Quaker Earthcare Witness: Minute on Nuclear Fission in Light of the Disaster in Japan

We are horrified and saddened by the staggering physical, human, and environmental damage that has been suffered by Japan following recent major earthquakes and major tsunamis. We are deeply concerned about ongoing radioactive releases— with potentially severe global impact—from several disabled nuclear fission reactors, and we pray that authorities will spare no effort in containing the leaks, providing humanitarian relief, and restoring disrupted communities and ecosystems.

Looking beyond immediate safety concerns raised by the crisis in Japan, we affirm our opposition to all use of nuclear fission to generate electricity because we find this technology to be incompatible with our vision of a just and ecologically sustainable world. Along with industrial agriculture and genetic engineering, nuclear-fission engineering emerges from a narrow, human- centered technological worldview that does not recognize the ecological principles that govern all life on Earth. It is a relic of Cold War-era thinking, which is biased toward large-scale, centrally controlled systems, even though most electrical power uses are relatively small-scale and widely dispersed. As part of a powerful military-industrial complex, nuclear fission tends to further concentrate power and wealth at the expense of democratic values, community wellbeing, economic justice, ecological balance, and personal freedom.

Proponents of nuclear fission and other advanced technological systems typically cite pressures to keep up with ever-expanding consumption and population growth. They do not acknowledge that on a finite planet, growth inevitably comes to an end, often tragically, and that the current economic model is based on endless growth. They tend to underestimate human fallibility and the limitations inherent in the laws of nature, including the law of unintended consequences.

The disaster in Japan has exposed the vulnerability of many older plants to disruption of vital reactor cooling systems and breaching of containment structures. We join others in calling for the orderly shutdown of all nuclear plants of any age that, due to design flaws, careless site selection, and inadequate means for preventing and responding to such emergencies, pose unacceptable risks to the public, to the non-human environment, and to future generations. We also oppose relicensing of facilities that are nearing the end of the period for which they were designed to operate safely.

We oppose as well the construction of new nuclear power plants, both in Japan and around the globe, for a host of practical and economic reasons that are commonly brought up in debates about fission-powered generation and the nuclear waste-disposal dilemma and which have been well documented in independent publications and websites.

We call attention to a number of scientific studies that dispute the claim that fission-powered plants are "carbon free" and therefore can play a significant role in controlling climate change, as well as the claim that radioactive releases during routine activities of the nuclear industry do not pose significant health or environmental risks.

We encourage governments and nonprofit organizations to give priority to public education about the greenhouse gas emissions and radiation hazards associated with the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

We urge all concerned citizens, including Friends around the world, to work individually and collectively with legislators and lobbying groups to encourage the development of appropriately scaled renewable energy systems and to eliminate subsidies for nuclear fission, coal, oil, natural gas, and other industries that are environmentally disruptive and ecologically unsustainable.

We urge Friends to reduce their personal consumption of electricity that comes from nuclear fission and fossil fuels and to obtain the electricity that they do use from truly renewable sources as much as possible.

QEW Steering Committee, at the Cenacle Retreat & Conference Center,
Chicago, Ill., April 8, 2011