NW Conference: Final thoughts

<<December 2011: The Ottawa Citizen (Canadian newspaper based in our capital city) is doing a series on nuclear waste.>>

When I was spending 3 days at the nuke waste conference I’ve been blogging about here

I was feeling repeatedly appalled (& yes, slimed, as I said), & decided I was going to really summon up my courage & get up & say some brave things to the large crowd of nuclear industry people (there were several hundred of them).

I wrote down these notes, & of course, lost my will & courage & decided it was not the right venue for what I’d planned to say. But here it is, just for the record. What the heck, eh??

This what I wanted to say:

Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Grey Panthers, once said “Speak your mind, even when your voice shakes.” I hesitate to speak up in this crowd, so I expect my voice is shaking. There are many so-called “experts” here, & that’s intimidating to decidedly un-expert me, but another wise woman (urban life & affairs guru Jane Jacobs) once said, “Always be prepared to believe that experts are stupid. They very often are.”

I’ve noticed a few things here, these past few days.

I’ve noticed there is a real “team spirit” that operates among all you nuclear industry folks. A kind of “Let’s not let our buddies down” ethic.

I can’t help but wish we would all share instead a strong call to preserve our planet & all the species here on it (including our own).

Also in the past 3 days, I’ve been learning what the nuclear industry is planning for nuclear waste in the days & years ahead:

I want to ask you all a question. Are you all proud of the work you do?

Would your parents – your ancestors – be proud of the work you do?

Will your children (& grandchildren) be proud of you, & the work you do?

I am proud of the work I do, as an environmental activist. I am very proud of my amazing, smart colleagues who have worked very, very hard to learn how the nuclear industry operates. They blow me away with their courage & their smarts.

My mother, who may have had quite different things in mind for me, did tell me once that she was proud of me for my environmental work. That meant a lot to me.

My children have expressed to me that they are grateful for the work I do, which they understand quite well I do on their behalf.

I do it on behalf of you, & your children as well, actually…& everyone else’s, of course!

So I just want to ask you this: please take my questions away with you, & give them some thought.

& since I’m known for being a big fan of thoughtful & inspiring quotations, let me leave this one with you:

“No matter how far you’ve gone down a wrong road, TURN BACK!” (Source unknown)



It’s now over a month that I’ve been working on these postings. Something about their tone has kept me from posting them sooner.

It’s this: the nuclear industry makes me mad. (I think it ought to make us all furious, actually – so furious we would all rise up & do what needs to be done to put an end to it, once & for all!)

& yet, I know when I’m angry & become rude or sarcastic, it sort of doesn’t make me feel all that good…you know??

I also know that, even if every single human being on the planet did rise up & put an end to the production of nuclear energy (& nuclear arms) right this very minute, we’re still going to be stuck with a ferocious quantity of nuclear waste – for a very, very, very long time indeed.

It’s the same deal with all stubborn issues, you know? Seeing things in simple black & white, “us and them” terms is ultimately not going to bring us any permanent solutions. Any lasting peace.(1)

It’s pretty tempting to demonize those who prop up the nuclear industry. There are no doubt some seriously scuzzy characters involved. (This is a polite understatement, btw. If you’d read Atomic Accomplice – How Canada deals in deadly deceit, you’d understand what I’m saying.)

But the problem of the waste remains.

For the record, I’ve been appealing to the nuclear industry for several years now, in various submissions to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, to recognize that, like it or not, we all share this planet & are simply going to have to work together to clean up the nuclear mess. (My most recent submission, to the Joint Review Panel regarding the proposal to build new reactors at Darlington, is here.)

Not gonna lie to you. I despair at times, particularly over the issue of the genuinely horrific mess the nuclear industry has created on our planet. It is deeply, deeply horrifying, & the more I learn, the more horrified I become. Some days, I wake up tempted to simply stay in bed, covers pulled up around me, & read novels all day. Some days, I do! (No kidding!)

Most days, though, I know that (to quote myself), action is the best possible antidote to despair.

I’m a great admirer of the work of Joanna Macy, who’s done a very great deal of work on the nuclear issue, including pioneering the concept of “nuclear guardianship communities” – a brilliant concept I think we all need to do plenty of talking & thinking & planning & learning about! The sooner, the better…

It all reminds me a little of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which I read about in Antjie Krog’s amazing book, Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa !(2)(I blogged about this amazing book in ‘Courage, Apathy & Evil’).

The old “us & them” mentality never takes us very far. Or, hmmm. I guess it does take us far, but down the wrong road entirely.

To put it another way (this just popped into my head as my pen is racing across the page), it’s unfortunately the case now that Nukes ‘R Us. If we are not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.


P.S. Lots of great nuke-related quotations here

P.P.S. “Nuclear Roulette – The Case Against a “Nuclear Renaissance” is excellent; check it out!

P.P.P.S. Excellent short on-line film called “Knocking on the Devil’s Door – Our Deadly Nuclear Legacy.” The post ‘Nuclear Free Planet’ lists a bunch of groups active on nuclear issues.

P.S. # 4: Another good read: Killing Our Own – The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation, by Harvey Wasserman & Norman Solomon (1982). Sobering, scary, essential reading!

P.S. # 5: On October 29th I attended a powerful workshop, an “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” symposium, at which participants were reminded of the image of a spider web & the inescapable truth that, just as whatever one does to any part of the web affects the entire web, whatever we do to the Earth, we are doing to ourselves. We understand now that there is no “away” for us to send our garbage, waste & nuclear wastes to. Can it be there are still some of us who do not grasp this??

Quote of the day: “The problem of nuclear power is it’s not built on concrete, it’s built on lies.” - Greg Palast, author & investigator


(1) Jane Fonda said in her autobiography My Life So Far “It dawns on me that war is easy. Peace is harder. This sophisticated striving to build bridges is harder.” – Jane Fonda

(2) Times Books/Random House, 1998.