Press release, 13 January 2000


Production and storage of nuclear waste is ethically unjustifiable and not consistent with sustainable development. That pleads for a phase-out of nuclear energy. Aboveground retrievable storage of already produced nuclear waste is the less unfavourable option. The distrust in government plans may be solved through a dialogue, where the different parties are equal, also from a financial point of view. These are the most important conclusions of the report "Nuclear Waste and Nuclear Ethics", that was written by Herman Damveld (independent researcher and publicist) and Robert Jan van den Berg (Laka Foundation) on request of the by Dutch government set up Commission for Radioactive Waste Disposal (CORA). The CORA studies the storage of nuclear waste either underground (salt domes and clay formations) or aboveground during f.i. 300 years. Within half a year, CORA will make a proposal for further developments.

With the storage of nuclear waste, we deal with choices for the future, i.e. ethical considerations. We deal with these with what we call the ethics of justice. It considers 'core ethics', a bundle of elementary ethical standards, values that can apply to the whole of humanity in any place and at any moment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the best examples of this. Given this ethics of justice, people of the future should have the same possibilities and should carry as much weight as the people of today and we should not endanger their possibilities to choose.
Given this ethical assumption, it is the question whether the production and storage of nuclear waste can be justified. We think it can not. The worldwide problem of nuclear waste has not been solved. The models for the prediction of future consequences are surrounded by uncertainties, thus the storage is a burden that can harm.

Sometimes, people call nuclear energy justifiable because it would prevent the greenhouse effect. Instead of the greenhouse effect, future generations inherit nuclear waste. But also in the vision of international organisations like the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, the CO2 emissions do not decrease, even not with a huge increase of the number of nuclear power plants. Therefore, nuclear energy is no remedy to the greenhouse effect.
The production of nuclear waste is said to be in harmony with sustainability since the amounts of waste would be small in volume. Though we have to consider that a small amount as such does mean little. Due to the accident at the Chernobly nuclear power plant in 1986, a total of 50 kilograms of cesium, strontium and plutonium was released. Though this 'small amount' was responsible for the fact that an extensive area was contaminated up to Western Europe.

We have derived fourteen factors that influence people's judgements about the risks of nuclear waste. The most important are: the possibility to avoid a risk, controllability and trust in government. The possibility to avoid a risk is a plea for a phase-out of nuclear energy, i.e. at that moment it is known what inevitable amounts have to be stored. Controllability can be worked out in an aboveground retrievable storage, which is always accesible. Distrust in government strongly influences the discussion about the nuclear waste problem. A dialogue can lead to an outcome.
 A discussion about the storage of inevitable amounts of nuclear waste has to meet at least two conditions: ethical and social aspects should play a full role in the discussion and those who are critical about the storage should be given funds to develop their arguments. Until now, technical issues like test drillings and the construction of a storage mine in salt or clay have been too much emphasized. Also from a financial point of view, there had been no equivalence.

Herman Damveld               Laka Foundation (Robert Jan van den Berg)
Selwerderdwarsstraat         18  Ketelhuisplein 43
9717 GN Groningen            1054 RD Amsterdam
Netherlands                  Netherlands
Tel/fax: +31-50-3125612      Tel: +31-20-6168294; fax: +31-20-6892179
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