Sunday, July 31, 2011

Luco at Onkalo

The prison guard, her father, and her husband watched a movie called Into Eternity about the Onkalo nuclear waste storage facility in Finland. The movie explores various subjects ranging from how long it will take to build and then bury (at least another hundred years or so. They think to fully seal it around 2120. I will have been long dead by then. And so will you), how to warn future generations (if they are even around to warn, I assume you are not surprised by my lack of optimism regarding this), and the film, through this exploration, calls into question the use of nuclear energy.

Before this film, I did not have a clear opinion on this subject. After watching the film, I regret to say my ignorance has been replaced by ambivalence - regret because ignorance is so much easier a state of mind to tolerate. Regret because this is yet another weight added to my thoughts. Regret because I have always hoped that through intelligent exploration of an idea, I could come to clear conclusions. This has been a disappointment to me more times than I can even remember - that failure of intellect to make sense of the world haunts me. Wakes me in the night from any small peace I may come to in dreams. Keeps my brow forever furrowed.

Because if we cannot think our way to an answer, what hope is there for us? 

Onkalo means hiding place. Or cave. Cavity.

It is being built deep into the earth. Watching the film, I noted the earth movers and the humans operating them, tucked away into the bedrock, illuminated by fluorescent lights. For some reason I was surprised by that, the fluorescent lighting. I was struck by it.

Maybe because it is so alien to the dark.

One of the most interesting and frightening questions that the director (Michael Madsen) asks is how can we warn those who will come after us? What will keep them from thinking they have discovered our secrets? Our magic? How can we know how they will interpret this hidden place, this cavity carved from the earth?

The movie addresses an anonymous person-of-the-future. This person is asked and asked again how she will perceive Onkalo. She is treated tenderly throughout the film. One is made fully aware of Madsen's grief, of his own torment.
Because humans believe it will take over 100,000 years for nuclear waste to break down. And an elegant point made in the movie is that nothing human-made has yet survived that long. So we wager on a hiding place, disregarding our and the earth's tumultuous nature - disregarding the tumultuous nature of existence, and then we say what? That everything will work itself out? That our plans are infallible, although they have never been infallible before? Do we tell ourselves that for television, light at night, movie screens, hot water - that for all this and everything else that which we risk is worth it? 

And what do we risk, reader?

What do we risk? What is at stake? What is that gamble - what object (d'art or otherwise) do we place upon the table?

It is our survival. It is all that is verdant and urgent and impossible - all that is chaotic and beautiful (an overused and insufficient word if ever I used one) and, in the end, important. Although perhaps I err when I say we. It is you, not me, who makes these decisions.

It is you who have said this is what we want. It is you who have taken the entire world by its throat and strung it up, and for what prize? A string of pretty lights, kept bright late into the night. The comfort of a computer screen, connecting us until that day when perhaps the water pools fail, or there is another natural disaster and we are plunged, and I mean the verb intensely, plunged into a human-made hell. Miracle of science. New world order. This is how technology reaches into our veins and tugs us, perhaps at times reluctant, into Huxley's Brave New World and then beyond it.

Perhaps that is too cliche. Perhaps I have veered too far from my movie review. I was going to tell you how many "thumbs up" I give this film. I meant to tell you to pop some popcorn. I meant to remind you to melt the butter. Instead I've wound my way around to this sad, stupid, done done done cliche. 

Do you still want to know how many thumbs up I give it? Even after all this?

I do not have any thumbs.


  1. We fully knew that this technology was dangerous, lethal, genocidal, and terracidal. All along. Since the beginning. We chose to do it anyway.

    We do the same thing with pesticides, genetic engineering, bombs, fossil energy, domesticated animals, agricultural use of antibiotics, and a million other cases. We are clever, but not smart or wise.

    We blow holes in the fabric that sustains us. Because we can. Because it hasn't caught up with us yet, and when it does, we simply swallow it, ratchet down our expectations, and externalize the costs onto the future.

    And we think we're thinking our way out of a set of problems prior to the thing we thought up to solve them. Which can't possibly solve them because the real problem is that we're trying to be in charge.

    You wrote: "If we cannot think our way to an answer, what hope is there for us?"

    Are you serious? Do you seriously believe that the mind of humanity is so powerful that we can answer with reason questions and solve with reason problems that our territoriality, Promethean itchiness, fear, insecurity, greed, and anger created? These are not mind problems, they are heart, soul, and community problems. They are problems that arise from our alienation from the fabric of life that sustains us, the ancestors (including other than human) who were our predecessors, the myriad lives that die so we may live even when we're not out blowing holes in the fabric of life.

    If you are addicted to human control, then I'd say that you are part of the problem. We cannot solve anything. We can just stop doing the stuff we know to be bad, try to clean up the best we can after the mistakes we've made, and vow, and keep the vow, not to do it again. But that would mean having to give something up. It would mean paying more for electricity. It would mean using less electricity. It would mean going to sleep when it gets dark, rather than artificially extending the day. It would mean fewer people living closer to the true fabric of life on earth.

    As a species we get an erotic thrill out of the power we have to do what we want, when we want, because we want to, and we get an even bigger thrill out of envisioning ourselves as saviours. We cannot accept what every little city sparrow or boreal caribou accepts into their marrow: that life is what it is, that it is to be taken one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time. That we can barely figure out ourselves, never mind the present, and never never mind the future.

    There is another cultural tradition in Finland--not the Finland of engineers and technocrats, but the Finland of the ancient forest people who never died out, who never forgot these things, and who never swallowed the Indo-European tripartite society.

    This ancient memory we embody and convey is making a comeback, particularly among younger people all over the world.

    You are welcome to join this memory journey/community. Everyone is. But it does require you to make your own journey, not "humanity's," and it does require you to identify with the wild, not just the domesticated.

    Join us when, and if, you're ready. You will find welcoming arms, and cats who are not sad.

  2. Now you mention the movie Into Eternity I would like to tell you I don't recommend it to any aware person of what's good and what is not... this film is death.