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NUCLEAR GUARDIANSHIP FORUM, On The Responsible Care of Radioactive Materials,
Issue # 3, Spring 1994, p. 3.

Testimony Encompasses Time

The German state of Lower Saxony, under the leadership of Monika Griefhahn, its minister for environment, held an unprecedented, international hearing on Final Disposal of Nuclear Waste. In Braunschweig, in September 1993, scientists, politicians and citizens gathered to express their concerns and views. Among them were two members of the Nukleare Bewachungs Netzwerk (the German nuclear guardianship network), whose testimony can be useful to us all.


Testimony of Martin Kalinowski
Nuclear Physicist

Translation by Joanna Macy

It's important to loosen up our thinking about geological burial, prevalent as that thinking is. I invite you to a four-minute joumey in time, relating to the question: "What consequences will our decisions today have for the far future?"

So close your eyes the better to be able to visualize. Imagine time as a distance stretching before you. A centimeter corresponds to a year, and 30 centimeters, about a foot, to 30 years or a generation. That's about the period of time in which we're trying to reach a decision about final disposition of radioactive waste. This waste must be kept securely out of the biosphere for ten million years, which corresponds to a stretch of 100 kilometers (about 60 miles).

Now imagine you will travel through this time period by covering this distance by foot. At normal walking speed, which is six kilometers per hour, you'll need 17 hours. Perhaps you can picture a distance of some 100 kilometers that's familiar to you. You want to walk it.

The first step is almost a century. That's a long human life, and represents nearly three generations. Already by half of this step we want to have established a final repository, that will remain permanent, unchanging, and unchangeable for all the steps to follow. With a constant global population of ten billion and average life expectancy of 66 years, in each step 15 billion people will be born.

For the first period of time the final repository established in the first steps is likely to remain solid, tight. Perhaps more repositories will be created, too, in the first couple of steps. After several steps the first isotopes will emerge, diffused, and for most, with suddenly increasing concentration. For the first couple of hundred meters the repository may appear to be tightly sealed but already after a few kilometers gases such as iodine 129 and Chlorine 36 will be present in the air and groundwater. The chlorine decays in a few kilometers, but the iodine will threaten us from now on, the whole stretch. Soon Selenium-79 emerges; and after some ten kilometers appears Technetium-99. Various actinides such as Uranium-238 and Radium-226 slowly emerge as well. Add to that transuranic elements such as Neptunium-237. These dominate the scene for the longest part of the distance we have to go.

Imagine what it is like
to look back to the moment,
the final, irrevocable decisions
were made.

Imagine what it is like in the following steps, to look back to the moment when the final, irrevocable decisions were made. Consider that in each stride you are among ten to 15 billion people living who are concerned for their health and safety, and who cannot control when and how much and whence radioactive isotopes from underground will enter their air and their drinking water. Imagine how much they'll wish that they could be able to check on the buried containers to see if they're tightly sealed, and, if they're not, to have access to repair or exchange them.

Imagine the technologies that could, with each step, be developed. What would these developments and discoveries allow us to do with the waste, if it were only accessible? With every step means of storage could be improved. Perhaps we learn how to separate and use particular isotopes out of the waste or to transmute the most dangerous.

Imagine how you will
try to apologize
for what you have produced . . .
for the irreparable damage
you have inflicted

Perhaps people will want to excavate and use ores or other raw materials from the geologic formation of the repository.

Imagine how, with every step, you will try to apologize for what you have produced with this dangerous stuff and for the irreparable damage you have inflicted. Perhaps you repress this and are thereby subject to a compulsion to repeat it.

Perhaps you will regret, with each successive step, what you irrevocably did in the first step.

The journey in time is now ended. It lasted about four minutes. By walking four minutes you would cover about 400 meters, which represents 40,000 years. Perhaps you're wondering now why we should be in such a hurry to find a final solution for radioactive waste when we still know so little. We don't even know the exact amounts and degrees of radioactive material collected today in a given locality. And in relation to geologic conditions there are still too many unknowns. We don't know what the future will bring.

Perhaps you have seen how different criteria take on different degrees of importance when you change time perspective. Perhaps criteria such as retrievability, monitorability and guardianship gain in importance. These criteria are not compatible with a policy of final disposal, dumping or burial.


Testimony of Marliese Keppler
Educator and Mother

Translation by Nina Menrath

For two days I have been patiently listening to the explanations, justifications and differences of the experts. I have come to the conclusion that the problem of nuclear waste disposal is too complex an issue to resolve at the technical level alone.

We are here not only on our own behalf, but as delegates of all unborn children, who have no voice yet; as delegates of our peers who do not wish to face the nuclear danger; and even as delegates of our ancestors who left us the whole earth and its treasures.

We are sitting here not only with our heads, but with our feelings and bodies which are as threatened by nuclear radiation, as our ability to think.

I therefore believe we must develop a holistic view of the problem we face. We must include our hearts in our thinking and admit to the fear and the love we experience for our children. We must include the heritage left to us by our great thinkers, philosophers and religious leaders as well as our deeper wisdom about the inter-connectedness of all beings and life forms.

I do not believe we can solve the problem of nuclear waste by statistical means -- quantify, verify, validate. The efforts of the experts do not reassure me so long as they continue to produce more nuclear waste.

I want to be clear with my children about the burden that we, of the nuclear age, are leaving them. Therefore I demand that the radioactive waste not be irrevocably hidden, but remain retrievable, stored under public scrutiny.

For more information ahout the Hearings, contact: Niedersächsisches Umweltministerium Archivstr. 2, 30169 Hannover, Germany. tel: 49-0511-104-0. Fax: 49-0511-104-3499.

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