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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

New quake, tsunami spotlight Japanese bishops’ anti-nuclear stance

A strong subsea earthquake triggered a tsunami alert along Japan’s northeastern Pacific coast at dawn on 22nd November, sending residents running for high ground and unleashing a brief nuclear drama in an unwelcome reminder of the disaster in the same area five years ago.

The tsunami was small, showing up as a surge of about 4 1/2 feet in the Port of Sendai and less elsewhere. But it sparked evacuations in communities maimed by the March 2011 tsunami, which left nearly 19,000 people dead or missing.

“There’s a tsunami warning for Fukushima prefecture,” an urgent-voiced NHK TV announcer said minutes after the quake jolted residents from their sleep. “Go to elevated ground or a high building. Do not approach the coast as spectators.”

Within an hour or two, calm returned.

“Nothing happened,” Noriaki Takeda, a parish worker at Ishinomaki Catholic Church, said by phone from the coastal city. “We have no reports of damage.”

The November quake triggered a brief nuclear drama when the operator of the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant reported the failure of a cooling unit for hundreds of used fuel rods. In 2011, loss of power to cooling systems at sister unit, the Fukushima No. 1 plant, led to explosions and three reactor meltdowns, and the radioactive contamination of swaths of land.

The Catholic Church in Japan is a vocal critic of nuclear power. After the 2011 catastrophe, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan demanded that the nation pull the plug on nuclear power and dismantle its 50 or so operable reactors. The bishops said people had disregarded the wisdom to know their own limits, and that the disaster showed nuclear safety was a myth. In 2011, around 150,000 residents fled their homes in evacuations or in fear of contamination, and there were widespread anti-nuclear protests.

In November, the bishops issued a new appeal, urging international solidarity over the long-term “harm” caused by nuclear power and the damage it may inflict on human dignity. The conference urged bishops in other countries to unite in opposition to nuclear power, saying it believes the Church in Korea is already on side.

Picture: Workers look at a floodgate under construction after tsunami warning was lifted, in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. Coastal residents fled to higher ground as a powerful earthquake sent a series of moderate tsunamis toward Japan’s northeastern shore Tuesday and fuelled concerns about the Fukushima nuclear power plant destroyed by a much larger tsunami five years ago. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi).