I am always sceptical when people suggest that new technologies, rather than any cultural change will solve many of the environmental issues facing humanity and the rest of the planet today. I would also be quite concerned about the inadequate oversight at national and international level of new genetic and nano technologies which often promise a utopian world, but have enormous downside potential if they are used in appropriately. We should be very scared of any attempt to geoengineer the planet. What if the experiment failed and a global disaster was triggered? Take the case of climate change and a possible technology that might cool the planet? Who would decide what the proper temperature might be? Whose hand would be on the control stick?

Recently, The Economist gave prominence to a new manufacturing technology which involves three-dimensional printing.[25] Proponents of this technology claim that it will make it possible to create to single items quite cheaply, without the energy and resource losses normally associated with mass production.  According to the editorial the process begins with a blueprint on the computer screen. Once one is satisfied with the blueprint the print button is pressed to begin the printing or building up process. This could come either by depositing material from a nozzle or laying down multiple layers of plastic or metal dust and binding the material with glue or some other process. Because it involves laying down layer after layer it is also called additive manufacturing. The editorial claims that “small items can be made by a machine like a desktop computer; big items – bicycle frames, panels for cards, aircraft parts – need a larger machine and more space.”[26]  It also alleges that this new manufacturing process could reduce waste enormously. Some items may only need one-tenth of the material now used to make a similar item.[27] It is not surprising that The Economist is claiming that additive manufacturing could signal the beginning of another industrial revolution.

Another exciting possibility for the future is outlined by  Michael Braugart and William McDonough in their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things.[28] They argue that human technologies  must imitate the cyclical patterns of nature in order that we reuse resources and avoid creating waste.

Moving from a culture of consumerism to a culture of sustainability

The project director  of the State of the World 2010, Erik Assadourian is convinced that “preventing the collapse of human civilization requires nothing less than a whole-scale transformation of dominant cultural patterns” away from consumerism to finding meaning, identity and well-being in a new cultural framework centered on sustainability.[29]  This must mean challenging the omnipresence of advertising, the culture of planned obsolescence and the economics of growth.

As an anthropologist, I am delighted to read the work of ecologists such as Erik Assadourian who understand both what culture is and how the culture of consumerism has to be transformed because it is unsustainable and does not promote human well-being.

Religion and Sustainability

In a chapter in 2010 State of the World, on “Engaging Religions to Shape Worldviews,” Gary Gardner believes that even though, at present, there is only a small minority of environmental activists in most religions, religion “could become a major factor in forging new cultures of sustainability.”[30] In the Christian tradition, he points to the work of Patriarch Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople who set up the organization, Religion, Science and Environment (RSE) in 1996 to promote dialogue between science and religion around environmental problems associated with oceans, seas and rivers. Despite my criticisms of recent statements from the Holy See, at least the Vatican is now engaging more seriously with the ecological crisis.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) symposium outlined four ways in which the Churches or Religions could help make a global transition from a consumerist to a sustainable society.  The first role is prophetic as it sets out to challenge the   current status quo. Examples of this can be found in recent papal teaching. In, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All Creation, (January 1st 1990) the late Pope John Paul II wrote: “modern society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it takes a serious look at its life style. In many parts of the world society is given to instant gratification and consumerism while remaining indifferent to the damage which these cause.  … Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.”  Pope Benedict in If you want peace, protect creation,( World Day of Peace, January 1st 2010) repeats the same message. In No 13 Pope Benedict XVI writes that “technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles.” Further on, in No. 11 he writes, “it is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our life-styles and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view. As Pope John Paul II wrote, we can no longer do without a real change of outlook which will result in new life-styles, “in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investment.”  (Centesimus Annus  No 36). All religions should challenge the greatest modern heresy which is that more and more consumption is the pathway to happiness.

The second thing Churches could do is to accompany people both at the local, national and international levels in the painful process of change from a non-sustainable to a sustainable way of life. Churches are well positioned to do this since they are present at the local, national and the international level. To achieve this they must educate their followers about the environment. Each religious tradition has its own stories about the origins of the universe, the earth and humankind. There is normally a wealth of wisdom in these traditions on how to live in a sustainable way. However, in this generation we are privileged to have available to us, from scientific discoveries in the fields of physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology and genetics, an understanding about the emergence of the universe, our solar system, the formation of planet earth, the emergence and proliferation of life, culminating with the evolution of humankind in the past few million years. This story give us a new understanding of what it means to be human and intimately connected with the 13.7 billion years which went into shaping the universe in such a way that it could support conscious life.

It is now abundantly clear that humans are part of the biosphere and that we are challenged to live in a way that does not undermine the well-being of the planet. Particular religious traditions can enhance this understanding of our connectedness with all creation. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we believe that the creative principle behind the emergence of the universe and humankind is best addressed in personal terms as a caring, loving father. Religions ought also to highlight and emphasise those segments of their scriptures or holy books that enhance our appreciation of nature. In the same way they should challenge those elements of their traditions that appears not to respect nature or is overly homocentric.  This education should also focus on the impact of current consumerism on the poor and on the planet.

In the past the ascetic tradition of various religions sometimes seemed to be motivated by a denial of the value of the world.  Today’s ascetical challenge from the various religions must be based on our understanding of the finite nature of the earth and a clarity that the present consumerist way of living cannot be sustained and is only made possible by massive injustice towards the poor of the world and by robbing future generations of their fair share of the resources of the planet. This is an area where religions must begin to highlight the moral dimension of how we relate to and treat the natural world.  Very often in the past religions, particularly Christianity, were seen as indifferent to the deteriorating plight of local ecosystems or the biosphere as a whole.  Religions and Churches often upheld human rights and promoted social justice, often at great cost to individuals and  Churches, but their voice was seldom heard when it came to the plundering of the planet. Anthropocentric ethics promotes consumerism because it sees the rest of creation, not as closely linked to humanity, but as a resource which can be exploited for the benefit of humans. The Churches have much to learn from traditional cultures. Even forms of Christianity such as Celtic Christianity have much to teach us about the intrinsic value of all creation.

Religions could use their financial investment to promote sustainability. This is already happening to a certain extent with the International Interfaith Investment Group. Many religions and religious groups own land and farm animals. They ought to make sure that they are using sustainable methods to produce food and to care for animals.

In a world where, for a variety of reasons, hope is in short supply, religions must provide a space for discerning and celebrating hope. The new ecological cosmological awareness must be brought into our liturgies and worship in order to integrate our work for justice and sustainability with our Christian faith. The sacraments offer an extraordinary opportunity to link respect for water, food, light and healing with the depths of the Christian tradition. Many religious prayer traditions have  an ecological and cosmic dimension which can help the individual and community, move away from an almost narcissistic obsession with the human to become more aware of the deep bonding which is at the heart of all creation. In this way spirituality, rather than creating and confirming dualisms, can be an integrating force bringing together all aspects of our existence.

One of the most effective ways for the Catholic Church to give leadership in the area of protecting the planet would be for Pope Benedict XVI to call a Synod for Creation.  Each local Church could begin to reflect on creation in its own area and see how Christians could give leadership in moving towards a more sane and sustainable world.  In preparing for such a Synod, everyone in the Church, young, old, farmers, industrial workers, bankers, scientists, fishermen, theologians, contemplatives, religious, teachers, doctors, liturgists, artists, poets and writers would be able to share their insights and wisdom.  This would give a great impetus to the tasks of caring for the earth that cares for every creature. I believe it would also give new life and focus to the Catholic faith in our contemporary society.

[1]  Christopher Flavin,  2010,  “Preface”, “2010 State of the World: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability,  page xv

[2]  The European Environment: State and Outlook 2010, European Environment Agency, page 6.

[3] Ibid page 5.

[4]  Ibid page 13.

[5]  Vance Packard, 1957, The Hidden Persuaders, Longmans.

[6]  Ibid page 11.

[8]  from made to break and related webpages.



[9] From the Secret History of Lead, The Nation and related webpages. …

[10] Vance Packard, 1969, The Waste Makers, 1960,Simon & Schuster

[11]  James Surowiecki, “The Final Page, Innovation Consumption,” The New Yorker, May 16th 2011, page 42.

[12] The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind by D.H. Meadows, Donella H. Meadows and et al (Paperback – Jun 1979)


[13] Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows 2004, Limits to Growth The 30 Year Update, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, Vermont.

[14]  Kitzes J. “A research agenda for improving national Ecological Footprint accounts,” Ecological Economics 68, pages 991-2007.

[15]   Ibid page 18.

[16] Sustainable Growth – A Contradiction in Terms? Economy, Ecology and Ethics After the Earth Summit,

The Visser’ t Hooft Endowment Fund For leadership Development,  5, route des Mirillions, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland, page22.

[18] Ashley, Seager, “Steep decline in oil production brings risk of war and unrest, says new study”, The Guardian, October 22, 2007,  page 3.


[19] Seán McDonagh, The Greening of the Church, chapter 2, Chapman, London, 1990.

[20]  Lester Brown, “One minute with … NewScientist, 5 February, 2011, page 27.

[21]  On minute with Christian de Duve, “We have evolved traits that will lead to hunanity’s extinction –so we must learn to overcome them,” NewScientist, 26 February 2011, page 27”.

[22] William Laurance, “Cursing condoms.” NewScientist, September 1st 2007, page 23.

[23] Nula O’Loan, “No right to life in China,” The Irish Catholic, March 31,  2011, page 7.

[24] Emily Oster, Gang Chen, May 2008, “Hepatitis B Does Not Explain Male-Biased Sex Ratios in China,”  National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper No. 13971.




[25] “Print me a Stradivarius: The manufacturing technology that will change the world,”The Economist,  February 12th to 18th 2011, page 11 and  68 -69.

[26] Ibid.

[27] ibid

[28] Michael Braugart and William McDonough, Cradle to Cradle : Remaking The Way We Make Things, Vintage Books, London, 2009.

[29]  Ibid page 3.

[30]  Gary Gardner, “Engaging Religions to Shape WorldViews” 2010 State of the World, page 23.

Is Fukushima the End of the Road for Nuclear Power

This is only a draft

Chapter I – The accident at Fukushima

In the past 35 years, the nuclear power industry experienced two major body blows. The accident at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in 1979, stopped the expansion of nuclear power in its tracks.  Seven years later, in 1986, the meltdown at Chernobyl had a devastating impact on nuclear power, right across the world. Just when a nuclear renaissance seemed on the cards, the fire and explosions at three of the six reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has put another nail in the coffin of nuclear power.

The sequence of events was as follows: On April 11, 2011, at 2.46 p.m. an earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale, damaged the nuclear power plant and cut off the supply of electricity.  In response to the earthquake the reactors shut down automatically.  Even though the reactors had shut down, it was necessary to pump coolants around the reactor cores so that the fuel rods would not overheat. These coolants were pumped by the back up diesel generators which kicked into action when the power to the power station from the electricity grid was cut off.  Unfortunately,  at 3.30 p.m. the power plant was hit by a 50 foot high tsunami, which destroyed  the fuel tanks for the generator.[1] At 7.30 p.m. the fuel began to melt down.  This, in turn, caused a build-up of superheated steam in reactor 1. At 3 a.m. the Japanese government ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company to vent the reactor to relieve pressure. One hour later at 4 a.m. pressure in the reactor had reached twice what the unit was designed to withstand.  By  6.50 a.m. most of the fuel had fallen to the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel. At 9.00 a.m. the following morning workers attempted to open the vents which were designed to release the radioactive vapour.  The controls for opening the venting system, designed and built by General Electric, were in the reactor control room. Unfortunately, it proved impossible to open the vents, because of a complete power failure.

According to The New York Times, there was ‘a shouting match’ between the company’s nuclear vice-president Sakae and the director at the Fukushima nuclear plant, Mr Masao Yoshida.  The former wanted to vent as soon as possible. The latter was sceptical about whether the venting would actually work. [2] By the time workers were in a position to try to open the vents manually, radiation levels were already too high.  Reactor 1 exploded on the day after the earthquake and blew the roof of the building containing the reactor. This released a plume of radioactive isotopes such as caesium and iodine into the environment.  There is also evidence now that the pressure vessel was cracked. This allowed radioactive water to leach, ultimately entering the Pacific Ocean.

Reactor 2 was rocked by an explosion on 15th March 2011. This left a crack in the suppression chamber.  Reactor 3 exploded on 14th March 2011, and injured eleven  people.  Workers had tried to manually open the vent at Reactor 1 many times, but each time it closed.[3] These vents were retrofitted on the reactors at Fukushima. Similar vents have been fitted on similar nuclear installations in the U. S. Questions will be asked about whether these vents are reliable when put under severe stress.  One way or another, redesigning the vents is crucial so that they work even in the case of severe accidents.

There was also a major concern that the cooling ponds where radioactive material was stored at reactor 3 had run dry, which is why the workers tried to douse the pools with sea water to stop the rods with spent fuel from overheating.  It appears that there was an explosion at reactor 4, even though it was not operating when the earthquake struck. There was also a danger that the cooling ponds might overheat.[4]  Without a coolant, the rods which contain radioactive elements are supposed to be kept at below 25o C. Otherwise they will overheat, catch fire and possibly release radioactive elements into the environment. In the aftermath of the explosion, the temperature reached 60o C in pools 5 and 6 and 84o C in reactor 4.[5]  Engineers and others worked for days, in 50 strong shifts, to bring the fires under control and to reconnect severed cables to the power grid. On a number of occasions they had to release radioactive steam into the atmosphere, which is why food and water in the area have been contaminated.

Mistrust and collusion exacerbate the problem

In a lengthy article entitled, “Nuclear Crisis, Crippling Mistrust,” in The New York Times, on June 12th 2011, Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Facler gave a detailed account of the fractious and distrusting relationship between the Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s office and the management of Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tepco.  Mr. Kan’s distrust for bureaucrats and company officers stemmed from his time as the Health Minister in the mid-1990s.  At the Health Ministry, he exposed his own official who knew that blood which was being used to treat haemophiliacs contained H.I.V. As a result hundreds of people had died of AIDS.  Mr. Kan discovered that officials in his own department and people working for the pharmaceutical company involved knew that the blood was tainted.[6]  The article claims that. “mutually suspicious relations between the prime minister’s aides, government bureaucrats and company officials obstructed smooth decision-making.”[7]

The prime minister received confusing risk analysis from the chief nuclear regulator who is an ardent supporter of nuclear power. It appears that the prime minister’s office was not made aware that the plant manager was using sea water to cool the reactors. Officials at Tepco “based on a guess of the mood at the prime minister’s office ordered the plant manager to stop using seawater.”[8] The manager, Masao Yoshida, did something which is extraordinarily rare in Japanese bureaucracy, he disobeyed the order and carried on using seawater.  Experts believe that he made the right decision which prevented a more serious meltdown taking place.

Another indicator of the shambolic nature of the response to the accident was that the prime minister’s office was not even aware of some of the resources which were available and which, if used, could have speeded up their response to the accident.  Among those resources was a nationwide system of radiation detectors which was known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, commonly called Speedi. The official at the prime minister’s office did not know about  these until March 16 which was five days after the disaster struck.  If this had been known it would have prevented people who fled north, in the belief that the radiation would drift southwards.  Speedi projections in fact predicted that the radioactive plume would spread northwards.  As a result of this miscommunication many thousands were exposed to the very radiation from which they were fleeing.

On the day after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate.  They were given no  guidance from Tokyo. The local officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice. The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima. Town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that.

The forecasts were not published by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity.

From the 12th to the 15th we were in a location with one of the highest levels of radiation, according to Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, which is about five miles from the nuclear plant. He and thousands from Namie now live in temporary housing in another town,

The Japanese government downplayed the risks to civilians from the explosion  so that people would not panic. Instead of calming legitimate fears about what could happen, the government’s approach  led to an erosion of public confidence in the government’s ability to be truthful and honest about nuclear power. In a desperate attempt to regain public confidence the Japanese government allowed Emperor Akihita to make a T.V broadcast expressing sympathy to the victims of the earthquake and the tsunami and to voice deep concerns about the “unpredictable” situation at Fukushima. [9]

As a result of the Japanese government’s failure to give clear and honest information about what had happened and what the consequences might be, the normally stoic Japanese citizens were outraged.  According to the The Mainichi Daily News, “residents who have been evacuated after a radiation leak from a quake-hit nuclear power plant have expressed their anger with the lack of information about the incident and how to respond to it.” [10]

Reassurances from governments and the nuclear industry in the wake of accidents at reactors, were not credible.  Alexey Yablokov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and advisor to President Gorbachev warns people that, when you hear ‘no immediate danger’ (from nuclear radiation) then you should run away as far and as fast as possible.[11]

Because the government had failed to warn them of real dangers many people tried to protect themselves. In The New York Times on July 31st 2011,  Ken Belson writes about Kiyoko Okoshi  who spent $625 buying a dosimeter because she did not believe what the government agencies was saying about levels of radioactivity.  Officials kept telling her that even though their village was in the 20 miles zone from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, there was no danger since the village was so isolated. She used the dosimeter to check roads and woods in her village.  She checked a sewage ditch “the metre beeped wildly, and the screed read 67 microsieverts per hour, a potentially harmful level.” [12] She was not the only one to have bought a dosimeter.  Even in Tokyo which is 150 miles south of Fukushima people, especially mothers were testing for radioactive materials. Ken Belson made the point that dosimeter measurements by amateurs are considered crude because they measure only one kind of radiation and they do not account for how long the person  taking the readings remained in the same place.  However, in the case of Mrs Okoshi’s readings, Mr. Kazuyoshi Sato a local politician who has always opposed the nuclear industry, said that Mrs. Okoshi’s findings were confirmed by a map of air and soil readings made by the United States Department of Energy and the Japanese government.[13] Experts point out that radioactive materials do not follow in neat patterns.  The direction and velocity of the wind and unique features of the landscape could mean that one place was heavily hit by radiation while a nearby area may have little radiation.

The withholding of information, he said, was akin to “murder.” [14]

The New York Times found that in interviews and public statements, some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order, some of them said, to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry. As the nuclear plant continued to release radiation, some of which has slipped into the nation’s food supply, public anger grew at what many here see as an official campaign to play down the scope of the accident and the potential health risks. [15]

Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, dismissed accusations that political considerations had delayed the release of the early Speedi data. He said that they were not disclosed because they were incomplete and inaccurate, and that he was presented with the data for the first time only on March 23, 2011.  Given the poor record many people simply did not believe him.

The New York Times has drawn attention to the fact that the meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went officially unacknowledged for months. In early June 2011, in one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said that inspectors had found tellurium 132, which experts call telltale evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami — but did not tell the public for nearly three months. For months after the disaster, the government flip-flopped on the level of radiation permissible on school grounds, causing continuing confusion and anguish about the safety of schoolchildren here in Fukushima. [16]

Many observers believe that the Japanese government and regulator only began to inform the public accurately about the scale of the accident when inspectors  from the International Atomic Agency  I.A.E.A. had discovered what had happened and were about to make a report on it.  On July 4, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a group of nuclear scholars and industry executives, said, “It is extremely regrettable that this sort of important information was not released to the public until three months after the fact, and only then in materials for a conference overseas.” [17]

The group added that the authorities had yet to disclose information like the water level and temperature inside reactor pressure vessels that would yield a fuller picture of the damage. Other experts have said the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, have yet to reveal plant data that could shed light on whether the reactors’ cooling systems were actually knocked out solely by the 45-foot-tall tsunami, as officials have maintained, or whether damage from the earthquake also played a role, a finding that could raise doubts about the safety of other nuclear plants in a nation as seismically active as Japan.

Critics, as well as the increasingly sceptical public, seem unconvinced. They compare the response to the Minamata case in the 1950s, a national scandal in which bureaucrats and industry officials colluded to protect economic growth by hiding the fact that a chemical factory was releasing mercury into Minamata Bay in western Japan. The mercury led to neurological illnesses in thousands of people living in the region and was captured in wrenching photographs of stricken victims.

“If they wanted to protect people, they had to release information immediately,” said Reiko Seki, a sociologist at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and an expert on the cover-up of the Minamata case. “Despite the experience with Minamata, they didn’t release Speedi.”

The confusion and poor decision-making in the immediate aftermath of the accident, strained the relationship between Japan and the U.S. The U.S. was worried about the impact of radiation on the 50,000 military personnel stationed in Japan.  Initially, the Japanese rebuffed offers from the U.S, to help in the management of the crisis.  Personnel from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission were in Tokyo within 48 hours of the accident happening. They had independent verification of the seriousness of the accident from aircraft and satellites which the U.S. ordinarily use to gather data on North Korea.  Despite their willingness to help, the U.S. officials found it difficult to arrange meetings with their counterparts in Tokyo, until the Obama Administration began to lean on the Kan administration.  All of this shows that, despite their technical prowess and sophisticated society, mistrust, collusion and poor communications between the government, the operating company and the management at the plant exacerbated an already serious situation and they were very lucky that a complete meltdown did not happen.

In August 2011, the Japanese government made an important decision to move the country’s nuclear safety agency away from the trade ministry. The trade ministry was also tasked with promoting and expanding the use of nuclear power stations. It is clear there was a major conflict of interest between ensuring safety, and at the same time promoting the nuclear industry. The nuclear safety agency is now housed at the environment ministry where, an editorial in The Guardian believed that “at least in theory there is some chance that its operation will not be subverted or manipulated by Japanese energy firms.”[18]

The editorial draws attention to the appalling manipulative behaviour of energy companies such as Kyushu Electric Power Company. Their workers were told to pose as ordinary concerned citizens and to send emails to televised public hearing demanding a resumption of operation at two nuclear reactors in southern Japan.  The most damming revelation is that the nuclear agency itself also engaged in these dirty tricks manoeuvres.  The author of the editorial believes that such tactics are not confined to Japan. It claims that “the same factors are at work in every country that has a nuclear industry.  The impulse to minimse the inherent risks of the most dangerous technology man has every tried to master, the tendency to conceal or downplay accidents, the assertion that each succeeding generation of plants is foolproof and super safe, and the presumption, so often proved wrong by events, that every contingency has been provided for, all of these have been evident again and again.”[19]

Chapter 2: The Fallout

Within two weeks of the explosions at Fukushima, radioactive iodine was detected in the water supply of Tokyo, even though the nuclear plant is 140 miles north of Tokyo. Officials in Japan’s Health Ministry warned parents not to allow infants to drink the water because the levels of iodine 131 had been detected at 201 becuerels per litre.  The recommended level for adults is 300 becquerels and for infants it is 100 becquerels per litre. Children are more susceptible because as they are growing up their thyroid glands are more active and, as a result, they need more iodine.  There are about 80,000 children living in the affected area. The thyroid gland in children is smaller than in adults. Therefore there is much less tissue to share the radiation.[20] Higher than normal or acceptable levels of radioactive material was found in eleven vegetables in the Fukushima Prefecture.

Two weeks later, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission encouraged people to evacuate a much wider area. The Japanese government admitted that part of the Fukushima plant was so damaged by the earthquake that it would be difficult to bring it under control quickly. The new evacuation recommended by the Japanese government covered an area extending 12 to 19 miles from the damaged reactor. The U.S. government was recommending that their citizens stay at least 50 miles from the stricken plant. It also seemed that there had been a crack in the containment vessel in reactor 3. This raised the radioactive levels in the water where officials were working to, 10,000 times above the normal level in water at the plant. [21] By March 30th 2011, experts were saying that, given the increased levels of radiation, it appeared that the radioactive core at reactor 2 had melted through its containment vessel and escaped onto the concrete floor.[22]

On April 4th 2011, the Japanese government broke its own rules by releasing 11,500 tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. This was to make space for highly radioactive water which was caused by using sea-water to cool the damaged reactors and cooling ponds. The radioactive water which was discharged into the sea was 100 times above the legal limit, but the Japanese authorities justified their action by claiming that it was necessary in order to allow the workers to contain some of the more severe leaks. The chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, told reporters “we didn’t have any other alternative. This is a measure we had to take to secure safety.”[23]

Water and Food contamination

According to  Ken Belson and Hiroko Tabuchi of The New York Times [24] this bad news from Fukushima undermined the optimistic statements by government and company official [25]  On March 30,th scientists found high levels of cesium 137 in soil samples in  Litate, a village of 7,000 people about 25miles north west of Fukushima. The cesium levels were about double the minimums found in the area declared uninhabitable around the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. This raises the question whether the evacuation zones around Fukushima should be extended beyond the current 18 miles. On Thursday March 29,th  the Japanese government said it had no plans to expand the zone.[26]

On March 30th 2011, the Japanese ministry of agriculture published data on radioactive contamination. It stated that caesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years, was found at 2,200 the normal level in soils about 40 km from the Fukushima plant. Small quantities of plutonium have been found in soil close to the stricken nuclear plant. It is thought that the contamination came from the melted fuel rods at the nuclear reactor. Radioactive iodine registering 3,555 times the safe limit was detected in the ocean 300m from the plant.[27] The high levels of radiation raises concerns that fish, shellfish and sea-weed, which are part of the Japanese diet, could cause harm to humans who eat these marine products.[28]

On April 11th 2011, the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency raised its assessment of the seriousness of the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from five to seven signifies a major accident and puts it on a par with Chernobyl and it is an admission that the release of radioactive elements will have substantial and long-lasting consequences for health and for the environment.  Since the crisis began, environmental groups such as Greenpeace and independent scientists have been saying that a large amount of radiation had been released, even though Japanese officials had played down the seriousness of the accident.  On April 11th 2011, Hidehiko Nishiyama, the deputy director general of  Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency admitted that the total amount of radiation released so far was about 10% of what was released after the Chernobyl accident.  But at a separate news conference, an official from Tokyo Electric said, “The radiation leak has not stopped completely and our concern is that it could eventually exceed Chernobyl.” [29]

The accident at Chernobyl involved a burning graphite reactor which spewed radioactive particles into the atmosphere. These elements were carried across Western Europe by winds.  In contrast the Fukushima accident had produced radioactive water run-off into the Pacific Ocean. According to Professor Tetsuo Iguchi, from the department of quantum engineering at Nagoya University, “the fact that we have now confirmed the world’s second-ever level 7 accident will have huge consequences for the global nuclear industry. It shows that current safety standards are woefully inadequate.” [30] In response to the new ratings, the Japanese authorities have ordered people living within a 12 mile radius of the plant to leave their homes.  People within a 19 mile radius were advised to stay indoors.

By the beginning of June 2011, it became clear that the amount of radiation released by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was double the amount initially estimated by the operators.  Scientists now believe that 770,000  terabequerels  of radiation seeped from  the power plant seeped from the facility in the week after the earthquake. This is about 20 percent of the estimated figure for Chernobyl after the accident there. [31]

More Damage to Reactors than Expected

On May 12, 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) admitted that the damage to reactor No 1, was much more serious than originally stated.  Tepco had suspected that the containment vessels at two of the reactors had been breached but they had hoped that the No 1 reactor was intact.  On May 12th 2011, workers who were able to monitor water levels in the reactor found that they were much lower than they expected.  One of the most frightening findings  “was that the water levels in the reactor vessel, which housed the fuel rods, was about three feet below where the bottom of the rods would normally stand.” [32] It now seems that the fuel rods were uncovered early on in the crisis, before tonnes of water were poured to try to keep the rods cool. Tepco spokesperson, Junichi Matsumoto, told a news conference that “the fuel had melted and slumped to the bottom of the vessel in little pellets.  Experts feared that such a scenario would allow the chain reaction to re-ignite with potential catastrophic consequences because of the release of large quantities of radioactive material.  David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists said that “he believed that the damage to the fuel at Reactor No 1 was finished, and even if some fuel rods were still standing and therefore exposed – they were no longer  hot enough to keep melting.”[33] He cautioned that things could get worse if the continued addition of water facilitated conditions for a nuclear reaction.[34]

Panic and incompetence

Many would argue that the Japanese people are also probably the best trained in the world when it comes to dealing with earthquakes. The building code is rigorous and in every institution there are regular drills about how to respond to earthquakes and tsunamis. The social patterns and Japanese culture is normally one of compliance where the people believe what their government says and follow instructions from the government.  Yet, the incompetent way the Japanese authorities set about responding to the emergency at Fukushima is unbelievable.  This raises serious questions about having power in countries which do not have the technical expertise of the Japanese.

Lack of proper clothing

But, of course, having technical competence on paper does not mean that everything will work according to plan when there is an emergence. In an exclusive article in The Sunday Telegraph (March 27, 2011), Andrew Gilligan and Robert Mendick interviewed some of the members of the emergency team who tried to put out the fires at the stricken Fukushima plant and reconnect  the reactors to outside power cables. One of the team told the reporters that the scene at the nuclear facility was much worse than they had expected. “Everything was covered in rubble.”[35]  It would appear that those who worked at the damaged plant were not issued with the proper clothing to protect them from radiation. While all the workers had respirators, the majority wore only orange boiler suits. Only a few senior management team swore the proper lead-lined “Noddy suits.” Those in the front line of danger had only disposable overalls made of Tyvek, an artificial, non-rip fibre. In Britain, those who spray paints and use industrial cleaner wear these garments. The reporters found that many of the workers did not believe the assurances which they were given by the authorities about the radiations levels to which they were exposed. [36].

A preponderance of casual and untrained workers at nuclear power plants

One thing which those promoting nuclear power would like us to believe is that the people involved in the industry are extremely competent and trained to the highest standards.  As the searchlight of publicity focused on the Fukushima accident, it became clear that this is not true. The New York Times interviewed a Mr. Ishizawa who is one of the thousands of untrained, itinerant, temporary labourers who handle much of the dangerous work at nuclear power installations. These people are not specialists and are not even employees of the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Yet it has been revealed that they were subjected to radiation levels about 16 times as high as the levels which were faced by the company’s employees.[37]  This is the hidden world of nuclear power,” said Yuko Fujita, a former physics professor at Keio University in Tokyo and a longtime campaigner for improved labour conditions in the nuclear industry. “Wherever there are hazardous conditions, these labourers are told to go. It is dangerous for them, and it is dangerous for nuclear safety.” [38]  The Japanese nuclear regulator admitted that in the year that ended on March 2010,    roughly 83,000 workers or 88 percent of the staff at Japan’s 18 commercial nuclear power plants were contract workers.  At the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 89 percent of the 10,303 workers during that period were contract workers.”  [39]

In Japan’s nuclear industry, operators like Tokyo Electric have an elite corps of permanent workers who build and maintain nuclear plants. The rest of the workers, who do difficult tasks come from contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors. The wages and benefits of these workers is only a fraction of what is paid to the elite.  There is also much less concern to protect these casual workers from radiation.

When disaster strikes these casual workers do earn higher wages. Take the case of Mr. Ishizawa who lived about a mile from the power station. He was offered $350 for just two hours work in the week following the disaster. This was more than twice his former pay for the week.  He told The New York Times that some of the former members of his team have been offered nearly $1,000 a day. Offers have fluctuated depending on the progress at the plant and the perceived radiation risks that day. So far, Mr. Ishizawa has refused to return. [40]

On May 13th 2011, a man died at the Fukushima Daiichi plant about 50 minutes after beginning work. The man was in his 60s and was exposed to 0.17 millisieverts of radiation. The maximum level of exposure for male workers is 250 millisieverts for “the duration of the effort to bring it [the reactor] under control.”[41]  At a press conference on May 11th 2011, Goshi Mosono, an adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, admitted that working conditions at the plant were poor. He added: “I would like to spend my energy to improve working conditions. Many people told us that the working environment (at the plant) is way too bad,” [42]

The Fukushima nuclear emergency is particularly worrying for the world-wide nuclear industry for a number of other reasons. Japan, one of the most highly industrialised societies on earth, is well endowed with highly specialised people in nuclear physics and engineering. The spectre of Japan being almost powerless in the face of the disaster will not vanish quickly. The television footage of helicopters attempting and, at times failing, to dump water on the reactors will raise serious questions about the technology, in the eyes of many people. If Japan, with its technological prowess, has escaped nuclear disaster by the skin of its teeth, what chance would countries with less scientific and technological backgrounds have in the face of a nuclear meltdown?

On April 30th 2011, The New York Times, revealed that Toshiso Kosoka, a senior advisor on nuclear matters to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, resigned. He accused the Japanese government of ignoring his advice and failing to follow the law. Professor Toshiso Kosoka, who teaches at Tokyo University, was only appointed in March 2011.  In a tearful resignation press conference, he claimed that the government had only used “flexible approaches” to laws and regulations and only “stop-gap measures”  that were “delaying the end” of the nuclear crisis. [43] On May 19th 2011 Toshio Nishizawa, the managing director of Tokyo Electric Power Corporation was forced to resign as a result of how the company handled the  Fukushima crisis. The accident has already cost the company 1.25 trillion yen ($15 billion).  This is a record loss for a Japanese company outside the financial and banking sector. [44]

Japan cancels plans not to build more nuclear plants

On May 10th 2011, the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that Japan would abandon plans to build more nuclear reactors, saying that “his country needs to start from scratch in creating a new energy policy.[45]  Before the Fukushima disaster Japan had planned to build 14 nuclear reactors by 2030. This would have increased the nuclear segment in Japanese’s electricity production to 50 percent.  A few days before this announcement, the Prime Minister had stated that Japan remained committed to nuclear power. The speculation is that the U-turn came in the wake of  public opinion which “has significantly soured on nuclear power since the Fukushima accident.”[46] The Prime Minister vowed that the two new pillars of Japan’s energy policy would be renewable energy and conservation.

As a result of the accident at Fukushima, Tepco halted construction at its Higashidori plant and also suspended plans for three more units. Two other Japanese power companies have also taken similar actions.  Electric Power Development Co. stopped construction at its Oma plant and Chubu electric postponed the construction of a new nuclear power plant. [47]

Other nuclear power plants are also causing concern in Japan.  The Hamoaka nuclear plant straddles two major geological faults.  Chubu Electric Power Company which operates the plant, told the media that it would close two out of the five reactors after being asked to do so by the prime minister,  Naoto Kan. He believes that there is  good possibility that an earthquake of 8 on the Richter scale will hit the area within the next 30 years. In 2004, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe University compared  Hamaoka to a kamikaze terrorist waiting to explode. Two of the five reactors are already mothballed and another one is closed by inspection. [48]

On July 12th 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that Japan should reduce its dependence on nuclear energy and eventually stop using nuclear energy completely.  He acknowledged that his current position involves a radical shift in Japan’s energy policy.  The reason why he has changed his position is that he now realises in the wake of the Fukushima accident, that nuclear energy is dangerous.  According to him, “When we think of the magnitude of the risks involved with nuclear power, the safety measures we previously conceived are inadequate.”[49] Implementing this radical change will not be easy, because in 2011, nuclear energy makes up 30 percent of Japan’s energy needs and the pre-Fukushima plan was to increase that to 50 percent by the year 2030. Public opinion at the moment is quite critical of nuclear energy. A poll published by The Nikki, Japan’s largest business daily on June 27th 2011 showed that 70 percent of Japanese people oppose the restarting of the reactors, despite the prospect of black-outs.  In a similar poll on June 14th 2011, for the daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, 74 percent of respondents said they supported a policy that would phase out nuclear power and eventually abandon it altogether.  

Abandoning nuclear power will not be easy

Writing in The New York Times on May 30th 2011,  reporters Martin Fackler and Norimitsu Onishi give numerous examples of how difficult  it will be for rural communities in Japan, which have benefitted enormously from subsidies associated with the nuclear industry to abandon nuclear power. [50]  The authors describe how the  people of Kasima, especially the local fishermen mounted a massive campaign to stop the construction of the Shimane nuclear plant in the early 1970s.  Twenty years later when the Chugoku Electric company planned to build another reactor on the site, the local people, including the fishing cooperative mounted a vigorous campaign, this time in favour of building the reactor.  There are two main reasons for this remarkable U-turn. First of all, the Japanese government gives enormous subsidies to communities which accept nuclear power plants.  In Kashima the government built the Fukada Sports Park. The facilities include a baseball diamond, lighted tennis courts, a soccer field and a $35 million gymnasium with indoor swimming pool and an Olympic-size volleyball area.

The second reason is that the rural communities which are willing to host nuclear power plants, are now almost completely dependent economically on the nuclear industry in their area. Traditionally, these communities depended on a thriving fishing industry and farming. But these occupations have declined dramatically in the past 40 years. The journalists interviewed a 63 year fisherman called Tsuneyoshi Adachi. He admits that he was active in the campaign against building the nuclear plants in the 1970s and in the early 1980s.  However, once the compensation payments began to flow into the communities, people who had opposed the building of the reactors were often ostracised by their neighbours.  The peer-pressure to desist from campaigning was so strong in that tightly knit community that Mr Adachi was unwilling to oppose the building of the third reactor in the 1990s. Many rural areas and small towns are now totally dependent on the revenue from the nuclear industry.  According to Shuji Shimizu, a professor of public finance at Kukushima University, “this structure of dependency makes it impossible for communities to speak out against the plant or nuclear power.”[51]

The source of the money for these subsidies is a tax which is levied on each energy customer. This was introduced by prime minister Kakuei Tanaka in 1974. In many communities the impact of the first subsidy began to dwindle, as the first nuclear reactor aged and faced being shut down. This led local politicians and others to seek a second and even third reactor to keep the money flowing. According to Daniel Aldrich, a political scientist at Purdue University who has written about how communities become dependent on the wages and spending power of nuclear power plants: “The local community gets used to the spending power they got for the first reactor  – and the second, third, fourth and fifth reactors help them keep up (their standard of living.”[52] This is why many small towns and rural areas which benefited from generous state subsidies are worried about Prime Minister Kan’s statement about not building any more nuclear power plants in Japan.

On June 10th 2011, approximately 20,000 people attended rallies in Tokyo and other cities against the use of nuclear power. There has been growing anger in Japan at how the government handled the accident at Fukushima, particularly since it became clear that the release of radioactive material was far worse than previously thought. Mothers are worried about the health of their children. Fishermen and farmers are angry about the damage to their livelihoods.  The disaster has promoted a nation- wide debate about Japan’s heavy reliance on nuclear power, despite the country’s history of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis. “We now know the dangers of relying on nuclear power, and it’s time to make a change.” This is what Hajime Matsumoto, one of the rally’s organizers, told a crowd in a central Tokyo square that eventually grew to about 20,000 people, according to organizers’ estimates. [53]

Those who organized the rally in Tokyo and in other places around the country, say  that the demonstration was remarkable not because of its size, but because it happened at all in a country that places a high value on conformity and order. “The Japanese haven’t been big protesters, at least recently,” said Junichi Sato, program director of the environmental group Greenpeace Japan, who said he had organized enough poorly attended rallies to know. “They’re taking the first steps toward making themselves heard.” [54]  For many of those in the crowd, this is the first time they have come out on the streets to protest against any government policy.

On August 3rd 2011 the Japanese parliament passed a law which will allow public funds to be used to bolster the company which is operating the crippled Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant and to help pay damages which will amount to billions of dollars in compensation claims. [55] The law creates a state-backed fund that will pay damages to victims of the disaster at the plant, where three reactors melted down and spewed radiation, after cooling systems were lost in the March massive earthquake and tsunami. The government will  pay nearly $26 billion into the fund, Banri Kaieda, the trade minister, told lawmakers on the following Tuesday.

Analysts believe that swift compensation payments are vital not only in helping victims recover from the disaster but also in helping to kick-start the local economy. Analysts also recognize that the size of the payments could make Tokyo Electric Power insolvent.

In another effort to restore confidence, the Japanese government  also fired three senior bureaucrats who were in charge of nuclear power policy, holding them to account for a series of scandals over the government’s relationship with the power industry, Reuters reported. The officials are Kazuo Matsunaga, the top bureaucrat at the Trade Ministry; Nobuaki Terasaka, chief of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency; and Tetsuhiro Hosono, leader of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. [56]

One significant development took place at the annual commemoration of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. Many of the survivors of that terrible ordeal have begun to voice their opposition to civilian nuclear power as well.  Writing in the NewYork Times on August 6th 2011, Martin Fackler  describes the reaction of Masahito Hirose, who in 1945 saw the  mushroom cloud rise high above Nagasaki, after the atom bomb had been dropped. He quietly accepted Japan’s postwar embrace of nuclear-generated power, believing government assurances that it was both safe and necessary for the nation’s economic rise.  That was before this year’s disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northern Japan confronted the survivors once again with their old nightmare: thousands of civilians exposed to radiation. Aghast at the catastrophic failure of nuclear technology, and outraged by revelations that the government and the power industry had planted pro-nuclear activists at town hall-style meetings, the elderly atomic bomb survivors, dwindling in numbers, have begun stepping forward for the first time to oppose nuclear power. [57]

Now, as both Hiroshima and Nagasaki observed the 66th anniversary of the American atomic attacks at the end of World War II, the survivors hoped that they can use their unique moral standing, as the only victims of nuclear bombings, to wean both Japan and the world from what they see as mankind’s tragedy-prone efforts to tap the atom.  “Is it Japan’s fate to repeatedly serve as a warning to the world about the dangers of radiation?” said Mr. Hirose, 81, who was a junior high school student when an American bomb obliterated much of Nagasaki, killing about 40,000 people instantly. “I wish we had found the courage to speak out earlier against nuclear power.” [58]




On May 6th 2011, the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan  requested the closure of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant which is located about 120 miles south west of Tokyo, until it could build stronger defenses against earthquakes and tsunamis. The Prime Minister has faced withering criticism for the way he handled the crisis at Fukushima Daichi plant, which probably accounted for the fact that he has moved rather quickly, in Japanese, terms against the Mamaoka. The Japanese government’s own expert estimate that there is a 90 percent chance of an earthquake of about 8.0 magnitude on the Richter scale in the area during the next 20 years.[59]

The Mamaoka reactors have previously been in the news.  In 2009, the operator, Chubu Electric Power Company opted to decommission two of the oldest reactors on the site, rather than upgrading them to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis. These two reactors were built in the 1970s.  The company had hoped that the three reactors, built in the 1980s, which they are now being asked to shut down could have withstood strong earthquakes.  But as I have argued right through this booklet, Fukushima will change all calculations in terms of the viability of nuclear power everywhere in the world in the next decade.  Closing the three Hamaoka reactors with a generating capacity 3,500 megawatts, equivalent to 7 percent of Japan’s nuclear generating capacity, will have a huge impact on Japanese life and, especially, business.

Not everyone in Japan is happy at merely shutting down nuclear reactors. Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe University, who has consistently argued for more stringent regulation of the nuclear industry, points out that, the plants will remain vulnerable to both earthquakes and tsunami as the plant cools down.  He argues for immediate action to protect the plants.[60]

Where will the next blow to the nuclear industry in Japan come from?  The Kashiwazaki- Kariwa nuclear power plant on the coast of the Sea of Japan was damaged by an earthquake of 6.6 magnitude on the Richter scale in 2007. The quake caused a fire which was quickly extinguished.  The plant was shut down for two years in order to under go repairs and government inspection. Four of the seven reactors have now been restarted. [61]


Chapter 3: The Impact of Fukushima on other countries

  1. China

Within a few days of the earthquake and tsunami near the city of Sendai off the north east coast of Japan, China’s State Council suspended its approval of nuclear plants which had been planned for many places across its sprawling country. The swiftness of the Chinese response took many commentators by surprise, both because Chinese authorities do not normally respond so quickly to world events and because China accounts for 40 percent of the nuclear power plants which are currently in the pipeline.[62]  Some commentators believe that China’s rethinking on nuclear power is based on the fact that earthquakes are common in China.  On May 12, 2008, an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 hit Sichuan and caused major disruption and damage.

In August 2011 it appeared that China had decided to resume its ambitious programme of building nuclear reactors. China plans to build more nuclear power stations than all of  the rest of the world by 2020. Its target is to build between 50 to 60 nuclear power plants.  The really worrying aspect about China’s nuclear programme is that it is opting for a questionable technology.  According to a U.S. cable released by WikiLeaks, the Chinese are planning to build their own reactors, the CPR-1000,  based on an old Westinghouse technology. The cable claims that by the time these reactors have reached the end of their use their technology will be 100 years old. The leaked cable stated that “by bypassing the passive safety technology of the AP1000 which, according to Westinghouse is 100 times safer than the CPR-1000, China is vastly increasing the aggregate risk of its nuclear power fleet.”[63] The new passive technology is meant to ensure that reactors shut down automatically in the event of a disaster, rather than having to wait for human intervention, which may not be readily available, as was seen at Fukushima.

Not everyone in China is happy with this headlong rush to build nuclear power plants. In 2011, He Zuoxiu, the scientist who developed China’s first atomic bomb, said that China’s plan to increase the production of nuclear energy twenty fold by 2030, could be as disastrous as Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward in the 1950s.  That experiment to jump-start industrialization in China cost millions of  lives.  Writing in Science Times, Hu Zuoxiu asked, “Are we really ready for this kind of giddy speed [of nuclear power development]? I think not – we’re seriously under-prepared, especially on the safety front.”[64]

People in the nuclear industry are also worried. Gavin Lu, a Westinghouse representative, was quoted in one of the leaked cables as saying, “The biggest potential bottleneck is human resources – coming up with enough trained personnel to build and operate, all these new plants, as well as regulate the industry.”[65]

  1. Germany

Even before the Chinese had shown their hand, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel moved to close seven of that country’s 17 nuclear power stations. On September 2010, Merkel paid dearly for her U-turn on nuclear power when she when she tried to extend the life of nuclear reactors in Germany.  Political commentators claim that this was one of the reasons why her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), lost the state election in Baden-Wurttemberg. The CDU had held this state since 1953. The Green Party was opposed to nuclear power and as a result increased its vote to 25%. It is now in negotiations with the Social Democrats (SPD), which if successful will result in a Green party member becoming a state premier in Germany for the first time.[66]

A committee, appointed by the Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident and drawn from the energy industry and non government organisations, recommended that Germany should close all its nuclear power plants by the year 2021 and that the country should rely on other forms of energy.[67] In 2011, nuclear power is responsible for 22.6 percent of Germany’s electricity. Nuclear power in Germany is generated by 17 reactors. Six are boiling water reactors, similar to the reactors at Fukushima and 11 use pressurized water. 42 percent of Germany’s electricity comes from coal-fired plants. Natural gas provides  for 13.6 percent, while renewable sources, mainly from wind and solar energy, generates 16.5 percent. There is a strong anti-nuclear movement in Germany, but industry is also powerful. Many of the large companies are warning that the move away from nuclear power will have a disastrous impact on the economy.[68] The Ethics Commission which produced the review for the chancellor was led by Klaus Topfer who is a former environment minister and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He refutes the claims from industry and  argues that, “ a withdrawal from nuclear power will spur growth, offer enormous technical, economic and social opportunities to position Germany even further as an exporter of sustainable products and services.”[69] But whatever the benefits in the future from renewable energy, the committee called for the closing of the 17 reactors currently in use for safety reasons. It states that “The withdrawal is necessary to fundamentally eliminate risks.”[70] Environmentalists and other European governments are closely monitoring Germany’s move away from nuclear power.

A 48 page document on energy security published on May 30,th  2011, argued that an “exit from nuclear energy can be achieved within a decade.”[71] The document goes on to make the point that Germany must make a binding commitment to producing energy from non-nuclear sources. “Only a clearly delineated goal can provide the necessary planning and investment security.”[72]  The document also said that “the exit (from nuclear power) should be designed so as not to endanger the competitiveness of industry and the economy. The EU Energy Commissioner has said that “Germany’s energy policy will only work if there are improvements at the same time.”[73] Germany will need a better grid infrastructure, increased storage capacity and major investment in renewable energy.

Even before the decision to phase out nuclear energy, Germany was leading the way in installing renewable sources of energy.  The Imperial College physicist Keith Barnhman points out that Germany has installed more wind power capacity than the entire UK nuclear capacity.  In 2009, Germany installed solar photovoltaic systems with a capacity equivalent to approximately four nuclear reactors. [74]

Not everyone thinks that Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power is a good thing.  Writing in the NewScientist in July 2011, David Strahan suggests that the decision was made for political reasons, that it will jeopardise Germany’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and, finally that it will make energy prices more expensive for every household in Europe. [75]  Around 23 percent of Germany’s electricity came from nuclear power.   Germany plans to raise power from renewable sources to 35 percent by 2020.  Strahan claims that this will leave a gap of five percent which will have to be met by building fossil-fuel stations.  He maintains that Germany plans to build 20 gigawatts of fossil-fuel power stations by 2020.  Trevor Sikorski, the head of environmental market research at London investment bank, Barclays Capital estimates that Germany will emit an extra 300 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide between 2011 and 2020.[76]

  1. Britain

Chris Huhne, the UK Energy Secretary, asked Weightman, the chief nuclear inspector of the Health and Safety Directorate, to assess the safety record at Britain’s nuclear power plants. He acknowledged that Fukushima has changed the nuclear calculus. In an interview with The Observer, he conceded that it will now be much more difficult to get private investors to raise enough capital to build the eight new reactors which the government was planning. He told Toby Helm, The Observer’s political editor that, “there are a lot of issues outside the realm of nuclear safety, which we will have to assess. One is what the economics of nuclear power post Fukushima will be, if there is an increase in the cost of capital for nuclear operators.”[77]

In July 2011, preparatory work on the Hinkley Point nuclear power station  was given  approval  by West Somerset district council.   If it is completed it will be the first nuclear power plant built in Britain in 20 years.  Anti-nuclear campaigners believe West Somerset district council has been pressured by the government to approve the site, and villagers whose lives will be affected say the project would change the area forever. Crispin Aubrey, of the Stop Hinkley campaign argued that the work would leave a “devastated wasteland” and said it was “inaccurate” to describe the work EDF has been given permission for as “preparatory”.  He goes on to day that “the extent of the activity, the clearance of most vegetation, hedges and trees, the excavation of more than two million cubic metres of soil and rocks, the re-routing of underground streams, the creation of roads and roundabouts, major changes to the landscape … mean it is effectively the beginning of construction of the proposed Hinkley C nuclear power station.” [78]

Supporters of nuclear power such as David Rosser, who is the regional director of the Confederation of British Industry, for the south west and Wales said: “We believe it critical that we are able to guarantee a secure and low carbon energy mix for the UK in the decades to come.”[79] Other such as Rupert Cox, chief executive director of Somerset Chamber of Commerce points to the economic benefits of having a nuclear power station in an area. Rupert Cox, the chief executive of Somerset Chamber of Commerce, said: “It’s an opportunity to kick-start the local economy – thousands of jobs during construction, hundreds for the many years of operation and millions of pounds for the local economy and the skills and training provision in Somerset.”[80]

The most dramatic consequence for Britain of the accident at Fukushima is the closing of the controversial Sellafield Mox nuclear fuel plant. [81]  The west Cumbrian mixed-oxide fuel plant, which was run for the National Decommissioning Agency (NDA)  cost the British taxpayer £1.4bn since it was commissioned in the early 1990s.  Many local groups and the Irish government was opposed to the plan at the time. Despite this opposition it became operational in 2001.

On August 3rd 2011, Tony Fountain, chief executive of the NDA, told workers that, “the reason for this [closure] is directly related to the tragic events in Japan  following the tsunami and its ongoing impact on the power markets. As a consequence we no longer have a customer for this facility, or funding.”[82] As a result of the closure 600 people will lose their jobs.[83] The company   said that many could be reemployed in other parts of the Sellafield complex.

Fountain admitted that the plant had suffered “many years of disappointing performance” that has been funded by the taxpayer. He said the main factors which saved the plant in recent years had been the commitment of Japanese utilities to reusing nuclear fuel, and their support for the UK as a “centre of excellence”. But with the crisis in the Japanese nuclear industry, that route is no longer viable.[84] “The Hamaoka plant, owned by Chubu, the intended recipient of the first fuel, is currently closed, awaiting extensive reinforcement work. Speculation about the future of the plant has been rife for months, as it became clear that the Japanese nuclear industry was unlikely to recover after Fukushima.

The NDA said it would continue to store Japanese plutonium safely, and “further develop discussions with the Japanese customers on a responsible approach to support the Japanese utilities’ policy for the reuse of their material”. Many believe that the closure of the Sellafield Mox  plant will have a knock-on effect on the troubled Thorp reprocessing plant as well. The NDA denied that it was considering closing Thorp, and said the two cases were “unrelated” and that the business case for Thorp, which produces plutonium from other nuclear waste, continued to be strong.

However, the Thorp plant was constructed on the same premise as the Sellafield Mox plant – that there would be a market for reprocessed fuels to be used in nuclear reactors. That market has proved extremely small – Japan has been the only customer – and the demise of the Japanese nuclear industry has closed down the market altogether. The Thorp plant is being decommissioned at the cost of £6.5 billion.  Thorp was always a controversial project.  In the  year 2000, Ireland and five Nordic countries campaigned unsuccessfully against the opening of the facility. They opposed it also at the United Nations Law of the Sea Tribunal because of its possible pollution of the oceans.  They also pointed out that it could become the target for terrorists. All of these representations were rebuffed by the British government.   In 2004, there was a major spill of radioactive material at Thorp. Luckily it was contained within the facility and did not present a threat to people or the environment.  Later, a much larger leakage of radioactive material which had gone on for nine months , was discovered.  An official inquiry found that there was a complacent managerial and safety culture at Thorp.  A fine of a half a million pounds was imposed for breaches of health and safety laws.[85]

The British government knows that the new nuclear plants which they are planning to build with private operators such as France’s EDF or Germany’s RWE will  not use Mox or plutonium. The government’s suggestion that another reactor could be built in the UK, that would use Mox as fuel was greeted with extreme scepticism by nuclear industry experts. They said any replacement of the Mox processing plant would be “another white elephant” that would cost the UK taxpayer billions as there is little or no market for its products.

Industry experts noted, however, that the government has an interest in continuing to insist that Mox is still viable. If ministers admitted that Mox was not viable, the government would be forced to acknowledge that the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of plutonium that are stored here would have to be recognised as a liability on government balance sheets. However the pretence that another Mox plant may be built, allows the plutonium to be reckoned a zero-value asset. Labour MP Jamie Reed, whose Copeland constituency includes Sellafield, called on the government to lay out details of a potential plan to build a new Mox plant at the site. He said: “It is now absolutely essential that the new Mox plant is brought forward as quickly as possible. The market for Mox fuel exists and is growing, our plutonium disposition strategy relies upon such a facility and the industry requires it.”[86] He warned that “gleeful vultures” would seize upon the decision to close the plant and argued against the “critical national need for new Mox plant”.[87]

In a far-reaching indictment, the spokeswoman for Greenpeace, Louise Hutchins said that this scandalous collusion between the British government and the nuclear industry “highlights the government’s blind obsession with nuclear power and shows neither they nor the industry can be trusted when it comes to nuclear.” A review of the 80 emails sent out from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)  makes it clear that the government officials were more concerned about the fact that the Fukushima accident was undermining public support for the government’s nuclear programme.

4       Switzerland

Switzerland suspended approvals for three new nuclear reactors and even France, a robust supporter of nuclear power, pledged to review safety at all its nuclear installations. On May 25th 2011, the Swiss cabinet called for the phasing out and decommissioning of the country’s five nuclear reactors. [88]  The Swiss government also decided not to build the three nuclear power stations which were in the pipeline. 20,000 people protested against nuclear power on May 29th 2011.[89] The Swiss authorities will have to move quickly to develop other sources of energy as nuclear power provided 40 percent of the country’s electricity. They will probably expand their use of hydroelectricity.

5       Italy

Following a referendum Italy abandoned its nuclear programme in 1987, one year after the Chernobyl accident.  As a result the sitting government planned to wind-down Italy’s existing nuclear reactors. The last one was shut in 1990. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi  was intent  on reviving Italy’s nuclear  programme.[90]  He wanted to generate 25 percent of Italy’s electricity from French designed nuclear reactors.  However, in a referendum held on June 12th and 13th 2011, the Italian electorate once again voted against building any new nuclear power plants in high risk seismic Italy. [91] The vote, which exceeded 50 per cent, means that the government will not now be able to restart its nuclear programme by 2014.  Italy’s biggest utility, Enel, had plans to start building nuclear power stations in the country together with French power giant EDF in 2013. Those plans will now be mothballed

This vote against nuclear power is another nail in the nuclear power coffin.

6       U.S.

After Fukushima the plan to build a modern reactor project in Texas was cancelled. In the previous year 2010, the proposal to build a nuclear power plant in  Maryland also fell apart.  It seems also unbelievable that that Bellefonte 1 near Hollywood, Alabama might be completed. The plant is owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (T.V.A) and was designed almost 50 years ago before the era of computers.   At the time the T.V.A. said that it would build two nuclear reactors on the site for $650 million. Building work only began in 1974. By 1988, the original budget had increased by a factor of six.[92]  When demand for electricity dropped, the plant was mothballed. New possibilities opened up in 1994, when the T.V.A. tried to sell electricity from the plant to the Philadelphia Electric Company.  The deal did not get pushed through.  Three years later, the T.V.A. tried to make a deal with the Energy Department which needed the reactor to make tritium for the U.S. nuclear weapons programme. The negotiations fell through when the tritium was sourced from another nuclear reactor owned by T.V.A.

T.V.A. is keen to complete Bellefonte 1 because it announced in May 2011 that it would close 18 antiquated, inefficient and polluting coal-fired plants in the next 18 months.  The Authority estimates that Bellefonte 1 could be up-and-running by 2020.  The Authority is bullish about the economics of the venture, even though to date it has cost $4 billion and completing the plant could add another $4 to $5 billion to the final bill.  Thomas Kilgore who is the President of T.V.A. and the chief executive said that, in the long run, the company would make money from the plant. He claims that “once you get the unit built, you’ve got inflation locked out.”[93] He believes that the demand for ‘clean’ energy will increase for two reasons. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is continuing to put pressure on dirty coal-fired plants to be shut down and the price of natural gas is expected to increase, making nuclear energy more competitive.

Not everyone would agree with that analysis. Eric T. Beaumont, a nuclear expert and partner in Copia Capital, which is a Chicago based investment firm, has said that completing Bellefonte 1 “doesn’t seem like a prudent use of money.” [94] Environmentalists such as Louis A. Zeller who is the science director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League has called the Bellefonte 1 the “zombie reactor” because it is neither dead or alive. [95] He is opposed to completing the reactor because it is too expensive and antiquated and it lies in an earthquake area.

One important reason why T.V.A is interested in completing Bellefonte, despite its antiquated status, is that the plant has a construction license which it obtained in 1974. Furthermore, the independent status of the authority means that there will be fewer obstacles to its completion.  The T.V.A does not have to answer to state regulators and it has no shareholders who might oppose the decision to complete the power plant. In 2010, the T.V.A allocated $248 million to explore the possibilities of completing the nuclear power station.  It defies logic, but given the regulatory framework in the U.S., it is easier to get permission to complete a nuclear dinosaur like Bellefonte 1, than to get permission to build a new more up-to-date nuclear power plant.

There is also significant political backing for completing the Bellefonte plant. The Congressman from that area of Alabama is Representative Mo Brooks. He is backing the project and is on record as having said, “ more people have been killed by coal than nuclear, by far, when you talk about the mining, the pollution of the water and air pollution. Nuclear is not perfect, but it seems to be better than any alternative.”[96] The City Council in Scottsboro, a nearby town and the Jackson County Commission have passed resolutions in favour of completing the reactor. One of the reasons why local people are supportive is that they believe that there will be jobs for about 2,800 people who will be needed to run the nuclear power plant.

The task force set up by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the U.S. in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, called for a “redefining of the level of protection that is regarded as adequate.”[97]  It calls for improvement in the U.S. based on what has been learned from the nuclear accident in Japan. Those in the industry need to plan for separate accidents at adjacent reactors. This has never happened before. It also calls on the operators of nuclear installations to be sure that the “hardened vents” which were added to reactors in recent times, to prevent hydrogen explosions did not function properly.  The report calls on operators to focus much more on the spent fuel pools to make sure that there is a guaranteed supply of water to cool the rods.

In June 2011, the governor of New York Andrew M. Cuomo, warned the owners of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, Entergy that, for safety reasons, he wants the two reactors in Westchester County to be shut down in 2013 and 2015, when their 40-year licenses expire.   Because Indian Point generates 16,000 gigawatt-hours per annum, which is one quarter of the electricity used in New York and Long Island, critics maintain that closing Indian Point without any new electrical generation plant would lead to major power interruption between 2016 and 2020.  Critics of the Governor’s plan also claim that shutting down the reactors would increase the wholesale price of electricity by about 12 percent. [98]

Chapter 4 Light Touch Regulation

Governments, Regulators and Corporations often cover up nuclear accidents.

The Japanese nuclear crisis lifted the lid off this secretive industry.  Many people in Japan and elsewhere were aware that building nuclear power stations in an area prone to large earthquakes and tsunamis was irresponsible.  In 2006, Professor Katsuhiko Ishibashi, an expert in urban safety in Japan, resigned from the nuclear power advisory body, because he believed that building a nuclear power plant such as Fukushima in an earthquake zone, could lead to disaster.  In 2007, he said that the government, powerful corporations and the academic community had seriously underestimated the dangers posed by earthquakes. He claimed that nuclear plants at Onagawa, Shika and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa were all hit by earthquakes stronger than they were designed to withstand.[99] An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale caused a fire at the Kushiwazaki reactor on July 16th 2007. The fire burned for two hours and radioactive water leaked from the power station. No action was taken in the wake of this incident, even though Professor Katsuhiki had warned that many of the nuclear reactors in Japan had “fatal flaws” in their design.[100].

In response to the lax oversight by the Japanese Nuclear Regulator, Mr. Kaieda the trade and industry minister said that the Japanese government could give nuclear regulatory agency more independence by early 2012. Yukiya Amano, the secretary general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) said that the nuclear regulators must be “genuinely independent.”[101]  There was widespread criticism of the way the Japanese government handled the accident at Fukushima in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. Too much latitude was given to the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company and nuclear  regulatory agency seemed to be shielding the company rather than dealing with the accident. One of the factors which led to the disaster at Fukushima is the cosy relationship between the Japanese government, nuclear regulators and nuclear power corporations.  Just one month before the earthquake hit the north east of Japan the Japanese government regulator approved a 10 year extension to the six reactors at Fukushima, despite warning about the safety of the plants.  The regulator pointed out that there were stress cracks in the backup diesel powered generator at Reactor Number 1. These findings, namely that there were cracks in the back up diesel engines, were published on the website of the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency.  Nevertheless, the regulator approved the extension, which raises very serious questions about the unhealthy relationship between the power plant operators and the Japanese nuclear regulators. Regulators said that “maintenance management was inadequate” and the “quality of inspection was insufficient.” [102]

Louli Andreev, is a Russian nuclear expert who organised the clean up of Chernobyl in 1986. The corporation involved – Tokyo Electric Power Company cut costs by placing spent fuel rods too close to each other in the pools near the reactor. He stated “the Japanese were very greedy and they used every square inch of the space. But when you have a dense placing of spent fuel in the basin, you have a high possibility of fire if the water is removed from the basin.”[103]   Pressure on Tepco management to cut costs meant that the Fukushima plant contained 4,000 uranium assemblies. This is three times the amount of radioactive material normally kept at a nuclear plant. The assemblies were kept in pools of circulating water. The drop in water levels when the pumps were overwhelmed by the tsunami caused the rods to overheat and led to the release of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. [104]

In Japan, the pressure to extend the life of ageing nuclear power plants came from a desire to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuel. One third of Japan’s electricity is generated by nuclear power stations and it was hoped to increase that to 50% in this decade. That now seems to be impossible. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which runs Fukushima admitted that it had failed to inspect 33 items of equipment which are related to the cooling system. These included the water pumps and the diesel generators at the reactors

Eisaku Kato, the former governor of Niigata Prefecture, where Fukusima is situated, was critical of the nuclear regulators. He believes that “an organisation (the regulatory agency) which is inherently untrustworthy is charged with ensuring the safety of Japan’s nuclear plants.” [105] In 2002, the president of Japan’s largest power company was forced to resign when he and other officials were suspected of falsifying the safety records at nuclear power plants. [106] The accident at Fukushima was not the first nuclear accident in Japan. In fact, the industry has been plagued by accidents, plant closures, major cost overruns and radiological releases. In December 1995, when sodium coolant leaked from the Fast Breeder Reactor in Monju, the nuclear industry attempted to cover up the full extent of the damage.

Many commentators believe that the Japanese authorities initially tried to cover-up the severity of what happened at Fukushima. Initially, the government was claiming that, while the explosion had destroyed the exterior wall of the building, there was no damage to the actual metal housing of the reactor.  Even on March 16th 2011, the Japanese government’s spokesman, Yukio Edano, continued to insist that contamination was low, even within the 20km exclusion zone [107]  Jeffery Kluger of Time Magazine accused Edano of “speaking gobbleygook.”[108]

The Japanese government is not the only government to be involved in cover-ups when it comes to dealing with nuclear power. y people  It took the U.S. government thirty-seven years to reveal that radio active iodine had been discharged at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State.  In 1979, the largest radioactive spill in U.S. history took place at the United Nuclear Mill at Church Rock, New Mexico. One hundred million gallons of radioactive material contaminated the drinking water for over 1,700 Navajo people and their livestock. In the aftermath of the accident, the company refused to supply emergency food and water for the people who were affected by the spill. Rather than seeking to clear up the mess and minimise the damage, the company stonewalled for nearly five years before agreeing to pay a paltry $525,000 out of court settlement to the victims.[109]

On March 30th 1979, in the immediate aftermath of the accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in the U.S. on March 30th 1979, the authorities attempted to allay public anxiety by declaring that the amount of radioactivity released into the environment was “not dangerous.”[110]

The nuclear safety debate in the U. S. will be focused on the two nuclear power plants which are situated in California. Both of these nuclear plants are situated near geological fault lines. Dialbo Canyon is situated 12 miles southwest of San Luis Obispo which is near the Hosgri fault. This fault was only discovered in 2008. San Onofre in San Diego County is close to the Oceanside and Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault.  Both of these plants were built to withstand an earthquake measuring 7 to 7.5 on the Richter scale. However, Robert Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies has pointed out that the 1906 earthquake which destroyed much of San Francisco measured 8.3 on the Richter. This is significantly beyond what the engineers who designed the facilities had predicted.[111] It is worth remembering that 30 of the currently operating nuclear reactors in the U.S. are similar in design to the one at Fukushima.

Bill Ellsworth, who works at the U.S., Geological Survey, adds that “we know that earthquakes as large  or larger than (Japan’s) have occurred in the past in the U.S. and will almost certainly occur in the future.[112] There are very serious doubts that the authorities in California are prepared for such an eventuality.  Richard Allen, the associate director of the Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley said that it would take about $80 million to put in place a first class earthquake and tsunami warning systems in the next five years. However, with the serious cut backs in the federal budget there is little possibility of that amount of money becoming available any time soon.

Writing on the  lax regulatory regime in the U.S., Andrew C Revkin from The New York Times wrote that, “nuclear power is a textbook example of the problem of “regulatory capture” — in which an industry gains control of an agency meant to regulate it. ‘ Regulatory capture’ can be countered only by vigorous public scrutiny and Congressional oversight, but in the 32 years since Three Mile Island, interest in nuclear regulation has declined precipitously.”[113]

Even after the Fukushima crisis, many people claim that a similar accident could not happen in the U.S., partly because there is not that much seismic activity in the U.S. The Federal Agency for ensuring that nuclear power plants in the U.S. are operated safely, is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed that Commission’s work in a report published in March 2011, before the crisis in Japan.  The report entitled, The NRC and Nuclear Power Safety in 2010 was written by a nuclear engineer called David Lochbaum. He examined 14 “near misses” at U.S. nuclear power stations during 2010 and he evaluated the NRC response in each cause. He found that there were “a variety of shortcomings, such as inadequate training, faulty maintenance, poor design and failure to investigate problems thoroughly.”[114] The report gives examples of effective and ineffective responses by the nuclear industry.

A task force created in the U.S. in April 2011, after the nuclear accident in Fukushima  claimed that nuclear safety rules in the U.S. did not adequately weigh the risk that a single event could knock out both the normal energy supply from the electricity grid and the back-up emergency generators as happened in Fukushima. [115] Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission claimed that the safety equipment which was installed at U.S. nuclear plants, especially since the September 11, 2001 attack in New York and Washington, was not properly maintained or inspected as diligently as it should have been.  Charlie Miller the chair of the task force pointed out that the vents which had been added to U.S. nuclear reactors to protect against a hydrogen explosion might not work in U.S. reactors as happened when it proved impossible to open the vents at Fukushima.

Soviet Union

The accident at Chernobyl on April 26th 1986, hurled 190 tonnes of uranium and graphite into the atmosphere. This radioactive material, the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima bombs, was carried by the wind all over Western Europe and contaminated an area of 150,000 square miles.  The cloud reached Ireland two days later bringing with it radioactive elements such as iodine –131, caesium -137, caesium -134, ruthenium -103, and ruthenium -106 to the country. When it rained on that weekend the levels of caesium 137 increased forty-fold. Sheep from upland areas of Donegal and Mayo are still regularly tested for radiation.

The Soviet authorities tried to cover up the incident.  Many believe that, in the intervening years, there has been an attempt to downgrade the catastrophe. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2005, estimated that only 50 people had died and that another 9,000 may die in the future as a result of being exposed to radiation.

Helen Caldicott, of “The Foundation for a nuclear-free planet,” disputes the WHO figures. She quotes a 2099 report published by the New York Academy of Sciences entitled, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.”  The three scientist authors – Alexey V Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V Nesterenko – provide in its pages a translated synthesis and compilation of hundreds of scientific articles which appeared  in Slavic publications over the past 20 years. The articles analyse the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on people and the environment. They estimate the number of deaths attributable to the Chernobyl meltdown at about 980,000.[116]   Caldicott goes on to the question the competence of the WHO finding because of its close relationship with the World Health Organisation. According to her “In the early days of nuclear power, WHO issued forthright statements on radiation risks such as its 1956 warning: “Genetic heritage is the most precious property for human beings. It determines the lives of our progeny, health and harmonious development of future generations. As experts, we affirm that the health of future generations is threatened by increasing development of the atomic industry and sources of radiation … We also believe that new mutations that occur in humans are harmful to them and their offspring.”[117]

After 1959, WHO made no more statements on health and radioactivity. What happened? On 28 May 1959, at the 12th World Health Assembly, WHO drew up an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), clause 12.40 of this agreement says: “Whenever either organisation [the WHO or the IAEA] proposes to initiate a programme or activity on a subject in which the other organisation has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.” [118]

Those most at risk at Chernobyl  were the 100,000 soldiers known as ‘liquidators’ who were brought in from all over the Soviet Union to put out the fire and deal with the aftermath of the  nuclear explosion. Their work involved demolishing villages, dumping high levels of radioactive waste, cleaning railway lines and roads and decontaminating the environment. Many of these men developed terminal cancer but since they had returned to their communities they were often not counted among the casualties of Chernobyl.[119] Konstantin Tatuyan who was one of the ‘liquidators’ at Chernobyl, told John Vidal of The Guardian, that, “nearly all  his colleagues had died or had cancer of one sort or another, but no one ever asked him for evidence. There was burning resentment at the way the UN, the industry and ill-informed pundits had played down the catastrophe.”[120] Vidal tells those people who are of the opinion that only 50 people were killed at Chernobyl, to go and speak to doctors and those who dealt directly with the catastrophe.[121]

In 2011, what is left of the reactor No 4 continues to burn under the concrete and steel sarcophagus which was built hastily after 1986.  This structure is now disintegrating. There is a plan to build a replacement and slide it over the present sarcophagus. The new cover will be the size of a soccer pitch and taller than the Statue of Liberty. It will be the largest moveable structure ever built. [122]


On October 8, 1957, a fire in the graphite reactor’s core at Windscale, now named Sellafield, burnt a substantial amount of uranium. The fire ranged for almost three days and sent a plume of caesium, iodine and polonium – 201 across Britain and Northern Europe.[123] Milk affected by radiation was dumped for months after the accident. However, farm workers who were picking potatoes in the area were not warned of risks from the fall-out. [124]According to a report produced by Sir William Penney, a scientist who had worked on the Manhattan Project, the fault which caused the fire happened because of deficiencies in the technology used in the design of the cartridges. Since such an admission would have undermined the faith of the USA in Britain’s ability to handle nuclear power, the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan ordered a complete cover-up and Penney’s report was withdrawn. Later, Macmillan issued a distorted version of Penney’s report in a White Paper. To muddy the waters further, Penney said on a radio programme that the accident was caused primarily by the operators at the time. This made it seem like a minor accident, caused primarily by incompetent technicians. Naturally, this incensed the technicians who worked at the plant and who had done everything  in their power to contain the fire, at great risk to their own health. A post script was added when the Americans came round to investigate what had happened and the managers at Windscale took full credit for the actions they took to control the fire. Tim Touhy was deputy manager at Windscale when the fire occurred. It is now agreed that his leadership was crucial in ensuring that the accident was not more catastrophic. While he was allowed to be present at the investigation, he was not allowed to speak. Afterwards when asked for his comments he said, “What a shower of bastards.”[125]

In October 2007, John Garland, formerly a researcher at the UK Atomic Energy Authority admitted that, “we have to double our estimates of amounts that were released.”[126] Twice in the past 50 years, scientists have increased their estimation of the number of people who probably contracted cancer because of the radioactive material released from Windscale. In 2007, Professor Richard Wakeford, an epidemiologist at Manchester University said that it was impossible to determine which individual cancer was linked to the Windscale accident.[127] More than 50 years on from the accident, the damaged reactor at Sellafield still presents a formidable challenge.  The U.K Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) has designed robots which are capable of dismantling the radioactive core.  Richard Roper, the AEA programme manager in 2007, stated that the aim was to decommission the plant by the year 2060. [128]  According to Barry Hickey, the site manager at Sellafield, the cost of dismantling Windscale will be borne by the taxpayer. Much of the money will come from the budget of the ministry of defence which ‘benefitted’ from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.[129]

Many buildings within the sprawling complex of Sellafield are very dangerous. George Beveridge, the deputy managing director of Sellaflied told The Observer’s science editor, Robin McKie that B30 a large building in the centre of the Sellaflied complex is “the most hazardous industrial building in western Europe.  The reason is simple.  It contains piles of old nuclear reactor parts and decaying fuel rods.  The really worrying thing is that the experts in Sellafield do not know either the age or the exact nature of what is being stored.”[130]  But B30 is not the only dangerous building  on the Sellafield site. Next door is the “second most hazardous industrial building in Europe according to Beveridge.  Both buildings are now crumbling. Engineers reckon that the clean up for these two sites alone could reach £50 billion. Dr Paul Howarth, executive director of Dalton Nuclear Institute at Manchester claims that the British taxpayer at present pays £1.5 billion a year cleaning up Sellafield’s waste problem and that they will have to continue to pay this amount for years to come.

Part of the reason that the Sellaflied site is so dangerous is that the reactors known as Pile 1 and Pile 2 were built originally not to generate electricity but to produce plutonium for the British Army which wanted to have its own independent nuclear deterrent as the Cold War intensified in the early 1950s.  But in achieving this goal of having atomic weapons, Sellafield was built at breakneck speed. McKie outlines the appalling consequences. “those scientists had no time to think about the waste produced by their atomic bomb programme, a point starkly demonstrated by another Sellafield legacy building, B41. It still stores the aluminium cladding for the uranium fuel rods that were  burnt inside Pile 1.”  That uranium posed serious disposal problems when it was removed, in a highly radioactive state, from the two reactors as their fuel was decommissioned and their plutonium extracted. So scientists hit on what seemed to be an ingenious solution: they would dump it in a silo. [131]  They dropped the nuclear waste into the silo and allowed it to sink to the bottom. Soon they realized that pieces of aluminium and magnesium could catch fire and cause widespread contamination. To prevent this they had to pump inert argon gas into the silo to smother any fire.  Now nuclear scientists and engineers are  faced with dealing with this problem.  They hope to use robots which can swim and operate in the dark to locate and classify the material.  This will not be easy. When classified they will attempt to mix the radioactive waste with liquid glass and allow the glass to harden. This process is called vitrification. While it may  sound easy, there are multiple points in the process where radio-active contamination could take place. Cleaning up a single building will take 10 years because everything has to be done slowly and carefully to avoid leaks. But there are so many potential pitfalls that one of the senior employees at Sellafield told McKie that, “if you want to object to anything nuclear, you have just to point to Sellafield.”[132]

In the last of a series of articles on nuclear power, Paul Brown claims that public safety took second place to the arms race when Windscale was designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. In the chimneys which were designed to remove the heat and gases which were discharged from the uranium in the graphic piles, the filters were placed near the top of the chimneys.  This meant that the people of Cumbria were being sprayed with radioactive dust when the piles were operated.[133]

Dr. Helen Caldicott the founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility is very worried about the dangers to human health from nuclear waste. She points to the longevity of radio-active elements such as Strontium 90. This is a tasteless and invisible radio-active element which remains radioactive for 600 years. Contaminated milk can enter the body and concentrate in bones and lactating breasts giving rise later to bone cancer, leukaemia and breast cancer. She is keen to point out that babies and young children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radiation than adults. [134]  According to Caldicott plutonium is so carcinogenic that hypothetically half a kilo of plutonium evenly distributed around the globe could kill everyone on the planet.  Plutonium is carcinogenic for 250,000 years. It acts like iron when it enters the body through the lungs. It can then migrate to the bones where it will cause bone cancer or to the liver where it can cause liver cancer. Its ability to do damage continues into the next generation because it can cross through the placenta into the embryo and cause birth defects. [135]

Sellafield was not a once-off event in Britain’s history with nuclear power. In May 2006, the British government brought a criminal prosecution against British Nuclear Group (BNC) which is a subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels in relation to a major leak in 2005, at the Thorp reprocessing plant.  Under their license, the operators of Thorp, which is part of the Sellafield complex, are legally obliged to ensure that radioactive material is properly contained and, if something happens, for example a major leak, they are required to report the matter to the relevant authorities. In this particular case, 83,000 litres of highly radioactive waste leaked from a pipe into a containment chamber. The waste contained 20 tonnes of uranium and plutonium.  What was alarming about this is that staff did not notice the spill for at least 8 months!  The leak was reported in April 2005, even though it began probably in August 2004.  It seems that in March 2008, the staff dismissed the leak as a technical glitch because of the large volume of the spill.  An investigation found that there was operational complacency among the staff because of their belief that leaks at the plant were impossible because of the design of the operation, despite previous evidence to the contrary.[136]  Many of Britain’s nuclear power plants are reaching the end of their operational life. Fourteen had already been shut down and were in the process of being decommissioned by December 2007. [137]

In 2006, U.K government inspectors raised serious questions about the safety of some other ageing nuclear power plants in Britain. These included deterioration of reactor cores in Hinkley Point B in Somerset.  Documents obtained under the  Freedom of Information requests, show that British Energy, the company which operates the nuclear power plants does not know either the extent of the damage to the reactor cores or why the deterioration has occurred in the  first place. [138]  The nuclear power plants which were identified as having problems include Hinkley Point, in Somerset,  Hartlepool in Cleveland, Hunterston B in Ayrshire, Heysham 1 in Lancashire, Dungeness in Kent and  Torness, East Lothian. John Large who is an independent nuclear engineer who has advised both the government and Greenpeace on the safety of nuclear installations stated that the government “ was gambling  with public safety” to allow Hinkley Point to continue operating. [139]

The Guardian, reported on April 21st 2011, that there had been two spillages of radioactive waste in the first three months of 2011. Radioactive material, five times the legal permitted level leaked from an old ventilation duct at the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria.[140] At Torness nuclear power plant near Edinburgh in Scotland, ground water contaminated with radioactive tritium leaked from two pipelines. Further south at the nuclear power plant in Hartlepool in England, the back-up cooling system malfunctioned because of a faulty valve.

Similar complaints were being made by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) in 2009.   The NII told the Nuclear Management Partners the consortium which runs Sellafield,  that the possibility  of having a serious accident at the plant is still “far too high”. [141] One of its inspectors Mark Foy told a meeting of local stakeholders who live close to Sellafield “we are concerned that the risk of a major event caused by further degradation of legacy plants, or increased time at rick due to deferrals, is far too tight.”

On July 1st 2011, The Guardian revealed that the British government attempted to cover-up the seriousness of the accident at Fukushima. “British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a coordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known.”[142]  Journalists from The Guardian got access to emails between key government departments which shows that government officials were working behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure that the coverage which was given to what was happening at Fukushima would not derail the government plan to build new nuclear power stations.  One official at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) whose name was concealed, wrote that, “this has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally.”[143] In folksy, inclusive but very militaristic tone he wrote, “we need to ensure that the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”[144]


There are 58 nuclear reactors in France which generates almost 70% of the country’s electricity. The French built nuclear power plants in the 1960s and 1970s in order that the country might be less dependent on fossil fuel imports from the Middle East.  After the accident at Fukushima, the French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, asked the Nuclear Safety Authority to carry out a safety assessment at all of France’s operating reactors.[145] Though the majority of French people support nuclear power, there have been a number of accidents at nuclear power plants in France[146].  In July 2008, it emerged that a 25 metre plastic pipe embedded in concrete was cracked and may have leaked uranium for years, at a nuclear plant in Romanssur-Isere in the Drome region.  The Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, the agency which oversees nuclear power plants, calculated that between 100 grams and 800 grams of uranium may have leaked from the broken pipe. The news broke just before the French government ordered safety tests in all the country’s 19 nuclear power plants. This overall check was triggered by a leak which was discovered at an Areva nuclear installation earlier in July 2008. [147]   Martine Aubry a member of the French Socialist Party has stated that she was “personally in favour of phasing out nuclear power, even though her party have still to decide on its nuclear power policy. [148]  The French Green Party has called for a referendum on nuclear energy.  The French national utility company which operates the nuclear reactors is fearful that it will not be able to meet the financial cost of upgrades which may be demanded as a result of the crisis at Fukushima. [149]

International Atomic Energy Agency

In the light of Fukushima and Chernobyl  questions need to be asked about the role of the International Atomic Energy Agenc (IAEA) in policing the nuclear industry. The secretary general of the agency is Yukyia Amano. He is Japanese and it is alleged that he got the top job after vigorous lobbying by Japan. According to The Guardian correspondent, Julian Borger,[150] it took a long time for the agency to issue believable statements about what was happening. In response to sustained criticism from the media, IAEA took a leaf out of Adam’s book and blamed someone else! In what was seen as a rebuke to the Japanese Prime Minister, Naota Kan, Yukiya Amano said, “We do not have all the details of the information so what we can do is limited. I am trying to further improve the communication.”[151]  It is important to remember that the IAEA’s function is first of all to “accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”[152] Having IAEA regulating the nuclear industry is like having foxes looking after chickens!

Chapter 5  – The Real Cost of Nuclear power

The financial impact of the Fukushima crisis has already had a massive impact on Tokyo Electric Power Company  (Tepco), the corporation that operates the nuclear power plant. Before the accident, Tepco was one of the main global energy providers with a market capitalisation of $42 billion. This went into free-fall after the accident so that by April 6th 2011, it was worth a mere $9 billion. This amounted to a loss of 83% of its value. Its share price had tumbled to a 60-year low at 362 yen, dropping 18% on April 5th 2011. Credit rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s believe that, “Tepco will remain highly leveraged and unprofitable for an extended period of time and will face substantial risk regarding nuclear liability.”[153]  According to a confidential assessment document by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which was obtained by The New York Times, these liabilities can only grow. There are a number of dangers which include the major threats of explosions inside the containment structures due to the release of hydrogen and oxygen from the seawater which was pumped in to cool the semi-molten fuel rods.  There is also a fear that the mounting stresses on the containment structure, as they fill with radioactive cooling water, will rupture if there is a major aftershock. [154] The assessment document is wary about constantly pouring water on nuclear fuel when the cooling system is not functioning.[155]  Such talk sends shivers down the spine of the nuclear industry globally, because it will increase the cost of nuclear power plants and thus make nuclear energy less attractive to many countries which are experiencing financial troubles, to invest in this expensive and controversial technology.

Nuclear fission is an inherently dangerous industry.

As far back as 1984, in the wake of the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Charles Perrow analysed the potential for accidents in complex technologies.  He concluded his reflections on Three Mile Island with the words, “no matter how effective conventional safety devices are, there is a form of accident that is inevitable ” hence, “normal accidents.”  He compares a pile up on a motor way with a nuclear accident and noted that while a motorway crash is disastrous for those involved, it cannot be described as a disaster. The latter only happens when the technologies involved have the potential to affect large numbers of innocent bystanders, not just today, but into the indefinite future. In discussing the morality of civilian nuclear power, the inherent catastrophic potential of this technology is the primary moral principle. Fintan O’Toole, a columnist in The Irish Times, argued that nuclear technology, with multiple inherent dangers, is a classic example of human hubris. He wrote, “the engineers who design nuclear plants know very well that the consequences of a systems failure may be catastrophic. They also know that creating waste which will remain toxic for 100,000 years is a horizon of time far beyond the imaginative capacity of the human mind. However, they keep this knowledge at bay. They believe that the consequences are irrelevant because the system will not fail.” [156]. In the view of Dr. William Reville, a senior lecturer in biochemistry in University College Cork and a regular contributor to The Irish Times  “nuclear fission is a failed technology. It generates waste that must be segregated from the environment for 100,000 years. It offers governments a cheap way to develop nuclear weapons; nuclear power stations are built on the open surfaces of the earth and are very vulnerable to terrorist attack and to bombing in conventional warfare. The industry should be phased out.”[157]

Nuclear power assumes that humans never act irrationally, never use drugs, kill others or commit suicide.  In August 2008 the news media carried an account of the suicide of Bruce Ivins, a respected microbiologist who worked at a military research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland.  It was claimed that he was a suspect in a series of postal attacks in 2001, which killed five people and maimed others.  At the time, the attack was thought to have been the work of terrorists. It was claimed that Ivins’ suicide came as prosecutors were moving in to arrest him and charge him with murder[158]. If someone such as Ivins, who had a distinguished career could use his knowledge to harm others, this ought to raise serious questions about the morality of promoting technologies which can cause extraordinary destruction.

Nuclear enthusiasts in Britain assure the public that tsunami such as the one on the east coast of Japan do not happen in Britain.  A book by Professor Rob Duck of Dundee University in Scotland entitled This Sinking Land challenges this contention. He points out that the Storegga landslide, off the Norwegian coast 5,500 years ago triggered a 20 feet high tsunami which engulfed Orkney and Shetland and crashed into the eastern coast of England and Scotland. In 1607, a wave possibly caused by an earthquake off southern Ireland killed 3,000 people in the Bristol Channel area.  More ominous, is the possibility of a massive tsunami hitting the south coast of England if the western flank of the island of La Palma in the Canaries collapsed.  Duck claims that, “some nuclear power stations are in vulnerable positions.” [159] If a tsunami overwhelmed Sellafield, the consequences would be enormous for the peoples of Britain and Ireland.

On May 10, 2011, a rare earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale hit an ancient town called Lorca in southeastern Spain. The earthquake caused houses to collapse, it damaged historic churches and killed at least 8 people. Lorca, which has a population of about 90,000 people, dates back to the Bronze Age. It probably got its name during the Roman period. [160]

The Security of  Nuclear Power

Another major cost involves security. The events of September 11, 2001 have changed many facets of our lives. Nuclear power stations are now seen as potential terrorist targets. Security concerns alone should lead to their demise.   A study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the U.S., came to the conclusion that a major terrorist attack on a major nuclear power installation, such as the Indian Point reactor on the Hudson River in the U.S., could result in over 40,000 deaths in the short run, from acute radiation syndrome and in the long-term, over 500,000 deaths from cancer among people living within a 50 mile radius of the plant.[161]

In 2001, RAF fighter planes were scrambled over Sellafield, after the police in Cumbria received a telephone call that there was a possible threat against Sellafield. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S, David Kyd, the spokesperson for  the International Atomic Energy Agency  (IAEA)  estimated that almost all of the world’s 440 nuclear power stations were vulnerable to terrorist attacks similar to the 9/11 attack in New York and Washington.  This is true even though nuclear power plants are among the most robust buildings every built on earth. According to Kyd, “Reactors are built to withstand impacts but not that of a wide-bodied passenger jet full of fuel. A deliberate hit of that sort is something that was never in any scenario at the design stage.”[162]

Experts are worried that the new pressurized water reactor (EPR) being built at Oikiluoto in Finland, is vulnerable from the point of view of a terrorist attack. A French report prepared by the power company, Électricité de France, for the French nuclear safety regulator IRSN, which was leaked to the press, stated that the reactor could withstand an attack from a 5 tonne military fighter jet. Greenpeace commissioned a response from an independent nuclear expert, John Large. He found that such an attack would be a total calamity and would release large quantities of radioactive material into the surrounding environment.[163] European nuclear regulators now stipulate that nuclear power plants’ design  must include a “core catcher” designed to catch the molten fuel even if it breached the reactor’s pressure vessel due to a failure of the cooling system. [164]

The International Atomic Energy Agency has a database which attempts to track efforts to smuggle radioactive material or ‘yellow cake’. There are 650 confirmed incidents and 100 of these incidents took place in 2004.[165] Such activities provide fissile material for nuclear weapons or other radioactive material for making “dirty bombs”. In February 2006, the EU Commission criticized Sellafield directors and staff for the way in which they account for their nuclear material.[166] In another instance, undercover U.S. Congressional investigators successfully smuggled enough radioactive material into the U.S. to make two dirty bombs, even after alarms were set off on radiation detectors which had been installed at border checkpoints. Dirty bombs can force long-term evacuation of people by spreading low levels of radioactivity across an area, after being detonated with a conventional explosive.[167] Given the highly unstable political situation internationally, it is foolish in the extreme to allow this material to fall into the hands of terrorists.  Prof Boulton reminds people that, “just over 6kg of plutonium was used in the bomb which devastated Nagasaki, and the UK has many thousands of times that amount. We must ensure this very dangerous material does not fall into the wrong hands.” [168]

On May 3rd  2011, The Irish Times, reported that on the previous day five men were arrested by police officers close to the nuclear power plant at Sellafield.  The men, all in their 20s, were detained by officers from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary following  police checks in West Cumbria where Sellafield is located.[169]  A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said the investigation is in its early stages and no further information will be released yet. A statement added: “At this stage we are not aware of any connection to recent events in Pakistan.”[170]

Why is it impossible to get insurance for nuclear reactors?

Another question which proponents of nuclear power seldom address is – why is it impossible to get insurance cover for nuclear accidents?  The reason from an insurance industry’s perspective is that so many things can go wrong. In a worse case scenario the costs are so large that a private insurance firm could not carry the risk without charging huge premiums which, in turn, would make nuclear energy uneconomic. In the U.S. insurance for nuclear incidents is organised by the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act. Nuclear operators have private insurance and assessments which are pooled into a fund which is worth about $10 billion.  The U.S. government would have to pay amount above that figure.  In Britain the Nuclear Installation Act of 1965 covers the liability for nuclear damage. Here again there is a limit for the nuclear power plant operator of £140. Anything beyond that would have to be paid by the state.  In Germany the liability for the operators is limited to €2.5 billion. This is only a fraction of the real cost of an accident at a nuclear power plant.   At the international level there are two conventions which govern nuclear liability.  They are called the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage and the Paris Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy.  The limits for the conventions vary.  The Vienna Convention which was agreed in 2004 set the operator’s  liability at €700 million per incident.  This modification to the Convention has not yet been ratified.

Nuclear Power is not cheap

The last British nuclear power station Sizewell B, was built in Suffolk in 1995. The price paid by the taxpayer then was £2.733 billion which would translate into £3.9 billion in 2008 figures. It took 15 years to complete and cost twice the original budget. If commercial companies had built the plant, the cost of borrowing the money would have pushed the total well over the £4 billion mark. It would take more than 6 similar nuclear power plants to supply 20% of Britain’s electricity.  Both land based and off-shore wind farms would supply the same amount of energy for a similar cost of around £25 billion according to Dr Dave Toke.[171]  At that  point the cost bias moves in favour of wind energy as fuel costs are free and decommissioning is much, much less expensive.  Walt Patterson, an associate fellow in the energy, environment and development programme at Chatham House, makes the point that in tackling climate change or insuring security of supply, nuclear energy is the slowest, most expensive, least flexible and riskiest option.[172] If it were not for hidden subsidies, especially from the military, the economics of nuclear power would look worse.

The former Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, believes that, given the costs and the risks, the private sector will not invest in nuclear facilities unless the government underwrites the loans and provides tax relief for the industry.[173] This is precisely what the Brown government planned to do when the then Energy and Climate Secretary, Ed Miliband identified 10 possible sites for nuclear power stations in November 2009.[174] This may be difficult to accomplish in the present  British, European and global economic climate. Adris Piebalgs, the then commissioner for energy in the European Commission, wanted to see different forms of energy, for example, compete against each other on a level playing field and will not countenance the use of state funds to subsidize nuclear power [175]

Despite the then Labour government’s attempt to put nuclear power back on the agenda many people believe that economic arguments will scuttle the proposal. According to Tom Burke, a visiting professor at both Imperial College, London and University College London, “ nuclear power stations are financially risky projects. You spend hundreds of millions of pounds for at least a decade before you start to recover any earnings. Since you have to pay for the financing as well as the direct construction costs, this makes nuclear power much less attractive to investors than any other form of electricity generation[176]  The only way to make the nuclear option palatable to investors is to push up the price of electricity.  The public will hardly tolerate such an action.

More powerful seismic activity in the past decade makes nuclear power more expensive

When nuclear power plants were built in Japan and elsewhere in the world, seismic activity was less volatile.  Most of the plants were built to withstand quakes of 8.5 on the Richter scale. The earthquake off the north east of Japan registered 9 on the Richter scale. Luckily, the buildings did not collapse and it was the tsunami which exacerbated the crisis by destroying the diesel generators that provided the back-up power for the pumps, which in turn provided the coolants for the reactors.

On December 26, 2004, the Simeule earthquake close to Indonesia, registered 9.1 on the Richter scale.  The tsunami which it unleashed across the Indian Ocean killed 230,000 people in 14 countries, and destroyed the lives of tens of thousands more.   Quakes of such magnitude are not confined to Asia.  On 27 Feb 2010, an earthquake of  8.8 magnitude, one of the largest ever recorded, tore apart houses, bridges and highways in central Chile and sent a tsunami racing halfway around the world. Building nuclear power plants in such a seismically unpredictable world seems irresponsible.

Demands for more stringent safety standards at nuclear power installations will reach far beyond the shores of Japan.  The International Atomic Energy Agency states that 88 of the current 442 nuclear installations are located in areas of high seismic activity.[177]  In the opinion of John Vidal of The Guardian , the figure is closer to 100.[178]  One can expect that over the coming few months and years, politicians and regulators will come under pressure to decommission many of these dangerous power stations.  John Stevenson of the IAEA’s International Seismic Centre says that, “the nuclear regulatory agencies will want to re-examine the potential for tsunami risks on the Pacific Rim and possible the other oceans as well.”[179]

The earthquake that hit the East Coast of the U.S. on 23rd  August 2011, registered 5.8 on the Richter scale. It caused the North Anna nuclear power plant to shut down. This has raised serious questions about the safety of some U.S. nuclear power plants are earthquake-proof.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is so concerned about this that it has assigned a special team to study the earthquake’s effect on North Anna.  The findings will have serious implications for all the nuclear reactors in the eastern United States many of which were not built with this magnitude of an earthquake in mind. [180]  The article calls attention to the lack of honesty in the nuclear industry which, unfortunately, is a recurring theme in this book.  In 1973, when the company was digging the foundations for the third reactor at the site, a visiting geology professor told an executive of the company called Virginia Electric & Power Company, that there was a geologic fault.  The executive let the comment drop and the company told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that there was no e evident of faults. The company paid a fine of $32,000 for failing to alert the regulators. [181] Such a small fine for something which could have been so serious does not inspire much confidence in the regulator.

Public money subsidizes nuclear power

The nuclear energy companies receive tax breaks, loan guarantees, limited liability and subsidies from governments. The US Government Accounting Office reported that between 2001 and 2007, nuclear programmes in the United States received $6.2 billion in government funding for electricity-related research and development, compared to $3.1 billion for fossil fuel and a mere $1.5 for renewable energy, including solar. If the renewable energy section received more subsidies it would become much more efficient and less expensive within a few years. While there is some pollution in mining and manufacturing renewable energy, it does not pose the long term safety concerns that plague nuclear power.[182]

If economics is undermining the viability of building new nuclear power stations, the time it takes to build a nuclear power station may be a further nail in the coffin of the industry. There is simply not the capacity to start a massive nuclear building programme in Britain or around the world. In October 2005, Ian Fells, an energy consultant told an energy conference at Rimini in Italy that there are only six building companies in the world capable of building nuclear power stations. None of these companies are British and the specialized personnel who built the last British nuclear plant Sizewell B are either retired or dead.[183]  Even to retain the present nuclear status quo in Britain, would now require the building of 8 to 10 nuclear power stations with little hope of being completed and operational before 2025. The reality is that even  before Fukushima nuclear power was on the decline. As of April 1, 2011, there were seven fewer reactors in the world than in 2002.[184] Over the past decade the role which nuclear power has played in supplying energy is contracting. It is now responsible for about 13 percent of the world’s electricity. More worrying, the average life of nuclear power plants is 26 years, which means that, in a post-Fukushima world, these plants will only operate for another decade and a half.

Civilian and Military Nuclear Power are Siamese Twins

Another major cost the increased militarization of our contemporary world.  I have already quoted  the words of the Swedish Nobel prize winning physicist, Hannes Alven, who said that the peaceful atom and military atom are ‘Siamese twins.’ The primary purpose of the first nuclear power plant built at Calder Hall (at Sellafield) in 1955, was to produce plutonium for atom bombs.

The Oxford Research Group came to the same conclusions.  In a paper published in 2006 entitled, “Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century,” Paul Rogers and John Sloboda wrote, “civilian nuclear activities and nuclear weapons proliferation are intimately linked; one of the twins cannot  be promoted without the other spreading out of control.”

Currently about sixty countries in the world have civilian nuclear power plants. It is estimated that over the past forty years, twenty of these countries have used their supposedly civilian nuclear facilities to undertake covert research on a weapons programme.

In Japan in 2002, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yasu Kukuda became the most senior official in Tokyo to leave the door open for Japan to develop its own nuclear weapons.  He was reflecting on the fact that that India, China and North Korea possessed nuclear weapons and that in the future Japan may not be able to rely on the nuclear umbrella which the U.S. currently provides for Japan.[185]

In August 2011, the NewScientist reported that the use of laser power will make it very difficult to know whether the enriched uranium is destined for nuclear power stations or bombs.  General Electric and Hitachi are about to build a laser facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, which will produce 1000 tonnes of enriched fuel every year.  There are two benefits from this laser enrichment process. Firstly, it is more efficient and, secondly it does not use as much power as the current process.  The down side according to the article is “that rogue states could find is easier to make atom-bomb fuel in secret as smaller facilities are needed for this method, making it impossible to detect using satellite imagery.”[186]

Nuclear power is not very ‘green’

The champions of nuclear power now use the connection between burning fossil fuel and global warming as a way of rehabilitating the nuclear power industry. This is the reason given by John Hutton for the Labour government’s U-turn on nuclear power. If one looks merely at the generation of electricity in the nuclear plant itself, then it is true that very little fossil fuel is used.  But the nuclear cycle from beginning to end is a much more extensive operation than what happens in the nuclear plant. An enormous quantity of fossil fuel is needed at almost every phase of the nuclear process which begins with uranium mining.

However, far from solving our problems with carbon, nuclear reactors may well by vulnerable to the consequence of climate change. Nuclear power stations need large volumes of water to cool the reactor. This is why many of them are built near the sea or large river estuaries.  These waters are subjected to major storm surges and a rise in sea-levels. But that is not all. According to Natalie Kopytko from the environment department at the University of York in Britain, these waters can be disrupted by water scarcity and a rise in the water temperature. [187] She believes that hurricanes pose the greatest threat to nuclear power plants, because most climate scientists predict a dramatic increase in hurricane intensity as temperatures rise across the globe. Flooding is also a major worry as was seen at Fukushima, but droughts can be equally devastating.  Heat waves, due to climate change, also pose problems.  The cooler the cooling water entering the reactor the more electricity can be generated. During the heat wave in France in 2003, surface water became so warm that many nuclear reactors had to be shut down.

In June 2011, the floods on the Missouri River threatened two nuclear power plants on the river. At Cooper Station workers spent days protecting the plant from the rising flood waters.  85 miles away the Calhoun nuclear came under similar pressure on the 26th of June 2011.  During the attempt to protect the plant, a worker punctured a 2,000 foot rubber berm which had been put in place to protect the nuclear power plant.  The flood waters threatened electrical equipment which necessitated cutting the power supply to the larger grid and using the stand-by diesel engines to keep power flowing to the reactor. The water level stabilized at 1,006.5 feet two days later, according to the Omaha Public Power District, the operator of the Fort Calhoun plant. [188] Every doorway was barricaded with four-foot-high water barriers that are intended to survive, even if an earthquake hit during a flood.  Officials at the nuclear plant admitted that flooding is always a potential risk for nuclear reactors, but the threat has a higher profile lately because of the tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.  T.V. footage of floods at the front and back door of a nuclear power plant has done little to increase the confidence of the public that nuclear power is safe.

Fires also pose threats to nuclear installations. In June 2011, fires burned to within a few mile of a dump site near Los Alamos where scientists connected with the Manhattan Project had developed the atomic bomb during World War II.  The dump contained 20,000 barrels of plutonium-contaminated waste which include contaminated clothes and equipment.  The director of operations at the laboratory assured the public that there was no immediate threat to public safety “even in extreme conditions.”[189]

Chapter 6  Nuclear Waste

At every stages of the nuclear journey there is a serious problem with waste. The further one moves along the journey the more toxic and carcinogenic the waste becomes. 85% of the waste used in the enrichment process is known as depleted uranium. This has to be placed in sealed containers and safely stored in a stable geological site. In the U.S. alone, there were more than 500,000 tonnes of depleted uranium.  The main storage problem is with plutonium because its half-life, which is the time it takes to lose half of its radioactivity, is 24,000 years, and even minute amounts can cause cancer. So plutonium waste will have to be guarded for tens of thousands of years which will place an extraordinary burden on future generations.  A fundamental ethical principle called intergenerational-justice states, that people living in one generation should not saddle future generations with a burden such as plutonium waste. An incredible 103 tonnes of plutonium is stored at Sellafield.[190]

In September 2007, a report from the Royal Society written by Professor Geoffrey Boulton stated, that the plutonium stockpile at Sellafield might be vulnerable to terrorist attack.  He recommended that the U.K. government needs to find a way to use or dispose of this material.[191]

Nuclear waste is not confined to what is produced in the nuclear reactors. Mining uranium has very significant negative environmental consequences. The Olympic Dam uranium/copper mine, in South Australia, has produced a radioactive tailings mp of 60 million tonnes and it is increasing at 10 million tonnes each year.

Most uranium deposits are at a concentration of 0.02-0.01. These are found in Australia, Canada, South Africa, Russia, U.S. and Uzbekistan.  Typically 98,000 tonnes of rock has to be mined and milled in order to produce a single tonne of uranium. The tailings from the milling, much of which contains uranium, have now to be secured. This often does not happen. In the 1980s material with contained highly radioactive tailings was used to build houses.[192]

There are also major problems with water extraction because the mine sucks more than 30 million litres of water from the Great Artesian Basic. It is impossible to really quantify the full environmental cost of the operation since the mine has secured a range of exemptions from environmental legislation. For example, it is exempt from the South Australian Environmental Protection Act, The Water Resources Act, the Aboriginal Heritage Act and the Freedom of Information Act.[193] Little wonder that the 2003 Senate’s Inquiry into the regulation of uranium mining in Australia found a pattern of underperformance and non-compliance.”[194]   The mine is also the largest consumer of electricity in South Australia making it the State’s major contributor to global warming.

Milling uses huge diesel-powered machines to crush the rock. Then sulphuric acid is used to leach uranium from the rock. Other elements are also leached, among them selenium, arsenic and lead. These are then removed before the fully milled product is completed.

Beyond milling there is the process of enrichment which is not unlike distillation.  Gases used in the process such as fluorine and its halogenated compounds have  10,000 times more global warming capacity than carbon dioxide. The nuclear industry does not keep records of the quantity of the various forms of chlorine it released into the atmosphere.[195]  Enriching the uranium also uses enormous amounts of fossil fuel.

At every stage of the nuclear journey there is nuclear waste. The higher one moves along the journey the more toxic and radioactive the waste becomes. For many reasons, which include cost and the opposition of local people, suitable places for its disposal have not been found thus far.  Steve Thomas in his pamphlet The Economics of Nuclear Power: An Update, writes that “from a moral point of view, the current generation should be extremely wary of leaving such an uncertain, expensive and potentially dangerous legacy to a future generation to deal with when there are no ways of reliably ensuring that the current generation can bequeath the funds to deal with them, much less bear the physical risk.”[196]

Factoring in the cost of decommissioning

It is very difficult to get a valid cost for decommissioning and dismantling nuclear power plants and disposing safely of the radioactive waste. The reason for this is that as of 2011, no nuclear power plant anywhere in the world has successfully gone through the above  process. The time scale involved in decommissioning could be as long as 150 years, which makes any current projection of the costs involved very difficult to estimate. Nevertheless, the National Audit Office in Britain estimated in January 2008, that decommissioning Britain’s 19 ageing nuclear power plants would cost the taxpayer £73 billion. [197] This figure came as a surprise as previously it had been estimated that the clean-up costs would be more in the region of £61billion. The reason for the increase is that previous estimates had not included the cost of ponds and silos at Sellafield.[198]  Dr. Paul Howarth, executive director of Dalton Nuclear Institute at Manchester University estimates that “the taxpayer has to pay around  £1.5 billion a year to clean up Sellafield’s waste problems and will have to  maintain that investment for years to come.”[199] In July of 2008, The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) admitted that cost of decommissioning could rise even further to £83 billion. The reason given for the increase in cost is the decision to address the complicated hazard problems at Sellafield, the inflation in the engineering sector of the economy and the lack of income from the Thorp and Mox fuel reprocessing plants.[200] In response to these new figures Greenpeace’s nuclear campaigner, Ben Ayliffe, pointed out the nuclear clean-up had jumped by £20 billion and it could even be more expensive as costs spiral out of control. [201]

Still no permanent repository for nuclear waste

No country, including the U.S., has made provisions for permanently storing nuclear waste. In 1987 the U.S. Congress had planned to store nuclear waste at a facility at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert about 80 miles north west of Las Vegas. It came as no surprise that residents and anti-nuclear environmentalists opposed the storing of radioactive material at the site. Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress approved funding for the site in 2002.  President Obama had promised during his election campaign in 2008, to cancel this project. Accordingly funding for the site was terminated in 2010 and the license application was withdrawn in 2011.

A report published in June 2011, by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ‘s inspector general, Hubert T. Bell,  criticizes its chairman Gregory B. Jaczko  for using his  position to effectively close down the Yucca Mountain site.  The report claims that Mr Jaczko used  his position as chairman to carry out the president’s wishes while running roughshod over his fellow commissioners.  The inspector claimed  that Mr. Jaczko failed to fully inform the other four members that he was issuing budget guidance that would essentially halt the commission’s work on the project. It was the commission which would decide whether the Energy Department should be allowed to build and operate the dump. (In line with administration policy, the Energy Department had already laid off all the contractors and reassigned its staff.) Mr. Jaczko admitted to the inspector general that he sometimes loses his temper but denied violating any procedures or misleading the other commissioners. [202]

The report resurrected the long-running battle over how and where to store about 70,000 metric tonnes of the radioactive waste produced by the U.S.’s  104 operating nuclear power stations. Proponents of Yucca Mountain, on which about $10 billion has already been spent, say that it provides the safest available disposal of waste that will remain radioactive for thousands of years.  The highly politicized way in which the decision was made not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain site, raise serious questions about whether a political agenda takes precedent over safety concerns.

This now leaves the U.S. without any long-term storage facility for high level radioactive waste.  Commentators point out that, even if all parties agreed on the necessity of reopening the Yucca Mountain site, it would take at least 10 years to develop the site to the level that it could begin storing nuclear waste. The waste mountain continues to rise. The U.S. has about 72,000 tons of spent fuel from civilian reactors and millions of tons of nuclear military waste. This is more than the site at Yucca was designed to take. [203]

The situation is similar in Japan. The Japanese had a plan to send their spent fuel to a reprocessing facility in Rokkasho in the north of Honshu island.  After that they would bury the remainder in a deep repository.  Due to political and technical difficulties this never happened. The Rokkasho facility was originally supposed to open in 2007 but because of numerous delays the date has been postponed many times and may now not even open in 2012.  As a result, large amounts of spent fuel is being housed in fuel pools around nuclear power stations.

In the NewScientist Allison Macfarlane, associate professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia asks –why so little attention has been given to the nuclear waste issue.  He claims that the nuclear industry is more interested in the “front end” of the  process which involves mining uranium and building power stations and generating electricity. This is where people make money. He maintains that one can see this pattern even in syllabus of nuclear engineering department in Universities.  They train plant manages and those who build and design safety issues. Little attention is devoted to the waste issue. [204]

Transporting nuclear waste

Moving nuclear waste around  a country like Britain is another potential area where serious accidents can occur. In fact, there are 30 accidents involving nuclear trains each year in Britain. Some are not too serious, but the derailment of a train carrying nuclear waste near the Hinkley Point power station in Somerset, in 2003, led Prime Minister Blair to promise a comprehensive safety review of nuclear cargo.  Critics dismissed the subsequent report as merely a list of the year’s events. They did not  propose adopting a single recommendation.

Greenpeace asked the nuclear consultant, John Large, to examine the whole scenario of transporting nuclear waste on trains. The waste is stored in 30cm-thick forged steel flasks which have been rigorously fire tested and drop tested. Even so, John Large makes the point that these flasks would not withstand a typical train tunnel fire where the temperature can reach 1000 degrees Celsius. In such an eventuality, water would be forced out of the flasks and the fuel inside would ignite.  The subsequent radiation could be spread over 6 kilometre and could kill and maim many people resulting in a legacy of cancers and other diseases. In 2011, thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste are being moved across many countries and through densely populated cities. The pro-nuclear lobby believes that no accident, under any circumstances, can happen. This is a rather naïve and dangerous position to take in a world where suicide bombers set out to cause maximum damage and loss of life.[205]

.A plan to transport by rail 44 tonnes of radioactive uranium and plutonium has been opposed by County Councils which are afraid of accidents happening or terrorist attacks.  In late August 2011, it emerged that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) plans to make about 50 rail shipments from the Dounreay nuclear power station at Caithness to Sellafield in Cumbria. [206]  This is a journey of 500 kilometres. A group called “Nuclear-Free Local Authorities claims that the plan breaches important environmental principles one of which is that radioactive waste should be managed as close as possible to where it is produced. They also point out that there is a risk that terrorists might hijack the trains and steal nuclear material which might be used to dirty bombs or crude nuclear weapons.   In response to this argument the NDA point out that the nuclear material from Dounreay is not nuclear waste but nuclear material from a fast breeder reactor programme that requires appropriate management.  They also remind those against transporting nuclear waste that nuclear material is being transported on a  daily basis across Britain for over half a century without any incidents to date.  George Regan the chair of the nuclear-free local authorities and a Labour councilor in Dundee is not convinced. “I am very worried about the movement of such sensitive material across Scotland to Sellafiled.”[207]

The fact that some nuclear waste can remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years make people very nervous about creating long-term repositories of nuclear waste in their communities.  Apart from the difficulty of finding a site which is suitable from a geological and hydrological perspective, people have great difficulty dealing with such long-term projects.  After all modern humans only left Africa about 80,000 years ago.  250,000 years ago our ancestors did not have the full range of verbal skills.

Chapter 8 Nuclear power or renewable energy

Permission to build the Olkiluoto nuclear reactor in Finland given in 2003 was seen as a great boost for the nuclear industry, not just in Europe, but right around the world.  In 2004, the contract price for building a 1,600 megawatt nuclear power station was €3.2 billion.  Olkiluoto is 315 km northwest of Helsinki in Finland. Work began in August 2005.  By August 2009, energy consultant Steve Thomas believed that the scale of the problems encountered while building the Oikiluoto nuclear power station means that the cost will be in the region of  €5.7 billion.[208]

Proponents claim that its walls are thick enough to withstand a plane crashing into the plant. They claim that it also has many more safety features and could withstand a storm surge of up to 11 feet.  The tsunami on the north east coast of Japan was much higher. [209]

Olkiluoto has been plagued with faulty material and planning problems since work began in 2005. It is now four years behind schedule and is now expected to begin generating electricity in 2013.  It is also 90 percent over budget. The final estimate is that it will cost €5.7 billion, which is close to €3,500 per kilowatt. [210]

If it takes almost 10 years to obtain planning permission and to build a nuclear plant, this form of energy can hardly be a serious contender for providing power in the future. The lead time for new plants often has to include upgrading the grid with high-voltage power lines, which also must be cleared by the planning authorities. [211]

Proponents of nuclear energy forget that the industry has benefitted from massive government subsidies.  In the U.S., for example, during the past 15 years the amount of energy produced by wind and nuclear power was almost similar. Nuclear energy produced 2.6 billion kWh, while wind energy produced 1.9 billion kWh. The taxpayers’ subsidy to the nuclear industry was forty times more than what was given to wind energy – $900 million as against $39.4 million. [212] It seems clear even before the Fukushima crisis that, “the economics of nuclear power are such that government subsidies are almost always required to support private sector construction of nuclear plants. Yet, in many countries that wish to develop nuclear energy, limited government resources compete with pressing needs from health, education and poverty reduction programmes.”[213]



Peak Uranium

One of the reasons often given for building nuclear power plants is that oil is running out and, therefore, nuclear plants are needed to provide energy for our modern world. What people forget is that uranium is not very abundant in the world.  In fact it is a rare metal with abundance in the crust of the earth at 4 parts per million. In 2010, for example, the 440 or more nuclear power plants consumed 68,000 tons of uranium. Out of that total, 55,000 tons came from the mining industry and the rest from reprocessed fuel, recycled atomic warheads and other military sources. When these recycling  programmes come to an end, sourcing  uranium will become a real problem for the industry. [214] Because of many uncertainties there is little investment in opening new uranium mines. According to Jean Nortier, chief executive of Uranium One, a mining and  exploration company based in Vancouver, Canada, “current prices are much too low to provide the incentive needed to meeting the medium and long-term demand for uranium.”[215] (The price of uranium had fallen from a peak of $130 per pound of uranium oxide in 2007 to $45 in 2009).

Many scientists are also questioning the estimates which the International Atomic Energy (NEA) published in what has been called Red Book. The 2007 Red Book estimated that there was 5.5 million tonnes of uranium that can be mined for less than $130 per kilo. The 2007 Red Book had the estimate at 4.7 million tonnes. Michael Dittmar, a particle physicist at CERN in Geneva has criticized these estimates. He points out that in Niger the estimates of uranium have fluctuated widely in the past decade.  He is on record as saying that the geology of the region does not support such fluctuations. Other factors such as political maneuvering come into play.[216] Robert Vance a nuclear scientist who works as an analyst at NEA says that, while he cannot rule out such factors, there are strict rules governing resource estimation. “We work hard to ensure that the data is reliable.”[217] He also points to the fact that it is possible to increase the mining of uranium in some countries. Kazakhstan, for example, has increased the production of uranium by 30 percent per annum.  Mining companies face much stricter regulations in developed countries.  Given this uncertain scenario, Dittmar is convinced that “Western countries planning to expand their nuclear capacity without their source of uranium ought to be looking at the figures very closely.”[218]

Given the dangers of nuclear power and the massive cost overruns in building nuclear power stations, governments need to abandon their policy of pretending that nuclear and renewable energy can thrive together. Governments should focus on promoting research and development into a range of possible renewable energy technologies and also on promoting energy efficiency.  This will not be easy as big-oil  companies have huge influence with governments. But unless there is massive investment in a range of renewable energy sources, then the future energy scenario will be quite bleak. People such as Jeremy Leggett argue that by 2013, solar energy will be as cheap as energy from conventional sources.[219] The big difference, in terms of energy policy is that fossil fuel energy is finite and causes global warming, where as solar energy will not run out for a few billion years, at least.

UN Study States that Renewable Energy Technologies could meet the World’s energy needs.

In the first week of May 2011, a 1,000 word Report from the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), examined how renewable energy technologies could meet the energy needs of the world. The Report was entitled Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN). It  claims that almost 80% of the world’s energy supply  could come from renewable sources, within 40 years, especially solar energy.  The Report added the caveat that this goal could only be achieved if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power.[220]

The IPCC Reports also claims that “if the full range of renewable technologies were deployed, the world could keep greenhouse gas concentrations to less than 450 parts per million, the level scientists have predicted will be the limit of safety beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.”[221]

The chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri  argues that it would only cost the world one percent of GDP to achieve this desirable goal. The Report acknowledges that renewable energy has increased rapidly in recent years.  Of the 300 gigawatts of new electricity generation capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009, about 140GW came from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power.

To achieve the goals set out in the report, it will be necessary to invest $5 trillion in the next decade, with an increase to $7 trillion from 2021 to 2030. Ramon Pichs who was the co-chair of the IPCC working group said, . “The report shows that it is not the availability of [renewable] resources but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades. Developing countries have an important stake in the future – this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment.”[222]

In 2008, about 13 percent of the world’s energy came from renewable sources. Wind power was responsible for 2 percent of global energy.  Unfortunately, about 10 percent of the world’s energy requirements came from burning biomass. This is not sustainable as it leads to deforestation, soil erosion, an increase in CO2 emissions and respiratory problems for those those who burn wood to cook their food.

On the cost side, the authors point out that solar energy is still more expensive than energy from fossil fuels. It will mean that production will have to increase, across the spectrum of renewable energies by a factor of 20, if we are to avoid the worst aspects of climate change.

One of the other authors of the Report Sven Teske, from Greenpeace, said that the Report is an invitation to governments to initiate a radical overhaul of their policies and to place renewable energy at the centre of their energy policies.  On the run up to the next major climate conference, COP17 in South Africa in December 2011, the onus is clearly on governments to step up to the mark.”[223]

The report is a disappointment to those people who are promoting wave and tidal energy.  It found that these “were unlikely to significantly contribute to global energy supply before 2020.

A report from Ernst and Young in June 2011, predicted that the price of solar panels is falling so fast that by 2013 they will cost only one half of the price that was paid for solar panels as recently as 2009.[224]  Such a study involves comparing the relative cost of solar energy with other forms of energy. The basic question is how does  solar power compare in terms of the dollar price of each watt of peak capacity with other forms of energy.

In this study Ernst and Young  base their prediction on the fact that the average one-off installation  costs for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels has, in fact, already dropped considerably in relation to the 2009 price.  They are convinced that this will continue.  At present PV installations in Britain are competitive because they are subsidized by the taxpayer.  The study, which is based on brokers and industry  analysis, predicts that large scale solar installations will be cost effective in 2013 without government subsidies. As the cost of PV plummets, the cost of fossil fuel energy will continue to rise.  The chair of the Solar Trade Association (STA) Howard Johns, said the current subsidy for PV makes good economic sense because it contributes to building the capacity of the industry which will further drive costs down.  The medium-term result of these progressive policies is that unsubsidised solar energy will become much more widespread and available. [225]  The conclusion which the Ernst and Young study reached contrasts with the views of the British government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC). They have argued that solar power is still too expensive to warrant serious consideration at this moment in time.  Ben Warren who conducted the study for Ernst and Young argues that the CCC perspective does not take into account the wider economic benefits of solar energy.  He told The Guardian that “being a laggard has never been very successful in terms of capturing the greater share of the value added for the economy….If you create a sustainable market, you will achieve cost savings and drive economic benefits in terms of tax income and job creation.”[226] The Ernst and Young study predicts that by 2016-19, companies which use a lot of electricity will find it cheaper to buy non-subsidized solar energy than by buying their electricity directly from the national grid. The Climate Minister, Greg Barker seems to agree with the Ernst and Young’s view.  He told The Guardian that Britain had under estimated the potential of solar energy and in the light of falling prices he hopes to find “new pathways” for supporting large-scale solar developments.[227] Finally, Ben Warren makes a very important point when he draws attention to the fact that “the energy market is starved of capital –it won’t come from utilities and banks. There’s a desperate need to engage with institutional investors.”[228] Government too show be investing in solar energy in order to decarbonise their economies to avoid catastrophic climate change. But it billions are invested in new nuclear reactors, then there will be less money left to invest in solar and wind energy.

Chapter 9: The Catholic Church and nuclear power

Soon after the Fukushima disaster the Japanese bishops issued a statement stating their continued concern about the Fukushima nuclear accidents that followed the March 11th 2011, earthquake and tsunami. A Japanese bishop told the Fides news agency that he opposes the construction of nuclear power plants worldwide. “The issue about the direction we are taking, to build other nuclear power plants, is an important question,” said Auxiliary Bishop Michael Goro Matsuura of Osaka. “Together with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Japanese Bishops, which I headed up until last year, we have raised awareness to fight the construction of new nuclear power plants in Japan and globally. I believe that this serious incident should be a lesson for Japan and for the entire planet, and will be an incentive to abandon these projects. We call on the solidarity of Christians worldwide to support this campaign.” [229]


In June 2009, the Catholic Bishops of Alberta in Canada issued a document entitled Pastoral Reflections on Nuclear Energy in Alberta. The bishops pointed to the “serious ethical questions that must be adequately addressed before a decision (on nuclear power) is reached and implemented. [230] They questioned whether there was sufficient river water available to meet the needs of the proposed nuclear power plant in Alberta.  They argued that there are other ways to reduce greenhouse gases.  In the face of the potential risks to human beings and the environment, the Bishops called attention to the “precautionary principle.” This moral principal states that, if an action can potentially cause major harm to human beings or the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that the action will not be harmful, the burden of proof that it will not be harmful lies with those who are proposing the action not with those who are opposing it. The bishops are aware that nuclear power plants or trains carrying nuclear waste are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. They raise the cost and value for money of going down the nuclear route and there has been a cost overrun in building many nuclear reactors. [231]  The pastoral calls attention to the lack of a permanent place to store nuclear waste. This means that future generations will have to deal with this carcinogenic and toxic legacy.  They also point out that the risk posed by nuclear reactors is such that it is impossible to get full insurance cover for a nuclear reactor.


Four days before the German government agreed to phase out all Germany’s nuclear reactors by 2022, the German Bishops’ conference published a 52 page document in which it repeated its call to shut down their nuclear reactors as soon as possible. They stated that the production of nuclear energy was “unethical.” The document was published on May 26th 2011 was prepared by a commission of experts under the leadership of Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. The cardinal was also a member of the German Government’s Ethics Commission of safe energy which recently published a report calling for an end to the use of nuclear power. [232]  Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Sunday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (May 29th 2011) said  that he felt a technology that had incalculable consequences for entire generations could not be trusted.[233]


In an article in the monthly magazine Kyeonghyan, the president of the Korean Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Cheju, wrote that nuclear power is a monster which cannot coexist with living things.  He said it is a lie to say that nuclear power is a green or clean energy. He urged the Korean government to review its energy policy.  He said a visit to tsunami-hit Saitama and Sendai dioceses in Japan last month to deliver aid, made him question whether nuclear power is really safe.[234] He went on to say that everyone needs to pay attention to nuclear power as it could lead to a catastrophe. Citing Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, he said: “Our natural environment is God’s gift to everyone, and we must take care of it as we have a responsibility towards the poor, future generations and humanity as a whole.” Bishop Kang said the God-given right to rule the earth is not absolute. “We must limit ourselves when it comes to nature,” he said, adding that nuclear power is beyond that limit.

Nuclear power is a potential “great disaster which can’t be controlled by any human technology.”  He therefore urged people to reflect on society’s preoccupation with consumerism which has led to it consuming too much energy.


In February 2009, the Catholic Bishops’s 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.”[235]  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. [236] There are no nuclear power plants active in the Philippines today.


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.”[237]

The military use of atomic weapons and the impact of 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.”[238]  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 that: 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.” [239]

So “I and many other Japanese bishops started to think about this issue anew. I wanted to write about it from a Christian viewpoint. Pope John Paul II said in many documents that humankind has to be very careful how it uses technology. Generally speaking, God has given us inspiration to invent new technology. This does not mean we should have unlimited progress. We are not perfect. Although at this point we cannot say clearly that we should never use nuclear energy, we need a chance to seriously consider this issue.”

Like the German people the bishop believes that the Japanese should also stop using nuclear energy even if it takes a long time for wind down their nuclear power plants. He was adamant that the Japanese need to think about producing energy in a different way.  He also made the point that renewable forms of energy ought to be promoted.  The more fundamental issues is that “modern society is addicted to energy. It’s like drug. People automatically assume we need more energy.”[240]

So, from the point of view of the evangelical life, the modern world has to stop take this chance to seriously consider our use of energy. Even though solar energy is unlimited, why do we need such a huge amount of energy? Is progress always a good thing? He said that people must consider opting for a more simple lifestyle which will mean using much less energy.  He is adamant that we have to completely change how we think about how we use and produce energy.[241]

Take for example the Amish in the United States. They have a very different lifestyle. They use very little energy, I think. Their lifestyle is an extreme example, but perhaps it is a good example to some degree. It shows that a new type of lifestyle is possible. We cannot force people to live that lifestyle, but we have to acknowledge that there should be limits.”[242]

The Holy See

It seems very strange to me that the Vatican, which in other spheres preaches a pro-life ethic, should endorse civilian nuclear power. At the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA), in September 1982, Mgr Mario Peressin, the Vatican representative at the IAEA at the time, supported the civilian use of nuclear power.  In his address he stated “that the peaceful uses of nuclear  energy had both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of the very application of nuclear energy, whether in agriculture, food preservation, medicine or hydrology were widely recognized. The most important sector, however, was that of energy production for industrial and domestic use at a time when energy sources were becoming increasingly rare and when energy production costs were rising. Nuclear power could contribute to the economic development of the Third World countries and could help prevent the dangerous phenomena of deforestation and desertification due to excessively intensive exploitation of non-renewable energy sources. The benefits of peaceful use of nuclear energy should thus be extended to all countries, in particular to developing countries …..

The use of nuclear power did, however, involve risks, associated either with accidents which might arise at nuclear power stations or with the storage of radioactive waste. Certain groups of naïve idealists and every certain personalities from the scientific,  political, cultural or religious worlds condemn the use of nuclear power simply for that reason.  It seemed more realistic not to overlook any effort to guarantee the safe operation of power stations and the safe disposal of waste and to minimize thereby the risks incurred on the understanding that, as with any human enterprise it was impossible to eliminate them totally.[243]  The best that can be said about this speech in the  light of Fukushima is that the Vatican’s position is very naïve.  It is also very much out of step with statements from Bishops or Bishop Conferences in places where nuclear is a burning issue.

A decade later, Archbishop Donato Squinccianrini went even further and stated that the Holy See believes that all possible efforts should be made to extend to all countries, especially developing ones, the benefits contained in the peaceful use of nuclear power. [244]

In September 1994, Mgr. Mario Zenari addressed the 38 Regular Session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. In defence of nuclear energy he said that the controls which are in place for nuclear energy are more sensitive and stringent than for any other energy source.

In 2006, Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, invited many scientists to a seminar in the Vatican which supported the development of nuclear energy for civilian use. At the seminar he confirmed that the Holy See’s interest in ‘the continuing research on nuclear energy for civilian ends, so rich in technical, cultural and political applications. [245] The Cardinal also continued to articulate the Vatican’s dismissive attitude towards those who are opposed to nuclear power by stating that, “the seminar has taught us that nuclear energy must not be seen, as it often is, through the spectacles of ideological prejudice but with the look of intelligence, human rationality and science, accompanied by the wise exercise of prudence, in view of carrying out the integral and solidaristic development of the human person and nations.”[246]

Orthodox Church

Immediately after the accident in Fukushima Patriarch Bartholomew I  denounced the peaceful use of nuclear power, saying that it is a “provocation” that violates the laws of nature.  Reacting to fears that Japanese nuclear reactors would release large amounts of radiation after their cooling systems were damaged by a massive earthquake, the Ecumenical Patriarch said that nuclear energy is “dangerous to the integrity of the human race.” He expressed dismay that mankind is relying on this source of energy, “thus threatening its survival.” The Orthodox leader, who has made environmentalism a keystone of his public ministry, said that the world should learn to rely on renewable sources of energy. [247]

In the aftermath of the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima and the incompetent way it was handled people in many countries are raising serious questions about nuclear power.  In this book I have tried to deal with many of these issues .  These include uranium mining and the supply and manufacturing of fuel.  There are also concerns about safety, radiation risks in the case of accidents.  If sea-level rising nuclear plants will be vulnerable to flooding.  There are huge economic and ecological costs involved in decommissioning nuclear power plants.

[1]  Richard Gray and Michael Fitzpatrick, “Nuclear firm was warned of tsunami risks,” The Sunday Independent,  March 20th 2011, Page 20.

[2] Hiroko Tabuchi, Keith Bradsher and Matthew S. Wald, “In Japan Reactor Failings, Danger Signs for the U.S.” The New York Times, May 18th 2011, page 1 and 10A.

[3] Ibid page 1.

[4] David McNeill, “Helicopters drop tons of seawater on stricken nuclear plant,” The Independent, March 18th 2011, page 6.

[5] Ian Sample, “Desperation and fear of radiation forces back workers,” The Guardian, March 18th 2011 page 4.

[6] Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, “In Nuclear Crisis, Crippling Mistrust, The New York Times, June 12, 2011.

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] Tania Branigan, “Radiation leak  thwarts bid to regain control of reactors,” The Guardian, March 17th 2011,  page 2.

[11] John Vidal, “Nuclear’s  green cheerleaders forget Chernobyl at our peril,” The Guardian,  April 2, 2011, page 38.

[12]  Ken Belson, “Doubting Assurances, Japanese Find Radioactivity on Their Own,” The New York Times, July 31, 2011.

[13]  ibid

[14]   NORIMITSU ONISHI and MARTIN FACKLER, “Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril,”  The New York Times,  August 8th 2011.

[15] ibid

[16] ibid

[17] ibid

[18]  “After Fukushima – Nuclear dirty tricks,” editorial, The Guardian, August 16th 2011, page 30.

[19] Ibid.

[20] David Jolly and Denise Grady, “Tokyo Says Radiation in Water Puts Infants at Risk,” The New York Times. March 23, 2011. downloaded on 11.

[21]  Hiroko Tabuchi Keit Bradsher and David Jolly, “Japan Encourages a Wider Evacuation from Reactor Area,” The New York Times, March 25, 2011.  www.

[22] Ian Sample and Allegra Stratton, “Race to save Fukushima reactor is lost, says expert,” The Guardian, March 30th 2011, page 1.

[23] Jonathan Watts, “Japan to discharge radioactive water into the Pacific,” The Guardian, April 5, 2011, page 14.

[24]  Ken Belson and Hiroko Tacuchi, “Confidence Slips Away as Japan Battles Nuclear Peril,” The New York Times,

[25]  Ken Belson and Hiroko Tacuchi, “Confidence Slips Away as Japan Battles Nuclear Peril,” The New York Times,

[26] Henry Fountain, “Cleanup Questions as Radiation Spreads” The New York Times, April 1st 2011,

[27]  David McNeill, “Japan to decommission four of six nuclear reactors,” The Irish Times, March 31st 2011, page 13.

[28] Ian Sample, “Radiation could harm Japan’s marine life,” The Guardian, March 31st 2011, page 23.

[29]  ibid

[30] ibid

[31] Justin McCurry, “Nuclear agency raises new Fukushima radiation fears,” The Guardian,  June 8th 2011, page 18.

[32] HIROKO and MATTHEW L WALD, “Damage at a Japanese Reactor I Worse Than Expected,” The New Yorker, March 13, 2011. Page  A8.

[33] ibid

[34] ibid

[35] Andrew Gilligan and Robert Mendick, “Fukushima Fifty in their own words,” The Sunday Telegraph, March 27, 2011, page 17.

[36] Ibid.

[37]  HIROKO TABUCHI,, http://Japanese Workers Braved Radiation for a Temp Job,”   April 9th 2011.

[38]  Ibid.

[39] Ibid

[40] ibid

[41] “Man dies at Japanese nuclear plant” The Irish Times, May 14th 2011,

[42] Ibid.

[43] “Japan: Senior Nuclear Adviser Resigns, Lambasting Government’s Response to Crisis,” The New York Times, April 30, 2011, page A4.

[45] Martin Fackler, “Japan to Cancel Plan to Build More Nuclear Plants,” New York Times, May 12,  2011,  page A8. Matthew L Wald contributed from Washington and Andrew Pollack from Los Angeles.

[46] ibid

[48]  “Kamikaze plant closed”  NewScientist, May 14, 2011, page 4.

[49]  Hiroko Tabuchi, “Japan Premier Wants Shift Away From Nuclear Power,” The New York Times, July 12, 2011.

[50] Martin Fackler and Norikitsu Onishi, “In Japan, A Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency,” The New York Times May 30th 2011,

[51]  Ibid.

[52]  ibid

[54] ibid

[55] HIROKO TABUCHI,  “ August 3rd 2011, “Japan Passes Law Supporting Stricken Nuclear Plant’s Operator,”

[56] ibid

[57] Martin Fackler, “Atomic Bomb Survivors Join Nuclear Opposition,” The New York Times, August 6th 2011.

[58] ibid

[59]  Hiroko Tabuchi,  “Japan Asks Another Nuclear Plant to Shut Down its Reactors,” The New York Times, May 7th 2011, page A5

[60] ibid

[61] ibid

[62]  Leslie Hook, “China halts nuclear projects”, Financial Times, March 17, 2011, page 1.

[63]  Jonathan Watts “China’s cheap nuclear plants ‘increase risk’” The Guardian, August 26, 2011, page 25.

[64] ibid

[65] ibid

[66] Derek Scally, “Merkel feels the pain after defeat in election,” The Irish Times, March 28, 2011, page 9

[67] Judy Dempsey, “Panel Urges Germany to Close Nuclear Plants by 2021,” New York Times, May 12, 2011, page B7.

[68] ibid

[69] ibid

[70] Ibid.

[71] Judy Dempsey and Jack Ewing, “In Reversal, Germany to Close Nuclear Plants by 2022,”  New York Times, May 30th 2011,

[72] Ibid.

[73] Helen Pidd, “Merkel makes move amid mass anti-nuclear protests,” The Guardian, May 31st 2011,   page 17.

[74] Paul Dorfman, “Who to trust on nuclear,” The Guardian, April 14th 2011, page 27.

[75] David Strahan, “Nein Danke!” NewScientist, 30th July 2011, page 24.

[76] ibid

[77] Toby Helm, “Nuclear might cease to be an option for UK, admits Huhne,” The Observer, March 20th 2011, page 11.

[78]  Steven Morris, “Hinkley C nuclear station gets green light for preparatory work,” The Guardian, July 29, 2011. (downloaded on August 5, 2011).

[79] ibid

[80] ibid

[81][81] ibid

[82]  ibid

[83]  Fiona Harvey, Sellafield Mox nuclear fuel  plant to close Guardian August 4th,  2011, The Guardian, August 4th 2010.

[84] ibid

[85]  Editorial, “Plant closure at Sellafield,” The Irish Times, August 9, 2011, page 13.

[86] ibid


[88] Leigh Philips, “Europe divided over nuclear power after Fukushima disaster,  The Guardian, May 25th 2011.

[89] Ian Sample, “Japan crisis tests carbon emission cuts as nations end atomic option,” The Guardian, May 30th 2011, page 6.

[90] John Hooper, “Blow to Berlusconi as nuclear power rejected,” The Guardian, June 14th 2011, page 26.

[91] Benedetta Brevini, The Guardian, “The day Italians finally said no to Silvio Berlusconi,” June 14th 2011.

[92] Matthew L. Ward, “Nuclear Plant, Left for Dead, Shows a Pulse,” The New York Times, June 15, 2011, downloaded on June 16th 2011.

[93]  ibid

[94] ibid

[95] ibid

[96]  Ibid.

[98] Matthew L. Wald, “If Indian Point Closes, Plenty of Challenges,” The New York Times, July 13th 2011


[99] Robin McKie, “Tokyo ministers ignored expert’s warning on risk of building reactors that had ‘fatal flaws’” The Observer, March 13, 2011, page 3.

[100] ibid

[101] Martin Fackler, “Japan Plans Nuclear Regulatory Reform, New York Times, June 21, 2011.

[102] Hiroko Tabuchi, Norimitsu Onishi and Ken Belson, “Japan Extended Reactor’s Life, Despite Warning,” The New York Times, March 21, 2011. downloaded on March 22, 2011.

[103] Julian Borger, “Russian expert accuses watchdog of negligence,” The Guardian, March 16, 2011, page 6.

[104] Justin McCurry, “Safety lapses at stricken nuclear plant revealed,” The Guardian, March 23rd 2011, page 3.

[105]  Ibid page 3.

[106] Robin McKie, op.cit., page 3.

[107]  David McNeill, “Emperor breaks his silence as nuclear panic engulfs Japan,” The Independent, March 17th 2011, page 4.

[108]  Jeffrey Kluger, “Fear Goes Nuclear,” Time (magazine), March 28, 2011, page 27.

[109] Michael Brooks, “Is it all over for nuclear?”NewScientist, 22 April206,  page 37.

[110]  Harold Jackson, “US nuclear plant leak worst ever,” The Guardian, March 31st 2011, page 32.

[111]  Sharon Begley and Andrew  Murr, “Disaster Plan”, The Irish Examiner, March 22, 2011, page 13.

[112] ibid

[113] ibid

[115] Matthew L Wald, “Nuclear Plants Safety Rules Inadequate, Group Says,” The New York Times, June 15th 2011

[116]  Helen Caldicott ,  “How nuclear apologists mislead the world over radiation,” The Guardian, April 11, 2011,

[117]  ibid

[118]  ibid

[119] John Vidal, “Hell  on Earth,” The Guardian, Society/Guardian/Environment, 26th April 2006,  page 9.

[120]  John Vidal, “Nuclear’s green cheerleaders forget Chernobyl at our peril,” The Guardian, April 2, 2011, page 38.

[121]  Ibid.

[122]  Richard Stone, “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl,” National Geographic, April 2006, page 36 and 50.

[123] Michael McCarthy, “After decades of lies, nuclear reassurances now fall on deaf ears,” The Independent, March 16th 2011, page 2.

[124] Paul Brown, “Windscale’s terrible legacy,” The Guardian, August 26th 1990. Page 9

[126]  Robin McKie, “Windscale radiation twice as bad as predicted,” The Observer, October 7th 2007, page 25.

[127] ibid

[128] Rob Edwards, “Windscale fallout blew right across Europe,” NewScientist, October 6th 2007, page 11.

[129] Paul Brown, op.cit.,  page 9.

[130] Robin McKie, “The Most Dangerous Place in Europe,” The Observer, 19th April  2009, page 20.

[131] ibid

[132]  Ibid page 21

[133] Paul Brown, “Windscale’s terrible legacy,” The Guardian, August 26,1999,  page 9.

[134]  Dr Helen Caldicott, “Clean power source should carry a global warning,” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 27th 2001, page 8

[135] ibid

[136]  Liam Reid, “Sellafield operators sued over major leak at processing plant”, The Irish Times, May 4, 2006, page 8.

[137] Colin Brown, “Nuclear clean-up bill £12bn higher than predicted.” The Independent, January 30th 2008, page 18.

[138]  John Vidal and Ian Sample, “Documents reveal hidden fears over Britain’s nuclear plants,” The Guardian, July 5th 2006. Page 1.

[139]  Ibid page 2.

[140] Rob Edwards, “Leaked nuclear reports reveals three incidents at British plants,” The Guardian, 21st April 2011, page 13.

[141] Terry Macalister, “Crumbling stores, leaky plants and dangers of old age.” The Guardian,  October 21st 2009, page 12.

[142] Rob Edwards, “UK bid to play down Japan crisis revealed: PR drive  two days after Fukushima to shore up British nuclear ambitions,” The Guardian, July 1st 2011, page 1.

[143]  ibid

[144] Ibid.

[146] Fiona Harvey, “Anxiety grows over use of nuclear energy,” The Guardian, March 24th 2011, page 29.

[147]  Muriel Boselli, “French nuclear plant may have been leaking ‘for years’”,  Irish Independent,  July 19th 2008, page 26.

[149] ibid

[150] Julian Bolger, The Guardian,  March 16th 2011, page 6.

[151] Andrew Buncombe, “No Home. No Help. No Hope,” The Independent, March 17th 2011,page 2.

[152]  Helen Caldicott ,  “How nuclear apologists mislead the world over radiation,” The Guardian, April 11, 2011,

[153] Richard Wachman, “Tokyo nuclear power company turns toxic,” The Guardian, April 6th 2011, page 29.

[154] James Glanz and William J. Broad, “U.S. Sees Array of New Threats at Japan’s Nuclear Plant, New York Times, April 5,2011

[155]  ibid

[156] Fintan O’Toole, “Enticed by long-odds Fukushima gamble,” The Irish Times, March 22, 2011, page 16.

[157] Dr William Reville, “Science in a world of anxiety,” The Irish Times, November 1st, 2001, page 8

[158] . Daniel Nasaw, “US Scientist’s suicide may solve anthrax murder mystery”,  The Guardian, August 2, 2008, page 20.

[160] RTE News, “ people killed in earthquake in Spain”  downloaded on May  12, 2012.

[161] Edwin S.Lyman, September 2004, “Chernobyl on the Hudson? The Health and Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant”>

[162]  Mark Henderson, “Reactors ‘vulnerable to air attacks’” The Irish Independent, September 27, 2011, page 17.

[163] Nuclear 9/11?, NewScientist, 27, 2006, page 6.

[165]  Mohamed El Baradel, 2005, “Nuclear Terrorism: Identifying and Combating the Risks” Statement of the IAEA Director of General, March 16th 2005 Center/Statements/2005/ebsp2005n003.html>

[167] .  Eric Lipton, “Testers Slip Radioactive Materials Over BordersNew York Times, March 28th 2006. www.nytimes/march 28, 2006

[168] David Adam, “Sellafield’s plutonium store ‘vulnerable to terrorist attack,” The Guardian,  Sept 21, 2007′

[170] ibid

[171] . Dave Toke, “Doubters; ‘It strains the logic of energy’, The Guardian, Society/Guardian/Environment, October 5, 2005, page 9.

[172] . Walt Patterson, “Time for an upgrade”, The Guardian, May 17, 2006, SocietyGuardianEnvironment, page 8.

[173].David Toke, op. cit..

[174] David Teather, “Ten to follow: UK’s nuclear future is mapped out as race to tackle climate change hots up,” The Guardian, November 10th 2009, page 4

[175]  Michael Brooks “Is it all over for nuclear power, New Scientist, April 22, 2006, page 36.

[176] Tom Burke, “Nuclear industry will only build stations the prime minister wants if he forces up electricity prices”, The Guardian,  May 18, 2006, page 34.

[177] Paul Marks, “Seismic zones share out nuclear problems,”  NewScientist, March 19th 2011, page 8.

[178] John Vidal, “Japan’s avoidable accidents make folly of nuclear energy clear,” The Irish Times, March 15, 2011, page 15.

[179]  Paul Marks, op.cit., page 8.

[180]  Matthew L. Lald, “After Quake, Virginia Nuclear Plant Takes Stock,” The New York Times, September 8th 2011.

[181]  ibid

[182] Barbara Fraser, “Disaster raises ethical queries about energy,” The Catholic Times, April 13, 2011, page 7

[183]. ibid 37.

[184] Mycle Schneider, Atony Froggatt, Steve Thomas, “The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011, Nuclear Power in a Post Fukushima World, WorldWatch Institute, Washington DC, April 2011.

[185] Robyn Lim “So much for Japan’s nuclear taboo,”  Herald-Tribune, June 13, 2022, page 8

[186]  NewScientist 27th August 2011, page 4.

[187] Natalie Kopytko, “Nuclear summer?, NewScientist May 21st 2011, page 22.

[188]  Matthew L. Wald, ““Concern at Nebraska Reactors as Floodwaters RiseThe New York Times,  June 26th 2011.

[189] “Fire service scrambles to protect US nuclear weapons lab from blaze,” The Irish Times, June 30th 2011, page 11.

[190] David Adams, “Sellafield’s plutonium store ‘vulnerable to terrorist attack,’” The Guardian, September 21, 2007, downloaded on March 31st, 2011.

 [191]  Ibid.

[192] Jon Hughes, ibid, page 45.

[193].  Australian Conservation Foundation, 2005, Submission to Standing Committee on Industry and Resources, Inquiry into Developing Australia’ Non-fossil Fuel Energy Industry.>

[194] Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Reference and Legislation Committee, October 2003”Regulating the Ranger, Jabiluka, Berverly and Honeymoon uranium mines”,>

[195] Jon Hughes, ‘Conversion and Enrichment’, The Ecologist, July – August, 2006, 047.

[196] Steve Thomas, The Economics of Nuclear Power: An Update, Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung European Eunion, Brussels, 15 Rue d’Arlon, B-1050 Brussels, page 17.

[197]  David Hencke, “£73bn to take nuclear plants out of service,” The Guardian, January 30th 2008, page 5

[198] Colin Brown, “Nuclear clean-up bill £12bn higher than predicted.” The Independent, January 30th 2008, page 18.

[199]  Robin McKie, “The Most Dangerous Place In Europe,” The Observer, 19th of April, 2009. Page 20-21.

[200] Terry Macalister, “Till for Britain’s nuclear clean-up increases by another £10 billion,” The Guardian, July 18th 2008, page 17.

[201] ibid

[202] By JOHN M. BRODER and MATTHEW L. WALD,  “Report Blasts Management Style of Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman,” The New York Times, June 11, 2011.

[203] Matthew L Wald, “Japan Nuclear Crisis Revives Long U.S. Flight on Spent Fuel,” The New York Times, March 23, 2011. downloaded on April 8th 2011.

[204]  Allison Macfarlane, “No time to waste,” NewScientist 27th August 2011, page 26-7

[205] . Madeleine Brettingham, “Tracking hazard”, Guardian SocietyGuardian Environment, May 31, 2006, page 8.

[206] Rob Edwards, “Councils oppose new nuclear train plan,” The Guardian 27th August 2011, page 2.

[207]  ibid

[208]  Paul Dorfman, “Who to trust on nuclear?” The Guardian, April 14th 2011, page 27.

[209]  Matti Huuhtanen, “Disaster Proofing,” Irish Examiner, March 29, 2011, page 13.

[211] Ibid page 12

[212]  Antony Froggart and Mycle Schneider, Systems for Change: Nuclear Power Vs Energy Efficiency +Renewables, Heinrich Boll Stiftung Publication on Ecology, February 2010, page 46.

[214] Andrew McKillop, “Peak Uranium-And other Threats to Nuclear Power,” April 14th 2011.

[215] Justin Mullins, “Warning on global uranium supplies,  NewScientist, November 28th 2009, page 10

[217] ibid

[218]  ibid

[220]  Fiona Harvey, “Renewable Energy Can Power the World, Says Landmark UN Study,” The Guardian, May 9th 2011,  downloaded on May 9, 2011.

[221]  Ibid.

[222]  Ibid.

[223] ibid

[224]  Duncan Clark, “Solar energy will soon make commercial sense as panel costs plummet, says Ernst & Young, The Guardian, June 21st 2011. Page 25.

[225] Ibid.

[226] ibid

[227] ibid

[228]  ibid

[230] downloaded on April 5th  2011.

[231] Ibid.

[232] “Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, “Bishops applaud nuclear phase-out,” The Tablet, June 4th 2011, page 30.

[234]  Nuclear power ‘monster,’ Bishop warns

Posted By Ivan On May 18, 2011 @ 4:58 pm In UCAN News

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

[237] Joshua J. McElwee,  “Nearing Hiroshima Day, Japanese bishop calls for discernment on nuclear energy,” National Catholic Reporter,  August 4th 2011,

[238] ibid

[239] Ibid…

[240] ibid


[242]  ibid

[243] International Atomic Energy Agency, General Conference, 26th regular session, (20th to 24th September 1982, record of the 20th plenary meeting held at the Jeue Hofburg, Vienna.

[244] “Wise atomic energy plan is needed,” Archbishop Squicciarini address (to the) International Atomic Energy Conference in Vienna, L’Osservatore Romano,  September 30th 1991, page 3.

[245], “Holy See Backs Civilian Use of Nuclear Energy, Vatican City, 27th April 2006.

[246] Ibid.

UN Climate Talks in Bonn, June 6 to 17, 2011 Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC


The UN sponsored climate change  talks began in Bonn, Germany on June 6th 2011 and will run until June 17th 2011.  These talks will attempt to revive negotiations on various aspect of climate change  so that a fair, ambitious and  legally binding treaty, a successor to the Kyoto Protocol,  can be signed at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change  (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa, later in the year.

While the UN negotiation process on climate change was revived and strengthened at the Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010, none of the hard decisions were taken, especially when it came to pledging serious cuts in CO2 levels  from economically rich countries.  There was general agreement among the participants at Cancun that deep cuts in emissions “are required ….. so as to hold the increase in global average temperatures below two degrees  Celsius.”

In order to inject a sense of urgency into the Bonn  negotiations, Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, reminded the participants on the first day of the Conference that greenhouse gas emissions had climbed dramatically in 2010. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking towards what are called “tipping points.”   An average rise in global temperature of four degrees Celsius would have a devastating impact on the life-systems of the planet and the knock-on effect on people would be devastating.

In a report  published in April 2012, entitled “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene,”  a working group commissioned by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences state that “some of the current and anticipated impacts of climate change include losses of coral reefs, forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems; a rate of species extinction many times faster than the historic average; water and food shortages for many vulnerable people. Increasing sea level rise and stronger storm surges threaten vulnerable ecosystems and peoples, especially in low-lying islands and coastal nations.”

The task facing the negotiators during the next two weeks in Bonn and later in the year in Durban was not made any easier by the release of data on greenhouse gas emissions by the International Energy Agency ((IEA). In 2010,  a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere. According to a spokesperson for IEA “it is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”[1]

The IEA’s figures are confirmed by preliminary data from the US government’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory at Mauna Moa in Hawaii  which show that carbon dioxide levels are at the highest levels on record with 394.7 parts per million (ppm): an increase of nearly 1.6ppm compared to last year.[2]

Lord Stern, author of the Stern Report on the economic implications of climate change was clearly taken aback by the data. According to him, “these figures indicate that (emissions) are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections, such a path  .. would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4 degrees C by 2.100.” [3] He went on to point out that “such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the  planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.” [4]  It is also important to remember that this dramatic increase in CO2 emissions happened during the most serious economic recession since the 1930s. There was a small decline in emissions in 2009 due to the financial crisis.   Unless corrective action is taken soon emission will increase dramatically because almost every country in the world is seeking ways to boost their economic growth and, to date, no country  has yet has found a way to promote economic growth without increasing carbon emissions.

The European section of Climate Action Network (CAN), one of the largest non-government organizations which monitors the actions of governments on climate change, said that the weak response of Climate Commissioner Hedegaard to the IEA data in the run  up to the Bonn Conference was deplorable.

Fatih Biro, the chief economist at the IEA said that disaster could be averted if governments head the warming and are  willing to take bold, decisive and urgent action soon.   CAN-Europe asks EU policy makers to implement a −40% emissions reduction target by 2020.

[1]  Fiona Harvey, “Worst ever CO2 emissions leave Climate on the brink,” The Guardian,  May 30th 2012, page 1 and 2

[2] John Vidal, “Carbon dioxide levels hit new peak despite recession and political will,” The Guardian,  June 1st 2011,page 10.

[3] ibid

[4]  ibid

No Breakthrough at Bonn Climate Change Conference Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC


At the end of the Climate Change Conference in Bonn (June 6th to 17th ), Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that the negotiations on climate change were “the most important negotiation the world has ever faced.” [1] Unfortunately, there was no dramatic break-through at the Bonn conference. Maybe it is too much to expect that the UNFCCC multi-track negotiation process can deliver a decisive outcomes.  Figueres appeared to acknowledge this herself when she said that  “governments, business organisations and civil society can’t solve the climate (problem) with a single treaty.”[2]

In reality unless the various parties to the negotiations are more flexible at the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) in  Durban in late November and early December 2011, then the goal of keeping the average increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius which was set at the Copenhagen meeting in 2009, will not be possible.   Agreement in Durban is essential, because the Kyoto Protocol (KP), which is the only current legally binding treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), expires in 2012.  A breakdown in negotiations in Durban could lead to a free-for-all which would see GHG emissions soar rather than fall, with horrendous consequences for everyone, especially the poor of the world.

The most important goal of any climate change agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In the language of the UNFCCC this is called mitigation.  During much of the past 10 years the European Union has given a lead in setting reasonable challenging mitigation targets for the member states.  This too is beginning to change. At the  conclusion of the Bonn talks the Jurgen Lefevere, the EU’s climate policy coordinator, said that it was not feasible to expect the 27  member states of the EU to sign up to a renewal of the K P  unless other countries take their responsibilities seriously.  He pointed out that the EU’s  GHG emission is only responsible for 11 per cent of global emissions. He stated that “we need a solution for the remaining 89 per cent as well.”  Other  major emitters such as the U.S. and China must come on board if a comprehensive solution is going to be found in Durban.[3]

The most disappointing development on this front is that countries, which were very much involved in creating and designing the K P have signalled that they plan to abandon the Kyoto Protocol when it expires next year.  These countries are Japan, were the Protocol was first negotiated, Russia which brought the treaty into forces when it signed the protocol, and Canada which launched the  negotiations for the second commitment period to K P  at the Montreal conference in 2005.

Equally unhelpful were the comments of the chief US negotiator Jonathan Pershing. He ruled out making any further commitments beyond the 17 per cent  cut in emissions by 2020. He gave the usual excuse that the U.S. is not “prepared to have a legal agreement that would apply to us and not to others.”[4]  This shows no awareness whatever of  the historic contribution which the U.S. and Europe have made for over a century and a half to increasing carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere which is responsible for triggering the warming of the atmosphere.  It also means that there is little possibility of closing, what is now being called the Gigatonne, Gap between what has been  pledged by many countries and the 2 degree target.  The position of the UNFCCC  has been that every country must act “in a  spirit of common but differentiated responsibility.”  This position was endorsed in a important paper entitled the “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene,” from the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.


While some progress on a Green Climate Fund was made at Bonn, there is little point in having a well structured and managed fund unless there is a substantial amount of money in the kitty.   Concrete decisions must be made in Durban to guarantee that the climate fund will reach $100 billion by 2020.  Here again the U.S. negotiators at Bonn were trying to block any progress on this front.  Tim Gore, Oxfam’s climate change policy advisor that the  U.S. had “done its best (in Bonn) to block any meaningful discussions  on the sources of climate finance from 2013 to 2020.”[5] Without such funds farmers and other sectors in poor countries will suffer greatly because they will not be in a position to adapt to the climate change which is already underway.

[1] Frank McDonald, “EU not prepared to go it alone on Kyoto nenewal,” The Irish Times, June 18th 2011, page 11.


[2] Ibid.

[3]  ibid

[4] ibid

[5]  ibid