By Linda Unger
Tampa, Florida, May 2, 2012—After a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan last year unleashed a devastating tsunami that in turn provoked dangerous meltdowns in three nuclear reactors, The United Methodist Church today updated its resolution urging responsible, safe use of nuclear energy in the United States.
Delegates to the 2012 General Conference, the church’s governing body meeting in Tampa this week, passed the resolution in its plenary session on May 2. The cautions of the existing resolution were based on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
“The nuclear crisis in Japan urges us to redouble our vigilance with regard to nuclear safety,” said James Rollins, communications director for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “We still don’t know—and won’t know for several years yet—the real consequences of the Japan meltdowns.”
Rollins accompanied UMCOR’s International Disaster Response head, Melissa Crutchfield, on a visit to Japan last month to meet with partners who are addressing a number of issues related to the triple earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant disaster, including advocacy for safe and responsible use of nuclear energy.
One of those partners in Japan, Asian Rural Institute (ARI) uses Geiger counters and gamma-ray spectrometers purchased with UMCOR funds to monitor radiation levels in soil, water, and the food ARI grows. The institute offers radiation-measuring services to surrounding communities as well, so that they, too, can check for unsafe levels of radiation around their homes.
“We heard a lot of concern surrounding the nuclear contamination part of the disaster. It weighs heavily on survivors’ minds, and there is a lot of anxiety around it,” Crutchfield said. The Tokyo Electric Power Company said that the accident probably released more radioactive material than the Chernobyl accident, making this the worst nuclear accident in history.
UMCOR partner Japan Ecumenical Disaster Response Office (JEDRO) of the ecumenical National Christian Council of Japan (NCCJ) is providing both information and advocacy about nuclear safety in Japan. UMCOR’s support for JEDRO has allowed the organization to purchase Geiger counters and gamma-ray spectrometers for community use and more than 200 smaller versions for personal use in monitoring radiation poisoning in soil and produce, as well as around schools and neighborhoods.
“They will help farmers decide whether to grow produce and help consumers decide whether to buy, and they will help all to avoid unnecessary exposure,” Crutchfield said. The grant also supports JEDRO’s advocacy efforts with Japanese leaders.
UMCOR also supports Church World Service’s psychosocial work with Japanese disaster survivors, including addressing the psychosocial fallout from the nuclear meltdowns.
“In March 2011, the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the coastal communities of Japan highlighted the vulnerability of nuclear reactors to natural disasters,” says Wednesday’s amendment to The United Methodist Church’s “Nuclear Safety in the USA” resolution, before detailing risks in the US.
Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.