Nuclear-Free Future

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29 September 2012

Sebastian Pflugbeil

He is a detective. When something is out of the ordinary, he sees it right away – like an Australian Aborigine who notices the pebble that is no longer in its place. To do this you have to know your pebbles. When Sebastian Pflugbeil looks at a column of figures he can tell if it has been manipulated. He knows his figures. He is really a physicist, but when he smells a crime he turns detective.

Born on the island of Rügen in 1947, he grew up in Greifswald. Music was part of his early years. His father was a church musician, his mother, who played the cembalo, founded the Greifswald Bach Week. After studying physics, Pflugbeil went to work for the Institute for Cardiac and Cardiovascular Research of the East German Academy of Sciences at Berlin-Buch. He was not allowed to get a Ph.D. – his closeness to the civil rights movement and his outspoken stance against nuclear power and nuclear bombs had attracted the attention of the Secret Police. In 1989 he was a founding member of the dissident group Neues Forum which he represented at the Round Table in negotiations with the East German government. In the Modrow government he was Minister sans portfolio for a brief period – long enough for him to smuggle secret documents about the security of East German nuclear power plants out of the office. On the copying machine in his bedroom (possession of which was illegal) he made copies, returning the originals the next morning. The assessment for the central round table, relaying on Pflugbeils top secret reports, contributes to the shutdown of six running power plants and lead to the stop of fife more power plants being planed.

“Our quest for the truth was obstructed by all parties.”

Once the Wall came down, the West fell within the purview of private eye Pflugbeil. In Geesthacht, near the nuclear power plant Krümmel, physicians found an increased incidence of leukemia among children. Pflugbeil got out his magnifying glass and detected evidence that belonged to a different era altogether: traces of the uranium project of the Nazis, run by the nuclear physicists Bagge and Diebner. After the war the pair founded the Gesellschaft für Kernenergie und Schifffahrt and continued their atomic research on a site formerly owned by Dynamit Nobel AG.

As spiritual custodians of their ancient homeland, Jillian and other Adnyamathanha have a much different relationship to its sites and landscapes than the people punching the clocks at Heathgate Resources Ltd., a subsidiary of U.S.-based General Atomics, the proprietors of the Beverley Uranium Mine. Jillian feels that the challenge before every Australian citizen is to decolonize the way we think about and interact with each other and with the environment we have inherited. “We cannot keep exploiting and destroying our natural and cultural resources; we must become responsible and mature citizens of this nation.”

In 1986 there was a fire at the site, possibly, according to Pflugbeil, an explosion. During the 1990s, leukemia among children increased significantly in the area. An independent interdisciplinary leukemia commission was set up to look into the matter in 1992, Pflugbeil one of its eight members. The commission worked for twelve years; in local soil samples they found PAC nuclear fuel pellets, evidence of illegal military experiments. In 2004, frustrated by persistent obstruction and a “wall of silence” six of the eight members quit the commission. At Pflugbeil’s suggestion, soil samples were sent to the International Sacharow- Environmental University of Minsk, which confirmed many of the commission’s nightmare assumptions. In retrospect, Pflugbeil says, “our quest for the truth was obstructed by all parties.” He is particularly angered by charges that the commission had dreamed up a “conspiration theory.”

The Nuclear-Free Future Award is proud to honor Sebastian Pflugbeil, the family man (his wife practices internal medicine and they have four daughters) for his ability to follow a scent. At home, between trips to Chernobyl and Fukushima, you might see him go from his PC to his mother’s cembalo to play music with his daughters.