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NUCLEAR GUARDIANSHIP FORUM, On The Responsible Care of Radioactive Materials,
Issue # 1, Spring 1992, p. 2.

Consider the Rights of Future Generations
Nuclear Contamination and the Cousteau Society's proposed Bill of Rights

by Molly Y. Brown

Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the Cousteau Society have launched an effort to establish a Bill of Rights for Future Generations. Clearly, our nuclear legacy impacts the well-being of future generations and we must begin to consider their rights when we plan for the use and disposition of radioactive materials. Let's explore how the five articles proposed for this Bill of Rights challenge us with regard to radioactive contamination.

Article 1: Future generations have a right to an uncontaminated and undamaged Earth and to its enjoyment as the ground of human history, of culture and of social bonds that make each generation and individual a member of one human family.

Consider for a moment the public outcry which would arise if radioactive wastes were known to be dumped in school yards. We all accept our responsibility to protect our own children from immediate hazards. This article proposes that we extend our sense of responsibility to future generations; they are as innocent and helpless as the children alive today.

Let us include future generations of all life forms, making up the interdependent web of life which sustains us all.

What contamination could be more damaging and more difficult to clean up than radioactivity?

Article 2: Each generation, sharing in the estate and heritage of the Earth, has a duty as trustee for future generations to prevent irreversible and irreparable harm to life on Earth and to human freedom and dignity.

How would it affect our actions to think of ourselves as trustees to the "estate and heritage of the Earth"? Imagine the "irreversible and irreparable harm to life on Earth and to human freedom and dignity" which would be perpetrated by radioactivity leaching into the biosphere from decaying containers and "disposal sites", carried far and wide by earth movements, water, wind, and animal and plant activity. We have a taste of the horrible impact of radioactivity on human life and freedom in the experiences of present-day victims of radioactive leaks, releases, and disasters.

Article 3: It is therefore the paramount responsibility of each generation to maintain a constantly vigilant and prudential assessment of technological disturbances and modifications adversely affecting life on Earth, the balance of nature and the evolution of [humankind] in order to protect the rights of future generations.

The phrase "vigilant and prudential assessment of technological disturbances and modifications" calls us to task in our use of radioactive materials, from the moment uranium is mined from the earth (a clear "disturbance"), the oppressive effect of the threat of nuclear weapons, and throughout the cycles of processing, transportation, and storage. We have not made a "prudent assessment" of the effects of our nuclear technology on future generations.

Article 4: All appropriate measures, including education, research and legislation, shall be taken to guarantee these rights and to ensure that they not be sacrificed for present expediencies and conveniences.

The general public is woefully uninformed about the biomedical effects of radioactive materials, whether and how they can be safely stored, transported, and used, and where current mining, production, processing, storage, and dump sites are located. Research is mostly conducted 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" [see "Legacy of the Cold War" on page 1]. Therefore, it is difficult to create and pass legislation for limiting production and transportation and for safeguarding already produced radioactive materials. Education, research, and legislation all need to be addressed immediately.

Article 5: Governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals are urged, therefore, imaginatively to implement these principles, as if in the very presence of those future generations whose rights we seek to establish and perpetuate.

Governments respond to citizens, so individuals and organizations must educate themselves, and propose appropriate actions on local, state, and federal levels. All this will only occur in a context of a radical shift in our collective consciousness, away from materialism and greed toward reverence for all life. As this article proposes, creative imagination is needed, both to devise strategies, and to motivate us with the images of those for whom we work today.

Molly Young Brown is a counselor, educator, and writer living in Petaluma, California. Her life-long passion for the well-being of the planet and its people have led her into many endeavors, including the Nuclear Guardianship Project and four trips to the former Soviet Union as a citizen diplomant and professional trainer.

For more information and petitions supporting this "Bill of Rights," contact Future Generations Petition, the Cousteau Society, 930 West 21st Street, Norfolk VA 23517.

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