Nuclear power, far from being a fatality, is a choice. ... Plutonium production and use continue. I am nevertheless confident that it is possible to stop this completely autocratic activity.

Acceptance speech – Mycle Schneider


Madam Speaker, Honourable representatives of the Swedish Parliament, honourable embassy representatives, representatives of the RLA Foundation, fellow Awardees, my friend Jin Takagi, Ladies and Gentlemen,

One day, eleven years ago, I opened the evening newspaper and read in an article on the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe the following astounding statement:

“Even if there was this type of accident every year, (…) I would consider nuclear power to be a valid source of energy”.

You might wonder what sort of person could have put such an insensitive thing on the record: perhaps you could understand it being said by a clean-up worker employed by a utility subcontractor for radioactive decontamination and afraid about losing his job; this statement was in fact made only four months after the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 by Dr. Morris Rosen, then head of the Department of Nuclear Safety of the Vienna based United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (Le Monde 28/8/86). I was very shocked.

What difference does it make whether people are, or are not, aware of such statements? My theory is simple: It makes a great deal of difference. I have overwhelming confidence that most of the people on this planet, whether they be agricultural worker or queen, stock brokers or factory workers, blacks or greens would not accept the consequences of another Chernobyl-type accident and thus would not put their destiny into the hands of someone who considers such a disaster not only possible but actually acceptable. However, Morris Rosen, an extremely influencial top international official, and many, many other Rosens, stay in their jobs.

The problem is always twofold: firstly, you need to identify the relevant information and secondly, you have to find means of influencing the decision making process.

Obtaining and distributing facts as well as inventing and using appropriate policy making tools is precisely what I have been trying to do over the last 15 years. Investigating until I can identify and understand what the core of the problem is.

However, people do not have to become experts to make up their minds on highly complex issues. They need to be aware of the statement, of the technical context, the social implications which refer to their own personal opinion and ethical values. And humanistic values and references are, or at least should be, common to all of us.

Clearly, we do not lack information; we are, in fact subjected to an overwhelming amount of information. But the problem is deciding what is important and what is not! What is right and what is wrong! What information is pertinent to a particular situation! What is relevant to me, what is indispensable to my colleagues! How to identify the information I need!

This question is – or rather should be – subject to a collective effort of society to educate its members to prioritise perceived or perceivable information. This is not the case today. Social pressure leads to a “demand” for the availability of environmental information but people tend to get lost in the disparate maze of information available. The first people to get lost are journalists, politicians and environmentalists whose role is to provide the general public with a coherent picture of the different issues at stake.

Plutonium. Priorities. What does the man in the street need to know about plutonium? There is a scientific debate whether 12 microgrammes or 20 microgrammes  of plutonium are necessary to develop fatal lung cancer. There is a “SECRET” stamp on the document which deals with the question whether three or five kilogrammes of plutonium is needed to fabricate a crude nuclear device. Fact is that France alone has a stock of more than 65 metric tons of plutonium, of which 35 tons belong to other countries. Fact is that two or three convoys of plutonium are transported by road in France every week. Fact is that the French State utility EDF has assigned a zero monetary value to its plutonium stock “given the uncertainties of its future use”.

What more does the citizen require to make up his mind? This is an ironically ridiculous affair: plutonium which is extremely radiotoxic is being produced at a price of about 7,500 FRF/kg (nobody knows the real cost) – seven times the value of a silver bar of equivalent weight to be put on the shelves, in quantities enabling France alone to fabricate some 5,000 nuclear weapons, or to put it in another way, enough to  deliver a lethal dose to every single human being on earth.

What if some terrorist organisation hijacks transported plutonium, forwards a credible threat of one nuclear explosive device and threatens international society and governments? Does anybody seriously believe that organisations who kill women and children with their bare hands by the thousand, who blow up buildings containing child care centers or bomb attack sky scrapers would show the least bit of hesitation about using such means of mass destruction?

The world would change completely from one day to another.

Nevertheless, plutonium production and use continues. Two weeks ago, Dr Takagi and myself published the results of the 2 year in depth analysis of the social impacts of the use of plutonium bearing MOX fuel in LWR – the same type as the 12 Swedish reactors.

This careful assessment was carried out by an international group of distinguished experts, including Dr Frank Barnaby well known in Sweden and worldwide for he was the director of SIPRI for 10 years.

The Project report concludes that “there is no reasonable justification or identifiable social benefit in the continuation of Pu separation and the launch of a MOX fuel program for LWR.”

Sweden has an outspoken anti-plutonium production policy – so I thought. Since I came to Sweden a few days ago, I have asked many people about what I had read a few months ago was a project of the – partly State owned utility OKG operating the Oskarshamn NPP. The plan would jeopardize the – so far – consequent Swedish approach: OKG, it said, intends to reprocess 140 t of fuel which has been stored at the UK Sellafield site for 20 years, then manufacture the extracted plutonium into MOX fuel and load it into the Oskarshamn reactors.

Nobody I talked to here in Sweden, neither activists nor politicians were aware of the current state on the issue. So I inquired myself this very morning at the utility OKG.

The OKG´s president office referred me to the fuel manager, who gave me a breathtaking answer:

Ladies & Gentlemen, according to OKG now Sweden owns 600 kg of separated Pu, the reprocessing has already been carried out at Sellafield and was finished a month and a half ago. OKG intends to use that Pu in the form of MOX fuel after 2003 in its power plant. However, OKG has neither a license to operate any reactor on MOX fuel nor any MOX fabrication contract.

If this information is correct – and there is no reason to believe it is not – this would be a major blow to the international hopes for a Pu free future, hopes Swedish policy has been nourishing over the past 15 years. Once again the Pu industry is creating a dangerous fait accompli.

Let me take this opportunity to urge the Swedish Parliament and the Swedish government to take appropriate action, now, to prevent at least the implementation of a Swedish MOX plan.

Sweden could still be trendsetting again if it did firmly decide on a scheme which provides for conditioning and storage of its plutonium as radioactive waste.

Internationally, for the implementation of a ban on future Pu production and use, Dr. Jinzaburo Takagi is a key element in the successful acomplishment of our task. Rarely have I encountered anybody as efficient in producing and using information and policy tools as my colleague and dear friend Jin. And it is a superb honour for me to share this award with such an exceptional devoted, intelligent and effective person. Also I cannot think of anyone else with whom I feel so much in harmony as far as international political, strategic and tactical analysis are concerned.

The RLA jury has called our cooperation a “unique partnership” to rid humanity of the threat posed by plutonium. I think that this partnership is indeed quite unique. Nevertheless, there is also an important methodological element in this partnership. Fundamental radical changes in areas which have such profound implications for the future of humanity will only come about with in depth cooperation extending beyond political and national borders. We both have the privilege to work with exceptional people around the globe. To be effective, everyone in this unofficial network needs to be highly reliable, rapid and… a friend. It is an illusion to imagine that intense research and political work, often under incredible financial and time constraints, could be carried out in an efficient manner without close human relationships between people.

One of my biggest tasks will be to pass on my experience to others, an area in which I feel I have to a large extent been unsuccesful. People come and go, references however remain.

But who will continue the work of the scientific and human giant, John Gofman? I stress that we are lucky to feel as if we have received the RLA twice: the first time by having been nominated by John Gofman, the second time today.

Our work ultimately consists of providing options so that our kids will be able to choose. Nuclear power, far from being a fatality, is a choice.

And I will keep the luxury of being able to be astounded, shocked and furious about daily statements showing ignorance and arrogance, the news of terror and suffering. If we ever get used to the horror of manslaughter in Algeria and hundreds of thousands starving in Iraq, we have lost our souls.

I will keep asking myself whether I have the right priorities. For the time being I feel my work on energy and environmental issues is useful. I have chosen to work on different urgent matters. In this respect, I feel not only highly honoured by the Award but also very much at ease with my fellow recipients of this year’s prize and those of previous years whom I shall now have an excellent opportunity to get to know much better.

Thank you very much.

Mycle Schneider
45, all_e des deux cdres
91210 Draveil
skype: mycleschneider