A Background Briefing on Radioactive Pollution
SECTION 5 of Internet Edition
A number of activities around the world are moving toward overcoming the denial that has surrounded the nuclear legacy and our responsibility for it. Some that include education and organizing for specific changes are the Nuclear Free Zone movement, Abolition 2000, the Campaign for a Plutonium Free World, and the successful World Court Project.
Some projects directed to remembering the past and connecting with the future have combined contemplation, aesthetics, location, and information. Participants on the Atomic Mirror Pilgrimage traced the geographic links of the nuclear chain, journeying from uranium mines to test sites to Hiroshima. For 17 years the Nevada Desert Experience, organized by an ecumenical community, has held annual vigils at the Nevada Test Site. Artists, such as Barbara Donachy, Mayumi Oda, and Kazuaki Tanahashi, are influencing awareness through their works, rituals, and installations, while others do so with photographic documentation (Goin 1991; Del Tredici 1987). Several films have given vivid imagery to what is at stake (Testimony 1983; The Day After 1983), as well as numerous documentaries and media reports (Video Project 1995). "Wake-up" books have been published addressing psychological spiritual, ethical questions raised for the present and future (Ruggiero and Sahulka 1996; Macy 1983, 1991b; Glendenning 1989; Posner 1990; Schell 1982) and giving relevant personal testimony (Griffin 1992; Williams 1991; Glendenning 1994). Some universities have established environmental ethics departments. Individuals (Seed, Macy, et al. 1988; Macy 1983, 1991a, 1991b; Cole 1992) and organizations (Institute for Deep Ecology Education; Center for Ecoliteracy; Interhelp) are exploring deep ecology and ecopsychology.
Mainstream media increasingly report on nuclear events, from governmental horrors of the past to the unsolvable waste situation. The New York Times Magazine devoted its cover and a 12-page article (Erikson 1994) to radioactive waste, urging patience. Noting that "nuclear waste buried in haste will still be deadly in 12001 A.D.," Erikson warned, "we dare not act as though as know," and urged the government to "relax its insistence on immediate and irreversible burial and turn to forms of storage that allow both continuous monitoring and retrieval."
The Nuclear Guardianship Project has developed a slide show presentation of an imaginative journey to a nuclear guardian site of the future. Through images, music, and narration, audience members envision how people at guardianship sites might keep accurate knowledge of our nuclear legacy alive, continue research,, and maintain containment of the radioactive materials. Vital to the presentation is the suggestion that these people in the future would feel gratitude that we, in the late 20th century, remembered them, calling on the wisdom traditions of our human heritage and our profound caring for life across time, thus allowing them to participate in protecting themselves from the enduring "poison fire" (Nuclear Guardianship Project 1989). Such positive future images are needed to balance anger, despair, helplessness, and other potentially incapacitating responses, and to free human energy for creatively, committedly facing the horror (Macy 1983; Glendenning 1989).
The general public has been woefully uninformed about radioactive materials, their biomedical effects, whether they can be safely stored, transported or used, and where the materials are located. Research is conducted primarily by vested interests within the nuclear industry, with little information made available to the public. Moreover, information has been hidden by governments in the name of "national security." As citizens inform themselves, they will influence their governments to pass legislation limiting production and transportation and safeguarding already produced radioactive materials.
People have the right to know about the slow, cumulative poisoning that is taking place in us all, and also to information about ways we can protect ourselves. There is no panacea, but there is information about what makes cells less, or more, vulnerable, to radiation damage (Lee 1990; Radiation Protection Home Page 1996). Diet for the Atomic Age (Shannon 1987), for example, details and justifies human dietary recommendation to help minimize radiation absorbed and detoxify radiation poisoning (e.g., eat low on the food-chain where radiation and other toxins are less concentrated). Such knowledge may make a difference in how incapacitated we or our children become from radiation exposure.
All this education and resultant action will only "occur in a context of a radical shift in our collective consciousness, away from materialism and greed toward reverence for all life. Creative imagination is needed, both to devise strategies, and to motivate us with the images of those [beings of the future] for whom we work today" (Brown 1992).
Through the concepts and contributions of environmental justice, deep ecology, and epidemiology, many people are moving away from an anthropocentric belief, which views nonhuman living species as inferior to humans, with less inherent right to exist. An "ecocentric" perspective views humans as an intrinsic part of nature, with a unique role and responsibility within the evolution of life on this planet. "We [humans] alone are capable of holding a truly broad world view that represents the whole of nature and includes all possible points of view in addition to our own. We can-and must-gain enough perspective to see ourselves as one part of a much greater living system, or being, and learn to act accordingly" (Sahtouris 1989).
What are the essential requirements of a responsible global policy on the care of radioactive materials? "Don't make it. Don't move it. Don't bury it. Don't forget it." (Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety 1988).
Growing numbers of non-governmental organizations are making proposals regarding the responsible care of nuclear materials (Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes, Greenpeace, Nuclear Guardianship Project, Nuclear Information and Research Service, Plutonium Free Future). They all recognize that safe storage of nuclear materials cannot be guaranteed. Even the best designed facilities will leak someday. Officials obscure that fact by proposing new sites for the waste with the implication that moving the waste will resolve the problem (Mongerson 1990).
Nuclear reactors themselves remain radioactive, long after decommissioning. They are de facto waste facilities already. Citizens are beginning to reject the "not-in-my-backyard" stance, accepting the burden of responsibility. Mongerson, living near a reactor, says it "is not a question of fairness to ask the people who live around the waste generators to bear more risk than the rest of us... Those of us who live at these existing facilities are just stuck with a raw deal" (1990). Her local citizens' group agreed that moved waste should not be placed in new sites but should go to existing facilities.
When we stop generating radioactive waste, the accumulation of these wastes will stop. Members of existing nuclear communities would continue to be employed as the reactors were decommissioned. Those who work with radiation and seek to contain it are already, in a sense, guardians (Macy 1994a).
The Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Waste (1990) subscribes to a plan of action specifying that generators must retain title to, responsibility for, and possession of the waste they have made. An independent policing system to assure generator compliance, [inter]national criteria and regulations are essential. Incineration, redefinition as "below regulatory concern," or dilution to disperse the dose over a larger population must not be allowed. Reparation and recovery plans must be developed for the residents and workers in areas where nuclear activity has taken place (World Uranium Hearings 1992).
Dr. Rustom Roy, a leading researcher in nuclear waste, recommends that we store nuclear waste in packaging "on the ground at military research and production sites where it was produced. Likewise, on-site storage of civilian fuel rods is the way to go for at least the next 50 years. We already have 500 huge, highly radioactive holes in the Nevada Test Site. These can never be moved, changed, or cleaned up. But one of them could take an enormous amount of grouted radioactive defense waste, making both safer" (1993). The goal in radioactive waste management must be to isolate human-made radioactive materials from the environment for their entire hazardous life.
Nuclear Information and Resources Service has created a proposal for storage-for-decay:
ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND RENEWABLES
To accomplish phasing out worldwide nuclear power, while being responsive to the environmental disruption caused by continued large-scale use of fossil fuels, an intense, global response is needed, developing and using energy efficiency technologies and renewable energy sources which derive directly or indirectly from solar radiation (Taylor 1996).
Energy efficient technologies are fully developed for every end-use sector of the economy. They could cut U.S. energy consumption roughly in half, with no reduction in comfort, service, or lifestyle. Non-polluting renewable energy sources include wind power, solar thermal energy, solar photovoltaic electricity, biomass, and solar buildings. The DOE has made its own study showing that wind power alone could, in principle, supply more than the entire U.S. energy demand. Another little known fact is that the DOE has estimated the total renewable energy resource base in the United States to be enormous, nearly one thousand times the current energy consumption in the country. However, for renewable energy to flourish, regulatory conditions must be reformed to eliminate biases that favor conventional energy technologies over renewable technologies (Stockholm Environmental Institute 1993).
The primary obstacle to a sustainable energy future is not technical or economic but political will. The shift can happen in a timely way if enough governments, communities, and industries fundamentally change their approach and make a firm commitment to promote and develop renewable energy. Individual citizens, as policy-makers and community participants, play a critical role (Thomas, Greensfelder, and Akino 1996).
It will take public opinion on a wide scale to ensure that the world's leaders act. Radiation protection has been compared to safe sex; everybody has to be an expert. "We won't solve the problem of containing radiation until its danger is universally known, like knowing that fire is hot and you ought not to put your finger in the flame or you will be burned... It has to be in our bones"(Carde 1994).
Citizen involvement is needed. Citizen organizations must provide governments and international authorities with studies and analyses to strengthen international law for peace-keeping and to prevent worsening environmental impact from the dismantling of old systems and weapons proliferation (Gorbachev 1994). Rancho Seco, providing nuclear powered electricity to Sacramento, California, was the first reactor to be shut down by citizen referendum. A milestone was just marked in Japan when the town of Maki rejected a planned nuclear plant by referendum. The mayor has said he will honor the result and refuse to sell town land to the utility (The New York Times 1996). A "Resolution for a Plutonium Free World" has been offered to build consensus toward prohibiting the production of plutonium (Campaign for a Plutonium Free World 1996).
Projects are underway to address the total rejection of nuclear weapons. This year (1996) the World Court decided that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would be a violation of international law under almost any conceivable circumstance. The Manhattan Project II calls for the same kind of commitment, intelligence, and urgency that created nuclear weapons to be brought to bear on abolishing them (Ellsberg 1996). The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is being signed, while India continues its demand that nations with stockpiled nuclear arsenals eliminate them within a specified time frame.
A fresh policy start is being advocated in the U.S. where organizations and members of the legislature have urged convening a Blue Ribbon Commission to conduct a top-to-bottom review of high- and low-level nuclear waste policies.
Roland Posner (1990) recommends that a legislative body for our descendants be formed to systematically collect relevant information for future generations. As Gofman (1994) put it, "A trustworthy data base is a sacred obligation to humanity." Posner calls for a "Chamber of Future Affairs," which would be advised by commissions for middle- and long-term prognoses and an ethics commission. It would be supported by an office of future-research, a data office to collect and make the relevant information accessible to everyone, and an executive office to supervise danger areas to warn people and other animals away.
We must develop a comprehensive global approach to managing all radioactive materials over the generations that they will exist. Political, military, and business leaders, and ordinary citizens must face the problem together. We need leaders in religion, politics, and science to speak out and point us in new directions, away from secrecy, and toward a new paradigm for our civilizations.
No accomplishment of our generation-no work of art or science-will matter more to posterity than the steps we take now to keep our radioactive legacy out of the biosphere. We have the technical ingenuity for nuclear guardianship; do we have the moral strength? Do we care enough for future generations? I believe we do (Macy 1994b).
As Macy's challenge states, all our remarkable human accomplishments will
amount to nothing if future generations are sickened, crippled, and killed
on a massive scale by the toxic byproducts of this generation's technological
excesses. Radioactive pollution constitutes one of the most menacing threats
to the present and future of humankind, because of its endurance over time,
its ubiquity, and its invisibility. Although no one has found any permanent
means of safely containing radioactive materials, the nuclear industry
continues to produce more and more, through weapons research and production,
and in nuclear power plants of all kinds. The industry mines, transports,
processes, reprocesses, and buries nuclear materials with totally inadequate
safeguards, threatening life and health at every step of the way. Secrecy
and misinformation perpetuate public ignorance of the dangers. Citizens
throughout the world must educate themselves and bring pressure to bear
on governments and corporate interests to dismantle the industry altogether
and provide for the safe, accessible storage and monitoring of all radioactive
materials, so that future generations will be protected as much as possible
and enabled to continue the guardianship of this legacy as long as necessary.
(End of Article)
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.