FSPC ethicist Otto Schäfer attends international conference on Fukushima disaster in Japan

On March 13, Otto Schäfer, Senior Officer of Theology and Ethics of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, discussed spiritual and ethical questions related to energy supply in the course of the International Conference on the East Japan Disaster in Sendai. The pastor and biologist had been invited by the Protestant Churches of Japan. Three years after the Fukushima disaster, the churches are still strongly questioning the continued use of nuclear energy.
The United Church of Christ in Japan / Against the Myth of the Safety of Nuclear Energy - International Conference on the East Japan Disaster

The shock of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima caused by a tsunami on March 11, 2011, put nuclear energy at the center of Japan’s public discourse. Although interest in this subject has somewhat waned by now, the Protestant Churches in Japan still consider it an extremely urgent issue.

Since 2011, the United Church of Christ in Japan not only engages in aid projects for victims, it also criticizes the “myth of safe nuclear energy” and is intensely involved in investigating alternative energy sources. It joins its voice with others criticizing the communication politics of TEPCO, the company operating the nuclear power plant, and Japanese authorities in this matter. Three years after the disaster, information about the event still remains sketchy and incomplete.

The international conference was held March 11 to 14 at Tohoku Gakuin University in the city of Sendai – less than 100 km away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The 185 church representatives, most of whom had come from South Korea, Taiwan, Germany and Switzerland, shared their thoughts on nuclear energy use. They also held a memorial service to commemorate the catastrophe of March 11, 2011.

“The issue of energy raises important ethical questions,” said Otto Schäfer, the FSPC’s ethics officer, on March 13 in Sendai. “How can we bear the burdens piled on us in the form of toxic waste, pollution, risks and disasters? These problems cannot be solved by technical and economic considerations alone. They demand ethical decisions. How can we build an energy economy that respects human dignity and protects our beautiful earth?” asked Rev. Dr. Otto Schäfer.

The age of fossil energy is nearing its end, Schäfer emphasized. He compared the most common reactions to this fact with the five stages of grief as described by Swiss psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. The transition to the “post-fossil” era can be understood as a necessary learning process, a trial that will ultimately strengthen those who undergo it, the theologian concluded.

Besides Otto Schäfer, who had been invited to speak, the Swiss delegation also included Magdalena Zimmermann representing mission 21 and Peter Dettwiler, coordinator of the Department of Ecumenism, Mission and Development Cooperation (OeME) of the Reformed Church of Zurich, representing the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches. An amount of roughly 390,000CHF, which was collected in Swiss congregations after the disaster in March 2011 by mission 21 and the FSPC, among others, was used to support various projects benefiting the inhabitants of the Fukushima region.

» Report on the conference by FSPC delegate Peter Dettwiler (in German)