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NUCLEAR GUARDIANSHIP FORUM, On The Responsible Care of Radioactive Materials,
Issue # 2, Spring 1993, p. 10.

Testimony at Konrad Mine Radioactive Waste Disposal Hearings


No Burial -- Technical & Ethical Testimonies

The German government proposes to bury 95 per cent of its nuclear waste in an abandoned iron mine. The mine, called Konrad is near the town of Salzgitter in Lower Saxony. There in October 1992, before federal and state authorities and with heavy media coverage, a public hearing on this plan was held. Many more citizens came to testify than time constraints allowed, but three members of the Nuclear Guardianship Network in Germany managed to speak at some length.

Their presentations of the guardianship concept aroused an unexpectedly enthusiastic response from the large audience. The government officials, after sitting in stunned silence, then said, in effect, that guarded, ground-level storage was out of the question because of the radiation danger to personnel. Their moral judgment seemed to be, as one of the witnesses put it, that the risks of wider, long-term contamination from leaking, inaccessible containers were preferable.

Here follows excerpted testimony from two of the spokespeople of the German Nuclear Guardianship Network.

Marliese Keppler, teacher and parent, testified on the ethical aspects of the proposed burial site:

Four weeks ago I took part in the "World Uranium Hearing" in Salzburg. Reports were given by representatives of the world's indigenous peoples, on the destruction of their lands through uranium mining and nuclear testing. From the fifties until the most recent time the inhabitants of these polluted regions knew little or nothing about what was causing the strange illnesses that occurred suddenly in epidemic proportions among them, illnesses they had never known.

Children played barefoot on hills of uranium tailings... Material from these slopes were used for construction of houses, schools, and day care centers... Men thought themselves and their families lucky when, in the midst of poverty and unemployment, they found jobs in the uranium mines... Whole villages were deliberately exposed to the radiation of nuclear explosions for purposes of medical research on the consequences in the inhabitants.

The storing of nuclear waste
creates a danger that lasts
over thousands of years,
that cannot be banished
even for a moment,
and that therefore
must always be kept alive
in the minds of affected generations.

These conditions have changed little today. When the first rumors were substantiated, local citizen initiatives to study the radioactive contamination problem were met with a wall of secrecy, cover-up, lies, blackmail, and threats.

These themes run like a red thread through the reports from all continents: on one side, the innocent and trusting relationship to Mother Earth, with no suspicion and no information; on the other side, the willingness to sacrifice humans and the environment to a murderous greed for profit or a military policy of destruction without hesitation.

Much misery and suffering could have been avoided if the affected had known what was going on and how they could protect themselves from it.

More than once the thought came to my mind that this is the end of the nuclear age and the beginning of an "age of nuclear waste," such as we cannot imagine in our worst nightmares. I saw those people: South Sea Islanders, Aborigines, Africans, Brazilians, American Indians, Eskimos, and Mongolians--people of great beauty and dignity. And in my imagination they formed the vanguard of a long, long line of future generations, becoming smaller and smaller and disappearing into the distance: all, all of them kept in the dark, deceived by the withholding of crucial information, victims of the nuclear politics of our generation. Seeing this is unbearable.


The plan to bury 95 per cent of German radioactive waste in Konrad iron mine is unjustifiable. No one can guarantee a safe final disposal for thousands of years. All we have thought to do so far is demand the immediate and worldwide STOP of the creation of nuclear waste and the cessation of nuclear energy production.

Even so, the problem remains: What to do with the nuclear waste produced up to now? And while we talk about it, the "final disposal" has been occurring worldwide for decades, putting radioactive materials out of sight, out of mind.

As an active opponent of nuclear energy, I am not participating in this and perhaps should not feel guilty about it. From the viewpoint of future generations, however, it will be totally unimportant on which side I have been: on the side of the opponents or of the producers of nuclear energy. The grandchildren of my grandchildren won't be interested in the fact that I live without a connection to public electricity. For them, all of us will be the people of the nuclear age, implicated in and responsible for the radioactive inheritance we left them. The grandchildren of our grandchildren will have only two questions for us. But these questions are crucial for their survival: 1) Where is the radioactive waste? 2) How can we protect ourselves from it?

Answering these questions is the chosen task of the Nuclear Guardianship Project in America. And for about three years, people in Germany, England, and Switzerland have also been working on the development of this project. One might argue that the problem of nuclear waste belongs solely to the nuclear industry, according to the principle that whoever originates something ought to take care of the consequences. I believe, however, that within the nuclear industry, concern about the protection of humans and the environment in the present and future is subordinate to the smooth running of their business.

The solution to the problem, moreover, cannot be limited to finding a site for the final disposal that is as safe as possible. There is no site like this on the planet. There is no safe disposal for a one-time deposit of nuclear waste that can afterwards be closed up. Instead of "final disposal" it would be better to speak of "indefinite storage." For the storing of nuclear waste creates a danger that lasts over thousands of years, that cannot be banished even for a moment, and that therefore must always be kept alive in the minds of affected generations.

If we want to protect ourselves and the generations following us from this danger, the environment of the nuclear waste storage site -- soil, water, and air -- must be regularly tested for radiation and the population informed of the results. The containers of the radioactive waste must be continually monitored in order to repair or replace them when necessary. The waste must be accessible for application of new technology. The transport of radioactive materials must be avoided as much as possible, depending on the prevailing conditions of the site. Finally, it is essential that information about the dangers of radiation and the sites where radioactive materials are stored be the most important topic of citizen education.

None of these precautions are included in the planned burial of nuclear wastes in Konrad Mine. These essential precautions require that nuclear waste is not hidden but stored retrievably and controllably, and that today and in the future there are people willing to monitor the nuclear waste for the protection of all of humanity.

For these reasons we oppose the burial concept planned for Konrad Mine. The alternative we are presenting here does not offer a final solution to the problem of nuclear waste. But it can be the least immoral way for us to pass on what we cannot undo.

Martin Kalinowski, nuclear physicist, testified on the technical aspects of the proposed burial plan:

From the technical perspective the basic problem is that removal of nuclear wastes from the Earth is not possible...There is no "final solution" that would free us from continual, ongoing concern with these wastes and the radioactivity they release.

In mounting efforts to store and monitor waste containers, we must recognize that a substantial portion of the radiation is already irretrievably released into the environment, especially with the mining and reprocessing of uranium...The release of large amounts of tritium, also of Krypton-85, is of particular concern in any process of disposal...

There is no "final solution"
that would free us from continual,
ongoing concern with these wastes
and the radioactivity they release.

Strictly speaking, we need to put off discussion [about this particular iron mine] and question the very concept of final disposal. This is the official policy the German government is pursuing here, and it is basic also to options discussed elsewhere in the world, such as sea-bed submersion and disposal in Arctic ice.

For purposes of comparison, we propose a socio-technical strategy which is distinctly different from this approach -- that is monitored storage of indefinite duration. This guardianship concept which I will describe is not offered as a solution so much as an alternative model which can help us address important questions...

Now let us compare the final disposal model with the guardianship model, using the following criteria: accessibility for maintenance, adaptability, visibility, decentralization and diversification, and distribution of the risk in time.

  1. ACCESSIBILITY FOR MAINTENANCE: Konrad Mine will be closed down after the storage tunnels have been filled, and the waste-containers will be inaccessible, even to managing personnel. Guardianship involves active, on-going monitoring of the wastes. Leaking containers will be detected and retrievable for repair or exchange.

  2. ADAPTABILITY: With final burial of radioactive materials all technical decisions and arrangements must be made beforehand. We say: The adaptation to new knowledge and new technologies must always be possible. Guardianship allows that.

  3. VISIBILITY: With the Konrad Mine, surface markers are not foreseen, because they could motivate future excavation out of archeological interest or for treasure. Within the next hundreds of thousands of years people can be expected to dig there, seeking mineral deposits, such as the iron ore! According to the guardianship concept, the visibility of the sites and presence of guards and monitors ensures protection. The knowledge will not be suppressed or forgotten. Responsible awareness of the waste will be kept alive and passed on.

  4. DECENTRALIZATION AND DIVERSIFICATION: In Konrad Mine 95% of the radioactive wastes of the Federal Republic [of Germany] are proposed to be stored. Such concentration involves higher risks than decentralized storage. Different categories of wastes may well require more varied modes of storage than is possible at one central site. Actinides for example are best stored in underground, accessible caverns, while for tritium the safest procedure could turn out to be best kept as gas enclosed in ...[metal] glove-boxes, stored in air-raid shelters. Decentralization, furthermore, will reduce transport and the leakage occurring in all transfer of radioactive materials. In guardianship the wastes will be handled and transported as little as possible.

  5. DISTRIBUTION OF THE RISK IN TIME: In monitored storage the first generation to follow will experience more radiation effects than consequent generations. In the case of final disposal, humans and other animal and plant life will be effected primarily in the far future, when the radioactive isotopes Iodine-129 (after a few hundreds of thousands of years), Radium-226 (after a few million years), for example, will get into the biosphere in significant amounts.

Which generations are to pay a higher price for our uses of nuclear power is an ethical question. With a decision for the Konrad Mine it appears that we are buying the immediate disposal and a doubtful security in the near future at the price of known greater damage to people in the far future.

Martin Kalinowski is a nuclear physicist in Darmstadt and a member of the German Nuclear Guardianship Network. He is currently on a three month fellowship at Los Alamos National Laboratories, USA.

The German Nuclear Guardianship Network (Nukleare Bewachungsnetzwerk) can be reached through Marliese Keppler: Alte Landstrasse 4, 2341 Böel, Germany. tel: 49-461-3302.

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