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NUCLEAR GUARDIANSHIP FORUM, On The Responsible Care of Radioactive Materials,
Issue # 1, Spring 1992, p. 5.

Debate On Nuclear Guardianship

Two letters dialogue about the problem of "solutions"

From Hannover, Germany, comes a negative response to the idea of Nuclear Guardianship, as summarized from a letter to the editor which appeared in the "Heute Konzpet" described by NUX, CH-4112 Fluh, Switzerland, tel: 061 75 22 72, a publication of the Swiss-based Forum for Responsible Uses of Science. Issue 669-70, March 1991.

Earlier materials about Nuclear Guardianship explicitly stated that "With respect to all parties, citizens, public interest groups, corporations, utilities, and governments, we choose strategies that are based on cooperation for the public good and the integrity of the biosphere."

Anna Masuch of Hamburg University speaks to a concern held by many others about this statement. She asks: What advantage would nuclear power stations and their administrators derive from a "private group" offering to rid them of the burden of dealing with nuclear waste? They would likely be most satisfied with such a solution. In Germany the idea of "privatizing" nuclear waste has been haunting us. So she says NO to the Guardianship concept: "We will only talk about nuclear waste when all production has ceased."

Response from Joanna Macy, of the Nuclear Guardianship Project:

To say that all production of radioactive waste must stop before we discuss its care is an understandable position, frequently taken by anti-nuclear activists. They believe that the problem must be viewed as inherently hopeless, in order to serve as a weapon to be used against the nuclear producers. They fear that citizen talk about guardianship will encourage governments and corporations to produce yet more nuclear waste.

There are problems with this approach:

  1. First, its effect on citizens themselves is to promote a sense of futility. When nothing can be done about a problem, one naturally enough turns away from it. Fatalism sets in. Hopelessness breeds ignorance about both the extent of the danger and what can be done about it. All initiative is left to the producers, who assume they have free rein to continue.

  2. On the other hand, when citizens feel they have a conceivable role to play in relation to a problem, they are emboldened to look at it. Realism sets in. As we glimpse what it will mean for us and future generations to guard the wastes, we are more likely to stop tolerating their continued production.

  3. Citizen reluctance to seek responsible ways of caring for existing waste leaves government and industry free to pursue methods of disposal driven by their own financial and political considerations. It also leads government and industry specialists to believe they are alone in facing the problem realistically. A top official at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) site in Carlsbad, New Mexico, said to me, "The protesters yell `Not in my backyard!' They want to wish the stuff away; but we know it exists. We know it's real and has to go somewhere."

Nuclear production will only cease when we as a people, of all nations, perceive its costs. We will only perceive these costs, I believe, when we open our eyes both to the necessity and the feasibility of long-term guardianship.

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