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NUCLEAR GUARDIANSHIP FORUM, On The Responsible Care of Radioactive Materials,
Issue # 1, Spring 1992, p. 3.

On Guilt, Grief, Responsibility, and Mythology

A Psychoanalyst's View of the Nuclear Guardianship Project

by Thea Bauriedl

From the Swiss publication NUX, The Forum for Responsible Scientists, Konradin Kreuzer, Editor. Issue 69-70, March, 1991

Translated by N. Menrath and K. Smith

The idea of Guardianship is fascinating to me as a psychoanalyst; it incorporates thinking that could lead to solving some of today's most difficult problems. It seems to me that rather than simply proposing a technical solution to the problem of nuclear waste storage, the Guardianship concept creates a new sense of responsibility for the well-being of future generations.

By not attempting the "final solution" of burying life- threatening waste in a non-retrievable and dangerous location, we would afford future generations a better opportunity to deal with this poisonous material. By storing the waste where we can keep an eye on it, we also keep the danger, and the guilt it generates, from being suppressed. It is much better to stay aware and deal with it as best we can; the real peril lies in ignoring these dangers.

Guardianship also implies that to protect the next generations we must explicitly bequeath them the unresolved dangers of our nuclear waste production. Only then will they have a chance to create viable strategies for their safety, knowing that while we simply are unable to free them from the consequences of our mistakes, we are at least not ignoring them. Good parents try to protect their young, but they don't pretend to be infallible and almighty. They pass on to their children tasks which they could not finish, and afford their children the opportunity to take care of themselves better than their parents did.

Facing this very real danger facilitates the parents' mourning for their inadequacies and their powerlessness. This grief work leads to a stabilizing inner security, greater than the outer "security" generated by denial of danger, guilt, and weakness.

According to the Guardianship concept, the storage sites for radioactive and other toxic materials are to be places of contemplation, where the intention is to remain aware of the necessity to protect the surrounding environment. They are not places of horror to be avoided, nor are they cause for panic-stricken political pressure to move them out of our backyards. If we had such Guardianship sites we would no longer feel forced to ignore the dangers and guilt we feel, which create enormous internal pressure in our lives. These places would be sites of collective mindfulness to which everyone has access. Recognizing the dangers of human arrogance, we become aware of the responsibility each parent generation holds for its children.

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 to freedom lies in owning our own failings, rather than projecting them onto others. This re-owning is not an excuse for past mistakes, but is humanizing and leads to compassion for ourselves and others. The Christian concept of penitence involves, as I understand it, transformation through the integration of the shadow.

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.

The basic concept of Nuclear Guardianship is that toxic wastes need to be collectively guarded, and that we must encourage cessation of their production. This seems healing to me. It is an attitude that could even bring together opposing militant groups, some in favor, some against the use of nuclear power, by allowing us a way to bear the responsibility together.

Whether Nuclear Guardianship will become a reality is questionable. Since corporations and politicians continue to deny the danger and hide under their illusion of security; they are very threatened by any action, however enlightened. But we all elect our representatives, and we allow corporations power over us--or do we? Each one of us is co-responsible for the state of the world we hand our children.

Dr. Thea Bauriedl heads the Institute for Political Psychoanalysis in Munich; she is the author of Die Wiederkehr es Verdraengten -- Psychoanalyse, Politik und der Einzelne (The Return of the Dispossessed -- Psychoanalysis, Politics and the Individual), Piper, Munchen, Zurich, 1986.

Nux can be reached at CH-4112 Fluh, Switzerland. tel: 061 75 22 72.

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