Directed by Michael Madsen (2010)
Into Eternity is an eerie account of Onkalo, the world’s first permanent nuclear waste repository. So-called “spent” fuel rods from nuclear energy plants remain radioactive for 100,000 years. Most of the radiation that has contaminated northern Japan post-Fukushima is from spent fuel rods being temporarily stored in water pools on the roof of one of the reactors. Becoming exposed following the earthquake and tsunami, the fuel rods caught fire, releasing massive amounts of radiation.
There are an estimated 250,000 – 300,000 tons of nuclear waste lying around in cooling pools in countries that rely on nuclear energy to produce electricity. The scope of the problem is mind boggling. 250,000 tons of highly radioactive material capable of wiping out all living things and contaminating adjacent agricultural lands and future crops for 100,000 years. The amount of waste increases daily, as the US and other countries merrily churn out spent fuel rods from existing – and new – nuclear reactors.
A Security Nightmare
As Fukushima and Into Eternity make clear, these temporary cooling pools are extremely vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters (e.g. earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, wars, civil unrest). In a world on the brink of economic Armageddon, they are a security nightmare, owing to the extensive maintenance and surveillance they require. At present permanent underground storage is the only possible solution. The film briefly discusses reprocessing and transmutation as unfeasible. Both reduce, without eliminating, the quantity of permanent radioactive waste. Reprocessing reduces the total quantity of nuclear waste by transforming it into plutonium. The latter takes one million years to degrade.
The History and Future of Onkalo
The Finnish and Swedish governments are collaborating to dispose of their own nuclear waste (6,000 tons) in a huge system of underground tunnels blasted out of solid bedrock in Olkiluoto Finland. Work on the facility commenced in the 1990s. Once the spent fuel rods have been deposited, Onkalo will be cemented over, backfilled and decommissioned more than a century from now. No person working on the facility today will live to see it completed.
After outlining the immense danger posed by 250,000 – 300,000 tons of nuclear waste that will remain radioactive for 100,000 years, the film centers mainly around the debate over marking Onkalo to prevent future generations from inadvertently drilling into it. This is essential, as a new Ice Age is anticipated in 60,000 years, which will likely obliterate all Finnish cities for 10,000 years or so. Most ancient language are forgotten in a matter of centuries. Beowulf and other literature written 1,000 year ago in Old English is virtually unreadable today.
It’s mind boggling for human beings to conceptualize time spans beyond a few generations. The human species has changed drastically since it originated in Africa 100,000 years ago. If humans survive another 100,000 years, they will likely be as different from us as we are from our hairy ancestors.
More Sad than Scary
My personal reaction to this film was immense sadness, rather than horror. I cried through much of it. It forced me to confront that our planet’s 250,000 tons of nuclear waste – not catastrophic climate change or water or energy scarcity – is the single biggest factor threatening human survival and civilization. Unless some solution can be found before the global economic system implodes, our children and grandchildren will be left with a planet in which wide swathes of territory are left totally uninhabitable.
Even more horrifying than the film, is that it has received almost no mention in the US media. I guess the corporate media prefers Obama’s solution to the nuclear waste problem: denial. Obama has recently authorized billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to build new nuclear reactors.
I wonder what his children and grandchildren will say?