Nuclear energy needs greater safety guarantees, pope says

By Philip Pullella
Pope Francis speaks during a news conference onboard the papal plane on his flight back from a trip to Thailand and Japan

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) - Pope Francis, who met victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while in Japan, said on Tuesday that nuclear energy should not be used until there are ironclad guarantees that it is safe for people and the environment.

Speaking to reporters aboard the plane returning to Rome from his trip to Asia, Francis renewed a call for a total ban on nuclear weapons, including their possession for the purpose of deterrence.

Francis said declarations on the immorality of the use or possession of nuclear weapons would be incorporated in the Church's universal catechism, a compilation of Catholic teachings and rules.

The pope comforted victims of the 2011 Fukushima disaster on Monday in Tokyo and noted a call by Japan's Catholic bishops to abolish nuclear power outright.

Around 18,000 people died or were classified as missing after the so-called Triple Disaster, when a massive earthquake set off a tsunami - in some places 30 metres high - destroying a wide swathe of Japan's northeastern coast and triggering a nuclear meltdown at the plant.

"The use of nuclear energy is at the limit (of safety) because we still have not managed to achieve total security," Francis said.

"In my personal opinion, I would not use nuclear energy until there is total security. There is not enough security to guarantee that there will not be a disaster," Francis added.


Francis said assertions that nuclear accidents were rare were insufficient because effects of radiation are felt for decades on people and the environment, such as in the area around the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine which was crippled by a meltdown in 1986.

Francis, who wrote a major encyclical in 2015 on protection of the environment and the effects of global warming, said humanity had gone beyond the limit in violating nature.

As examples, he listed the overuse of pesticides and dispensing growth hormones to animals destined for human consumption.

"The (need for the) protection of the environment has gotten to the point where it is either now or never," he said.

Without naming countries, Francis accused states of practising 'armament hypocrisy', saying nations of Christian tradition "speak of peace but live off weapons. This is called hypocrisy".

Francis said the United Nations does much good around the world but criticised the system that gives veto power to only a few nations in the Security Council.

"Without meaning any offence to anyone, think of the (UN) Security Council: if here is a problem with weapons and everybody votes in favour of avoiding a bellicose action ... and one with veto power votes no, everything stops," he said.

The Security Council has five permanent members with veto power - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

"I have heard people say that the United Nations should move forward and give up the right of veto of some nations ... It would be beautiful if everyone had the same right," Francis said.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Ed Osmond)