Focus on Nuclear
at World Social Forum

Nuclear Forum At WSF Highlights Waste Problems

By Byron Toben

Shake hands with the Devil, who, in George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 masterpiece Don Juan in Hell, points out that…

In the arts of Peace, Man is a bungler. But in the arts of war, man is a true genius.
Only he could invent the maxim machine gun, the submarine and (even now is seeking to unlock)
The hidden molecular energies of the Universe…

Note that this was written two years before Einstein (who later became a friend of Shaw) announced E=mc2 and the race toward an atomic bomb, culminating in Little Boy devastating Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by Fat Man doing same to Nagasaki three days later.

In the interim 71 years, much has transpired in nuclear arms growth, the expansion of nuclear plants for use for power and concomitant protest groups. Suffice it to say, nuclear myths of clean, safe and inexpensive have been gradually discredited and new plant construction has ceased. So the focus has shifted to nuclear waste disposal, which is no easy matter as the stuff has half-lives of thousands of years.

wsf nuclear forum group

Nuclear forum participants – Image: © Robert Del Tredici/The Atomic Photographers Guild

Professor Gordon Edwards (Hampstead, Quebec) head of the Canadian Coalition For Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) one of the key speakers at this nuclear forum, (which consisted of 12 workshops. the most numerous of the hundreds of other themed subjects at the recent World Social Forum) opined that we have left the nuclear age and are now in the nuclear waste age.

What are the industry’s plans to get rid of the waste? There are none. There are only plans to package it, transport it and dump it somewhere. But the packaging is inadequate, the transport doubly dangerous and no feasible mid or long-term dumps nominated.

Thus, by default, the best approach, for now, is to leave the waste in situ with constant monitoring.

Edwards even dislikes the term “disposal” as it implies a final solution. He prefers the term “abandonment”, which is dangerous as it leads to amnesia as to where burial sites may be and over time, loss of technical expertise or knowledge of geographic locations.

Turns out that both Edwards and I had chanced to once read a sci-fi dystopian paperback, A Canticle for Leibowitz, in which monks in the 26th century, in excavating the remains of a past nuked America, unearth fragments of paper by 20th century founder, St. Isaac Leibowitz, a Jewish electrical engineer converted to Catholicism, bearing the mysterious entry, “Pastrami, one pound”…

After much discussion, they conclude it is some type of religious artefact! Something similar might well bewilder future humans, blundering onto a forgotten dangerous nuclear waste site a mere 1000 years hence. Thus abandonment requires institutional safeguards of regular inspection by trained personnel and funding to boot, which can persist despite political changes.

What are the industry’s plans to get rid of the waste? There are none. There are only plans to package it, transport it and dump it somewhere.

Other key participants included:
Robert Del Tredici (Montreal), professor and photographer, founder of The Atomic Photographers Guild, whose 1987 book, At Work In The fields Of The Bomb tracked, in 102 photos, the history of the manufacture of nuclear bombs from Canadian Uranium to refinement into explosive material, to incorporating it into bombs and storage thereof. Particularly striking is his photo of what 25,000 bombs held by the US alone, looks like in miniature. Remember each one has about 20 times the power of the ones dropped on Japan!

all the warheads

25,000 warheads – Image: © Robert Del Tredici/The Atomic Photographers Guild

Michael Keegan (Michigan) of Coalition For A Nuclear Free Great Lakes and winner of an unsung hero award for nuclear activism, was first involved after Chernobyl. Noting that its reactor design was similar to two reactors, named Fermi 1 and 2 in Michigan, and that Fermi 1 nearly blew up, (saved by chance accident), as documented in the 1976 book We Almost Lost Detroit, he is now campaigning to take down Fermi 2. He also acted as moderator of the forum.

Diane D’Arrigo (Washington, D.C.) the long time publisher of NIRS (Nuclear Information and Resource Services) runs this indispensible web site which collates and disseminates important developments.

Kevin Kamps (Maryland) of Beyond Nuclear is a self described “Radioactive Waste Watchdog” and a fount of all kinds of related background and current developments.

Angela Bischoff (Toronto) the Outreach Director of Ontario Clean Air Alliance stressed the economics favouring renewables vs. nuclear power.

Guiding Spirits (mostly women)

Karen Silkwood, a nuclear union activist and whistle blower, whose mysterious death in 1976 spawned a movie about her. She had alleged corruption and lax safety standards at the McGee-Kerr facility in Oklahoma.

Apparently, women are more prone to nuclear exposure ailments than men by a 2-3 times ratio.

Rosalee Bertell, a nun and mathematician, whose book No Present Danger documented the dangers of low level radioactive tailings, dumped mostly on native American lands.

Native lands were a target of nuclear waste producers, as all 50 states rejected such dumps and the selection of Yucca mountain was rejected as being in an earthquake one and near underground aquifers.

Many native persons have protested this practice. Two of note are the late Grace Thorpe (daughter of great Olympics athlete Jim Thorpe) and Winona La Duke, twice US vice presidential candidate for the Green Party with Ralph Nader.

Apparently, women are more prone to nuclear exposure ailments than men by a 2-3 times ratio.

Current Lawsuit

On the last day of this Nuclear Forum, a lawsuit was filed in federal courts to delay the pending shipments of dangerous nuclear waste by truck and barge, without public consultation on secret routes, mostly thousands of miles to South Carolina. Readers who wish to read the court document can contact me through this web site at

Feature image: Peretz Partensky via

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club

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  1. Noel Wauchope

    Very interesting article, thank you. Good to see Karen Silkwood and Rosalie Bertell not forgotten.

    One great global anti nuclear activist who is very much alive, should be mentioned. Dr Helen Caldicott’s 40 year battle continues, against nuclear weapons, bombs testing and the whole toxic nuclear industry. Her many books, lecture tours and straight out activism form a remarkable and continuing campaign.

    Caldicott is honoured by many across the globe. Not so much in her own country, Australia , where her outspokenness is seen as “bad taste”. (We are very conformist down here in Down Under). Dr Caldicott is constantly trolled on Twitter by a little team of (probably well paid) Australian nuclear power promoters. Which she blithely ignores, having much more important things to worry about – from the nuclear weapons threat to South Australia’s nutty plan to make a bonanza by taking in the world’s radioactive trash.

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