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Editor's note: Permission to create this transcript was granted by Maria Gilardin, TUC Radio. Responsibility for links and footnote annotations rests entirely with me.
Onkalo - Into Eternity
by Maria Gilardin
TUC Radio Broadcast
12 July 2011
Broadcast quality mp3 of the 30 minute program is here: http://tucradio.org/OnkaloIntoEternity.mp3 (20.8 MB)
TUC aka Time of Useful Consciousness is an aeronautical term. The time between the onset of oxygen deficiency and the loss of consciousness, the brief moments in which a pilot may save the plane.
MICHAEL MADSEN / FILM DIRECTOR
The voice of Danish artist and film maker Michael Madsen from the opening of his film: Into Eternity. These words were first heard in the US in early 2011 when Into Eternity was released in North American.
Onkalo is the first in the world – after Yucca Mountain failed technologically as well as politically in the U.S. – and the only project to create a permanent storage for waste from nuclear power plants.
Madsen takes us to the remote island of Olkiluoto (“ol-key-lu-oh-toe”) on the shores of the Baltic Sea in Finland. Underground we meet the blasters who set off the explosions that create the vast system of tunnels. And above the various technicians, scientists, and regulators involved in this project.
For the next hundred years the multiple tunnels and chambers of Onkalo, which stretch to a depth of fifteen hundred feet [500 metres], will house all of Finland’s nuclear waste, until it is filled and sealed with cement in 2120.
No person working on the facility today will live to see it completed. To protect life from the highly radioactive nuclear power plant fuel, the waste must lay untouched for 100,000 years. Onkalo is being designed to far outlast any structure or institution ever created by mankind.
What are 100,000 years in relation to known history? Since it is so difficult to predict the future, we usually look back:
My thoughts, in viewing the film, Into Eternity, post-Fukushima, were that as insane as it appears to embark on a project of building storage to last 100,000 years, it is even more insane to continue the practice of keeping the so-called “spent” nuclear fuel right next to the most dangerous places on earth, in unprotected fuel pools next to nuclear power plants. And most insane, I think and we may soon all realize to produce electricity with nuclear fuel in the first place.
For some time the nuclear industry has claimed nuclear fuel will be re-processed. However, in this chain of mounting absurdities, reprocessing creates plutonium, that will have to be kept safe not for 100,000 but for one million years. Unless it is used in a nuclear weapons with the potential to destroy the planet instantly.
Back to the film. Here is KRAFTWERK:
TIMO SEPPÄLÄ / SENIOR MANAGER, COMMUNICATIONS
When I saw the film at the opening in San Francisco, two months after the explosions at Fukushima and one month after the word Fukushima had already disappeared from the headlines of the newspapers, I thought of a review that I had read on the internet. Alexander wrote in Soft morning, city!:
Onkalo is probably the most ambitious human endeavour ever put into practise, and in its quiet, reflective style, the film Into Eternity presents the project in its full madness. It makes us consider the big questions in a way that we, in the 21st century, don’t usually do outside of theological and philosophical circles. Questions of war, economic collapse, mass migration, ecological catastrophe, societal structure, all seem to pale away when we are faced with a time period that, in reverse, stretches back tens of thousands of years beyond our recorded history, to when Homo sapiens, or modern humans, were not the only species of human on this Earth. This is an idea that is almost inconceivable to us now. For all the questions thrown up by Onkalo, and of all the possible and predicted events occurring in its lifespan, only one can approach definite status as a likely event over others. It is inevitable that one day, in the next 100,000 years, Onkalo will be discovered by someone. Any argument against this seems the utmost in arrogance and wishful thinking. 
I wondered how the construction firm that designed and bid on the project of Onkalo may have presented their proposal to the government of Finland. And there it was:
DEMO NARRATOR No.1
The film, Into Eternity reflects much of the discussion on how to create markers on the surface to warn future generations of the danger below. Nothing could be found that would be understood 100,000 years from now – if any physical marker were to even survive the ice age that will be pushing glaciers over Onkalo 60,000 years from now.
The discussion in the film reminded me of the report that the Sandia National Laboratories published in 1991. The US Department of Energy had commissioned Sandia to create a plan to keep burial grounds of nuclear waste safe from future generations.
The most realistic plan, some of the members of the Sandia National Labs commission felt, would be to endow a nuclear priesthood committed to guarding the site and transmitting the memory orally from generation to generation.
Much of the discussion in Finland, documented in the film Into Eternity, comes up with similar ideas. The Onkalo project staff, like Sandia Labs, recognized that nothing might work unless it became part of a living transmission.
And even if future generations were to somehow understand the warning, would they heed it? In our time line the Pyramids were opened and rune stones moved in spite of warnings.
And so, in the end, some of those interviewed argue that it may be better not to mark the repository at all. That remembering to forget is the best protection. But how will that work for all the future Onkalos that yet must be built for two hundred and fifty thousand tonnes of nuclear waste? How many such places can you hide?
The film, Into Eternity, is a documentary about the building of the world's first underground storage site for waste from nuclear power plants. The tiny country of Finland decided to take responsibility for the nuclear waste it created – and continues to create – and became the pioneer, both technologically and philosophically, of trying to come to terms with nuclear power.
How far ahead can we burden the earth and future generations by turning on the lights?
Peter Bradshaw, wrote in the British Guardian,
“One of the most extraordinary factual films to be shown this year. Madsen's film does not merely ask tough questions about the implications of nuclear energy . . . but [also] about how we, as a race, conceive our own future. . . . This is nothing less than post-human architecture we are talking about. Why isn't every government, every philosopher, every theologian, [everybody,] everywhere in the world discussing Onkalo and its implications?”
Into Eternity was written and directed by Michael Madsen. You heard his voice as narrator, along with engineers and regulators for the Onkalo project. The film is beautifully photographed by Heikki Färm with an haunting and intriguing sound design by Nicolai Link and Oivind Weingaarde. You may have recognized the piece Radioactivity by the German electronic group Kraftwerk. Their name, curiously, translates into power plant. Coal I assume, not nuclear.
Director Michael Madsen is based in Copenhagen and the 75 minute film is a co-production between Denmark, Finland and Sweden.
The film opened for European audiences in 2010 and began showing in the U.S. in New York shortly before the explosions at Fukushima. Ever since that catastrophe the parallel between the way the film shows the handling of spent nuclear fuel and the diligent building of underground storage clashes with what occurred in Fukushima.
The film shows the careful removal of so-called spent fuel from the fuel pools to the dangerous and complex procedure of placing the rods into canisters for later transfer into Onkalo. That now stands in frightening and stark contrast to the images of collapsed fuel pools and molten fuel rods that can no longer be handled. Does Fukushima itself have to become a site for storage of what cannot be removed by man or robot that needs to last maybe as long as one hundred thousand years? On the beach, open to the next tsunami, near an earthquake zone?
High-level nuclear waste is the inevitable end result of nuclear energy production. The waste will remain radioactive and/or radiotoxic for at least 100,000 years. It is estimated that the total amount of high-level nuclear waste in the world today is between 250,000 and 300,000 tons. The amount of waste increases daily.
Those were some Nuclear Facts from the website of the intoeternitythemovie.com.
TUC Radio has moved to northern California. This program was produced off the grid, with power from the sun; the only safe nuclear reactor.
You can get information on how to order an audio CD of Into Eternity that includes the talks by Joanna Macy and Natalia Manzurova by calling 1-707-463-2654 and I will repeat that number in a moment.
TUC Radio is free to all radio stations and depends on the support of listeners like you. Your donation or CD order keeps this program on the air. Call anytime at 707-463-2654 for information on how to order. You can get your CD by mail or credit card by phone or online on TUC Radio's secure website, tucradio.org.
My name is Maria Gilardin. Thank you for listening. Give us a call.
Copyright © 2011 TUC Radio
Annotated transcription created with permission of Maria Gilardin.