Thursday, 14 April 2016 14:24

Dreams vs. reality

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According to the emergency scenarios of the Swiss Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI, a nuclear disaster at a Swiss nuclear power plant could be dealt with by and large. People would be evacuated in a 20-kilometre radius, and the nightmare would be over in a reasonable period since only the rapidly decaying iodine-131 would be released. Given that neither the disaster in Chernobyl nor that in Fukushima even remotely corresponded to this fictitious scenario, serious doubts are raised. The probability of an accident of the highest category 7 on the INES scale is acknowledged by two truths: one is based on theoretical considerations, the other on past experience. In theory, a nuclear disaster can be expected around once every 500 years worldwide. In reality, two such accidents occurred with Chernobyl and Fukushima. When you take into account the number of operating years of all reactors in the world, then you would expect a nuclear disaster roughly every two decades.  These very different scenarios challenge science's monopoly over interpretation, which is not even close to being able to assess the risk of accidents with a single voice. Today, science is as credible or uncredible as politics, which unfailingly bases its decisions on the seemingly near-sovereign truth of science. The risk sociologist Charles Perrow speaks of "a new breed of shamans, called risk assessors. As with the shamans and the physicians of old, it might be more dangerous to go to them for advice than to suffer unattended."

In 1953, the US president Dwight D. Eisenhower called for the peaceful use of nuclear energy in front of the UN General Assembly. The country had built up an enormous industrial complex for nuclear armament, and it should now reap not only military benefits but economic ones, too. The floodgates were opened two years later at the Geneva Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, which was actually a scientific event at the United Nations with participants from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The participating states turned the event into a exhibition on nuclear reactors, and everyone pinned their hopes on a big business. Critics, such as the geneticist and Nobel laureate Hermann J. Muller, were unwelcome, and Muller's invitation was revoked shortly before the event began. In the manuscript of his speech, which has survived, he demanded that "the primary concern of humankind in terms of the radiation problem must be its own protection." This wasn't to be the case: the entire political spectrum from right to left was now enthusiastic about atomic energy, agreeing that three quarters of the world's energy needs should be met by nuclear energy by 2000. Radiation should be used to eradicate cancer, while targeted radiation against pests could be used to achieve massive agriculture gains. The construction of nuclear power plants was declared a key technology in many countries, without which one would become economically marginalised. But the seeds were not sown widely enough: in 2014, nuclear energy made up only 4.4 per cent of global energy consumption. Since 1945, there have been major accidents at civil and military production facilities: Mayak (USSR) 1957, Windscale (today Sellafield, UK) 1957, Three Mile Island (US) 1979, Chernobyl (USSR) 1986, and Fukushima (Japan) 2011.

Thursday, 14 April 2016 14:15

Radium Girls: Abused innocence

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Thousands of so called "Radium Girls" used radioactive materials to make watch numbers luminous. Many of them paid with their health.


Thursday, 14 April 2016 13:55

The silence of Chernobyl

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Officially, any settlement in the 30-kilometre exclusion zone surrounding the destroyed reactor in Chernobyl is forbidden. But there are exceptions as hundreds of people have come back to live a quiet, solitary existence.

Thursday, 14 April 2016 13:44

Atomic bomb victims as a reference

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Anyone who takes radiation protection seriously cannot expose people to even a low dose – organisms are busy enough with natural radiation. But this is wishful thinking. On the grounds that we cannot statistically prove that so-called "low radiation doses" actually lead to a higher incidence of cancer cases, a question mark suddenly hovers over what was considered established knowledge. And it can be defined as a safe threshold dose based on the impossibility of evidence , which – similar to cars – in truth only represents a tolerance value. The long-term studies of survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which have been ongoing since 1950, provide the database for these tolerance levels. Founded in 1982, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), a self-constituted panel of experts, is the most influential organisation when it comes to setting these tolerance levels. It has continuously weakened its basic recommendations from "lowest possible degree" (1955) to "as low as readily achievable" (1966) until the level used today of "as low as is readily achievable, economic and social consequences being taken into account" (1973). However, the findings of the long-term studies of atomic bomb survivors cannot be ignored, and so the tolerance levels for the population and workers have been made more strict step-by-step. At the end of the day, the tolerance levels have to be justified by a corresponding benefit to society. According to this mindset, the much trumpeted benefits of the peaceful use of nuclear power in the form of electrical energy has to outweigh the damages to our health, even if they are statistically undetectable. The currently valid tolerance levels therefore reflect what is politically achievable and not what is desired for the health of humankind and all living things.

Thursday, 14 April 2016 13:30

Troublesome new constructions

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Two-thirds of all nuclear power plants currently being built are located in China, India and Russia. In Europe, the construction of the next generation of nuclear power plants has become an adventure with an uncertain outcome as can be seen with the French nuclear power plant Flamanville: there have been construction delays and cost increases in the billions with the third generation EPR pressurised water reactor. And with AREVA, they have the same builder as the Olkiluoto-3 plant in Finland, where costs are also getting out of hand. Flamanville should have been built between 2007 and 2012. Costs were estimated at the start of construction at 3.3 billion euros. They have since risen by their own admission to nearly 11 billion euros, and the plant is not expected to go into operation before 2018. If at all: the French nuclear regulators Autorité de sûreté nucléaire have criticised the concrete mixture for a number of years already. Now the safety inspectors are targeting the steel beams, too. The UK wants to build Hinkley Point C in southwestern England at a record price of 8,000 dollars per kilowatt. This will result in a total cost of close to 12 billion euros. These official estimates are to be compared to other projections, such as those from the EU that start at over 30 billion euros. Various countries are already suing against the subsidies hidden in the package. Due to all of these difficulties, the French energy minister Ségolène Royal at the end of February 2016 hastily extended the operating terms of the 58 nuclear power plants from 40 to 50 years, a practice that is now being followed across Europe and the US. Vendors but also buyers of nuclear power plants generally need an investment guarantee to be able to build a plant in the first place. This is complicated, which is why vendors are joining forces. Large consortia have to behave as partners with governments, which further delays planning. As it seems as though promising projects can only be built in emerging markets such as China and India.

Thursday, 14 April 2016 11:15

A secretive workplace

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Nuclear power plants are well regarded as an employer, but precise inquiries are unwanted in Switzerland as with elsewhere. We would be happy if employees were allowed to speak freely about their jobs, yet interview requests are answered with polite refusals or outright silence. 'You can't force the employees, it's too complicated, the timing isn't right' and other things are offered up as excuses. In France, the excuse is said succinctly: L’État d’urgence, the state of emergency. But how do you get a job at a nuclear power plant? A lot of people work in areas that do not require any special safety requirements. ENSI, the nuclear authorities, reviews the other requirements, and not only with regard to the professional qualifications. Equally important are the medical and psychological tests. In Switzerland, the psychological tests are conducted at the Institute for Applied Psychology (IAP) at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, where they also simulate stress situations. With the phase-out discussion, jobs in the nuclear industry are becoming less attractive, especially among young people. But research will continue in the field of nuclear energy, and this will remain the case so long as nuclear power plants are being operated or decommissioned. Scientists will also have to conduct research on matters relevant to disposal. This is the case regardless of your attitude to nuclear energy research. Even the majority of nuclear energy opponents realise that the waste has to be disposed underground.

Thursday, 14 April 2016 09:32

Deeper into the red

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Sustainable energy is enjoying a strong upswing. Investments in renewable energy in 2014 saw concrete investments of 270 billion dollars. The overall share of renewable energy has even reached 22 per cent, whereas nuclear energy contributes 10 per cent to global electricity requirements.

Thursday, 14 April 2016 09:29

131 nuclear power plants already shut down

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In March 2016, the Swiss Energy Foundation organised a conference in Zurich on the subject of the nuclear phase-out.

Sunday, 03 April 2016 16:54

"What other choice do we have?"

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30 years after the chernobyl disaster life in the contaminated areas of Belarus seems to be back to normal. But the reality is much harsher.

The Danish evolutionary biologist Anders Pape Møller says after more than 20 years research on barn swallows in the evacuation zone: "the swallows are afflicted by the radiation to an alarming degree."

Wednesday, 30 March 2016 13:32

Old ideas in new packaging

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70 per cent of the Japanese population is against nuclear energy since Fukushima. But the nuclear phase-out was only a reality for close to two years, between September 2013 and August 2015. Two reactors have since been put back into operation despite considerable local opposition.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016 13:21

"It's not our business"

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The nuclear disaster in Fukushima Daiichi was the result of irresponsible behaviour on the part of the operating company Tepco and the government regulators. But still, they don't like to talk about responsibility.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016 13:08

"The mice will prevail"

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Japans voters may elect a government strongly pushing atomic energy. But that does not mean, that there is no anti-nuke-movement.



Friday, 18 March 2016 11:48

The suffering of the liquidators

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In 1986 and 1987, around 800,000 predominantly young soldiers were deployed at the destroyed reactor in Chernobyl as liquidators to limit the extent of the disaster. Of the over 350,000 Ukrainian liquidators, only half were still alive in 2011, according to official figures.

Sunday, 28 February 2016 13:54

The End of the nuclear aera!

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A comment

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Cutting of the Documentary "Into Eternity" (2010)

The Magic of the Atom (1955)

  • Documentary (1955), supported by the US Atomic Energy Commission and the Atomic Energy Project: The Life close to Nuclear Power Plants is modern and future oriented, there isn't any danger, as everything is under control

Nuclear Power's Economic Death, a Speech by Mycle Schneider

  • Mycle Schneider, an independent international energy and nuclear policy consultant and lead author and lead author of the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report, provides an economic analysis of the cost of nuclear power

Radium Girls

  • Radium Girls: Videocollage by the designer Rose Todaro

Who we are

Founded in 2012, the Association for Sustainable Journalism on the Internet is committed to high-quality, independent on-line journalism that stands the test of time. The association promotes and runs journalistic websites dedicated to topics that are hardly covered any more in conventional media. Its members include journalists, photographers, designers and web designers.

Pressbüro Seegrund, which was founded in 1989, is firmly established in the media landscape. Its focus is on feature reports, reportage and non-fiction books. It has launched a number of online magazines in recent years including,, and the latest creation:


Association for Sustainable Journalism in Internet,
Neugasse 30,
CH-9000 St. Gallen


Pressebüro Seegrund,
Neugasse 30, PO Box 445,
CH-9004 St. Gallen,
Tel. +41(0)71 671 10 73,,


Website design and programming:
Eveline Arnold Ukaegbu, Proclamation,
Zypressenstrasse 138,
CH-8004 Zürich,


English translation:
Elana Summers


Russian translation:
Alexej Scherbakov


Local interpretors: Galina Kovalch (Belarus),
Irina Gasanova (Ukraine), Chikako Yamamoto (Japan)


Martin Arnold, freelance journalist, author and media entrepreneur for the past 30 years
Urs Fitze, freelance journalist, reportage on politics, the economy, science, travel and the environment" target="_blank">,



Our Aim

Without provoking or causing a scandal, wants to shake things up a bit by encouraging society to reflect on a subject that affects all of us: nuclear power. It is a subject that polarises, turning opponents and supporters into ideologues. And it is a subject that divides the informed and the uninformed in a way that creates intentional and unintentional dependencies. Against the background of the current debates on the 'energy transition', we want to contribute a critical discussion for all those who want to more know about nuclear power. And we want to do our bit to overcome the deep ideological divide that separates supporters and opponents. When it comes to this subject, the truth very quickly becomes relative – or is made relative. You move around in an area where experts, opinion makers, ideologues, affected persons, victims, lobbyists, politicians and world saviours jostle against each other. Everyone should be able to have their say, to tell their truth. The truth of the radiation victims as well as that of the power plant operators, the supporters and the opponents. The second objective of the book is to explore the many facets of truth – and remain receptive to all those who want to make it comfortable for us.

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