A Background Briefing on Radioactive Pollution
SECTION 4 of Internet Edition
WHY CONTINUE PRODUCTION?
There is no solution. It is not known how to detoxify a radioactive particle, except by letting it spend itself through time, during which it will continue to contaminate and damage all life forms with which it comes in contact. How, then, shall we proceed?
The Chernobyl catastrophe was the final argument, according to Gorbachev. At that point "all of us understood the kind of monster we had created" (1994). The Ukrainian poet and playwright Ivan Drach said, "For the first time we understand what sovereignty means, what democracy means, what freedom means. The Ukraine has been sacrificed. This nation, which possesses thousands of years of history, is now on its knees, its radioactive knees. This is not drama; this is tragedy. But the most important thing is the children. Without healthy children, we have no future" (1991).
Why have we not simply ceased production? How is it we have accepted the continued production of radioactive toxins and the stockpiling and dumping of their wastes?
To begin with, world power is still measured in terms of plutonium, the "deadly gold of the Nuclear Age" (International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research 1993). Holding veto power on the United Nations Security Council are the five nations who have atomic bomb capability. "The question is: Which would be preferred by most human beings-a world in which possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons is allowed for some but forbidden for others, or one in which they are completely outlawed, with no exceptions?" (Taylor 1996) Non-nuclear states are afraid of being left out of the "nuclear Mafia."
Moreover, the centralized nature of an energy industry based on nuclear power plants makes it very attractive to multinational investment. If a country can be convinced to commit to nuclear power as its major energy source, the controlling corporation is almost guaranteed years of profit. Moreover, the nuclear industry has managed to convince governments to underwrite much of the developmental costs, plus the costs of "disposing" of wastes, freeing the corporations from this daunting concern. As more and more millions are invested in the industry, it becomes more and more difficult to reverse the commitment.
Perhaps our pain and horror at the destructive power of the split atom, our failure to see the effect of greed brought on by a materialistic value of life, and our fear and sense of helplessness living under the power of the military/industrial complex have all resulted in mass denial. "It should have been clear that our ignoring, or denial, of the devastating accumulation of the nuclear arsenal and nuclear waste was pathology and deeply connected therefore to the ways we lead our lives" (Haas 1992).
Thus we have tolerated the practice of human sacrifice, one of the unacknowledged costs of having a nuclear industry. Representatives of indigenous peoples from around the world have reported on the suffering and devastation inflicted on them by our nuclear activities (World Uranium Hearings 1992). Their testimony is an appalling indictment of nuclear colonialism.
For it is their homelands, their bodies and their ancient cultures that are most immediately victimized by nuclear power and nuclear weapons. On their land 70% of the world's uranium is mined (Native American lands, [former] Soviet minorities, recently independent Namibians), most of the testing takes place (Nevada, Bikini and Eniwetok, Tahiti, Maralinga, Central Asia), and radioactive waste is dumped (Prairie Islands Sioux in Minnesota, Tibet). These crimes are compounded, in virtually every case by secrecy and deception and intimidation on the part of industry and government (Macy 1993).
PARADIGM SHIFT NEEDED
Is there, perhaps, some shift happening, allowing us the courage to face this heretofore overwhelming challenge? If this is so, it must come from, among other routes, a willingness to take on the moral and ethical aspects of the challenge, and to develop new ways of thinking from far broader and longer perspectives.
"The world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level at which we created them." (Albert Einstein)
"One must care about a world one will never see." (Bertrand Russell)
"The greatest revolution in our generation is the discovery that human beings by changing the inner attitudes of their minds can change the outer aspects of their lives." (William James)
"Because our nuclear legacy impacts the well-being of future generations, we must consider their rights when we plan for the disposition of radioactive materials. Because of the endurance of long-lived radiation and its cumulative damage, we must come to understand our place in "deep time" ."(Macy 1991b).
Citizen groups and a few government organizations around the world have begun to address these issues, including Cousteau Society, Greenpeace, Nuclear Free Zone movement, Nuclear Guardianship Project, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Don't Waste America, Women's Nuclear Free Network, World Information Service on Energy, and local groups everywhere there are nuclear materials.
Of these groups we give particular emphasis in this article to the work of Nuclear Guardianship Project (NGP), as that has been a focus of the authors' own citizen-involvement since its inception in 1988, and because of the importance of its focus on the integration of ethical issues with political and technical decisions.
NGP developed out of a citizens' study group addressing the issue of responsible care of nuclear waste. The group was initially drawn together by Dr. Joanna Macy, a scholar of general systems theory, Buddhism, and environmental ethics, and included a cosmological physicist, a poet, a cultural anthropologist, a nuclear engineer, a citizen-diplomat, educators, artists, and psychologists, a number of whom suffered from damaged immune system diseases possibly attributable to radiation exposure.
The group members educated themselves through teaching and reading, contact with experts and organizations, visits to sites and with the people living near and working at them, and through acts of imagination projecting themselves into past and future time. Ideas evolved through these experiences, and the following statement of principles emerged:
Nuclear Guardianship is a citizen commitment to present and future generations to keep radioactive materials out of the biosphere. Recognizing the extreme damage these materials inflict on all life-forms and their genetic codes, Nuclear Guardianship requires (a) interim containment of radioactive materials in accessible, monitored storage, so that leaks can be repaired, and future technologies for reducing and containing their radioactivity can be applied; (b) stringent limits on transport of radioactive materials, to avoid contaminating new sites, and to minimize spills and accidents; (c) cessation of the production of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy; and (d) transmission to future generations of the knowledge necessary for their self-protection and the ongoing guardianship through time (Nuclear Guardianship Project 1992).
The group tried to identify with its descendants, to intuit what they will want from us 50 years, 500 years, a 1000 years from now. We imagined their interest in our politics, our inventions, and our art will pale before their questions: "What did you do with the stuff? Where is the radioactivity and how can we protect ourselves from it?"
NGP has propose the following ethic as an evolving expression of values to guide decision-making on the management of radioactive material (Nuclear Guardianship Project 1994b):
THE NUCLEAR GUARDIANSHIP ETHIC
1. Each generation shall endeavor to preserve the foundations of life and well-being for those who come after. To produce and abandon substances that damage following generations is morally unacceptable.
2. Given the extreme toxicity and longevity of radioactive materials, their production must cease. The development of safe, renewable energy sources, and nonviolent means of conflict resolution is essential to the health and survival of life on Earth. Radioactive materials are not to be regarded as an economic or military resource.
3. We accept responsibility for the nuclear materials produced in our lifetimes and those left in our safekeeping.
4. Future generations have the right to know about the nuclear legacy bequeathed to them and to protect themselves from it.
5. Future generations have the right to monitor and repair containers, and to apply such technologies as may be developed to protect the biosphere more effectively. Deep burial of radioactive materials precludes these possibilities and risks uncontrollable contamination to life support systems.
6. Transport of radioactive materials, with its inevitable risks of accidents and spills, should be undertaken only when conditions at the current site pose a greater ecological hazard than transportation.
7. Research and development of technologies for the least hazardous long-term treatment and placement of nuclear materials should receive high priority in funding and public attention.
8. Education of the public about the character, source, and containment of radioactive materials is essential for the health of present and future generations. This education should promote understanding of our relationship to the Earth and to time.
9. The formation of policies governing the management of radioactive materials requires full participation of the public. Free circulation of information and open communication are indispensable for the self-protection of present and future generations.
10. The vigilance necessary for ongoing containment of radioactive materials requires a moral commitment. This commitment is within our capacity, and can be developed and sustained by drawing on the cultural and spiritual resources of our human heritage. The Nuclear Guardianship Ethic is proposed as an evolving expression of values to guide decision-making on the management of radioactive materials.
A PSYCHOANALYST'S RESPONSE
Psychoanalyst Thea Bauriedl (1991) concluded that the idea of nuclear guardianship incorporates thinking that could lead to solving some of today's most difficult problems. By not attempting the "final solution" of burying life-threatening waste, we afford future generations a better opportunity to deal with the poisonous material. By storing the waste where we can keep an eye on it, we keep the danger, and the guilt it generates, from being suppressed. "The real peril lies in ignoring these dangers."
Bauriedl points to the implication of guardianship that to protect the next generations we must explicitly bequeath them the unresolved dangers of our nuclear waste production. As we simply are unable to free them from the consequences of our mistakes, we are at least not ignoring them, and they will have a chance to create viable strategies for their safety.
Guardianship recognizes the dangers of human arrogance, and allows us to become aware of the responsibility each parent generation holds for its children. Storage sites for toxic materials are to be places of contemplation to which everyone has access, where the intention is to remain aware of the necessity to protect the surrounding environment.
Places with the greatest potential for destruction the world has ever known acquire, in this way, a certain spiritual significance. All the great religions remind us that besides recognizing and accepting our mistakes, the path of freedom lies in owning our own failings, rather than projecting them onto others. This re-owning is not an excuse for past [or future] mistakes, but is humanizing and leads to compassion for ourselves and others.
Many scientists and technicians believe their work has nothing to do with mythology. They are mistaken: they, especially, live in the delusion that they can control nature. Through the guardianship concept, this myth can be called into question. We need new myths and new symbols to help us protect our lives and those of future generations (Bauriedl 1991).
She concludes that the basic acts of nuclear guardianship-ceasing production of the radioactive toxins and collectively maintaining them-are psychologically healing by bringing us together to bear the responsibility for what we have created.
Researchers may find uniquely valuable data to use by "listening" in a new way and to new subjects. "Our very lives might depend on this listening. After the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the wind told the story that was being suppressed by the [leaders]. It gave away the truth. It carried the story of danger to other countries. It was a poet, a prophet, a scientist" (Hogan 1991).FACING THE CHALLENGE 50 YEARS AT A TIME
It is nearly inconceivable to consider being responsible into the future for tens or hundreds of thousands years. So arbitrary numbers have been chosen because of their economic, political, technical, or psychological implications, e.g., 100 years for monitoring shallow burial dumps, or 10,000 years to anticipate needing to communicate deep burial to our descendants (Erikson 1994).
Communicating with the unknown distant future was the mission of architects, anthropologists, materials scientists, and linguists convened by the DOE to consider long-term warning markers for a centralized disposal site, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, New Mexico (Peaslee 1993). The project was posited on the assumption that human culture could suffer some rupture in the future, and, therefore, knowledge might not be passed on culturally.
Our wish to decide now-once and for all--how to "dispose" of the stuff reflects our lack of faith in the future. Yet, the rate of technological innovation promises to be infinitely more rapid in years to come than it has been in years past (Erikson 1994).
In her article "Fifty Years at a Time," Molly Young Brown (1994) explores an approach that is more psychologically manageable and would make it possible for future generation to apply their own ingenuity to the problem.
If we understand ourselves to be conduits of life and culture between the past and the future, we will find our responsibility less overwhelming. We can address ourselves to keeping nuclear materials out of the biosphere for the next 50 years or so, storing it so that the material and our knowledge about it remain accessible to our grandchildren. They in turn will carry this responsibility forward, according to the wisdom and values of their time.
"Fifty years at a time" reminds us of the "one day at a time" slogan for recovering addicts. It keeps one focused on the present task, within the context of a lifetime of recovery. And perhaps that is what we must now do as a culture: recover from our addiction to nuclear energy and its underlying dream of unlimited power over nature and one another.
We in the industrialized world have pursued such a dream of dominance for centuries, trying to assert control over the natural processes of life, and over each other. Our enchantment with nuclear energy-and the toxic mess we have wrought-reflects the larger pattern of human alienation from nature and destruction of the environment. Like protecting the rainforests, keeping air and water clean, preserving biodiversity, and all the other ecological concerns we have today, nuclear guardianship requires that we radically change our relationship to the biosphere. Instead of "power-over," we must learn "power-with," as we take our place in the vast, complex, interdependent web of life on Earth.
Nuclear guardianship is not more or less important than any of the other transformational tasks we humans face today. This and everything else needs to happen. To work on one task is to work on them all. Addressing the social injustices that lead to warfare and terrorist attacks, for example, will help create a stable social order within which guardianship can endure. We must learn to act sustainably in all aspects of our collective life, providing at least minimal food, clothing, shelter, and dignity for everyone, or radioactive contamination will be only one of many contributors to the collapse of our habitat.
Nuclear guardianship can be a training ground for this transformation of human consciousness. Through guardianship, we learn to sustain the gaze, to keep our attention on the reality before us, overcoming the temptation to deny or escape the responsibility. We affirm our commitment to the future, doing what we can now to assure the continuity of human life and evolution, and then faithfully passing the task along to our descendants.
Because of the vast eons of time involved in the radioactive decay of plutonium, nuclear guardianship keeps us humble. We realize that haste is our greatest enemy, for precipitous decisions made now may prove irrevocably disastrous, even within the next few years. Guardianship trains us to think in terms of the whole: the whole of humanity, the whole of the ecosphere, the whole of time.
Oser and Molly Young Brown edit and write for the Nuclear Guardianship
Forum and other publications. They can be reached at Plutonium Free Future,
P.O. Box 2589, Berkeley CA 94702.
Guardianship Ethic In Response to Radioactive Pollution:
World Leaders International Issues
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document is part of the The Nuclear Guardianship Library.