December 1, 2016
F.I.L.M.’s next and last screening this semester, Containment is directed by Harvard Professor and Chair of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies Rob Moss and Harvard Pellegrino University Professor of History of Science and Physics Peter Galison. Moss, who directed landmark personal documentaries such as Riverdogs (1978) and The Same River Twice (2003), will be at the screening in-person to talk about Containment this upcoming Sunday, December 5th.
Containment shows the planning for the 10 thousand-year long storage of one of the most advanced productions in the history of modern civilization. Unfortunately, this production is not as culturally valuable as the Pyramids of Giza or the Parthenon. We’re talking about fatal nuclear waste. The film discusses the radioactive explosion which took place in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 and the shutdown of the Waste Isolation Power Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. This shutdown occured due to an unexpected minor burst in 2014.
The film uses the aforementioned incidences to investigate critical questions about the fate of nuclear waste and the long-term effects that political decisions have when they are made outside of the public eye.
Ethics is a fundamental aspect of deciding how to deal with nuclear waste—one hundred million gallons of which happen to be the legacy of the Cold War. The main concern is how to store the waste in a way that protects future generations from the danger of accidentally discovering burials of the waste.
For this reason, scientists compose scenarios of individuals discovering the waste inadvertently to expand the range of precautions that any applicable solutions need to consider, making this process even more complicated and labor-intensive. Interestingly, Moss and Galison suggest that cultural memory might be a way to communicate the do’s and don’ts around regions where nuclear waste is buried.
While current political leaders and scientists propose solutions to ensure the safety of our species—or part of it–– earlier political leaders who ushered in the manufacture of nuclear weapons did not think of, or chose to ignore, the consequences of their decisions.
Supposing that the government finds a safe way to store the waste, there is no way to guarantee its protection from terrorist attacks or a natural disaster, which caused the 2011 explosion in Fukushima.
Perhaps seeing the damage that radioactive explosion has caused in Japan is a sample of the catastrophic effects nuclear waste can cause, begging the question of whether the world can withstand more manufacture of nuclear products. Because the damage radiation causes to the environment and to people is a subject of international concern, perhaps it should not be decided solely within the borders of one nation. But again, this makes it harder to reach a unanimous decision about a certain policy to deal with nuclear activity and waste.
At the heart of this issue is the question of how much information a government shares with the public versus how much should be shared. Had the public had a greater scientific awareness of the consequences of making nuclear weapons, they might have fought against the U.S. running a developmental marathon against Russia.
For this reason, Containment should be screened at schools all over the nation, so that individuals will be educated on the political, environmental, ethical and cultural implications of this increasingly pressing issue—especially given that climate change makes it more challenging to preserve the waste in cool temperatures.
It is also important to be aware that at some point in the future certain communities must face a decision regarding this issue. Large areas of the environment in the U.S. need to be dedicated to burying this tremendous amount of waste. It is up to communities around the nation whether or not to accept the containment of such substances, and they need a clear understanding of the consequences in case anything unexpected happens.
Everybody is involved in the issue of nuclear waste because we are part of the world community. Moreover, all citizens are responsible for thinking about future generations. Ancient civilizations have bequeathed us—the dwellers of “more progressive” civilization—beautiful artworks and architecture, and the fact that our legacy to future generations might not be as promising should energize better citizenship on our part. Moss and Galison ask filmgoers to consider these issues in Containment.