Nuclear-Free Future

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24 October 2018

Peter Weish

To write something brief about Peter Weish is not easy. That Austria is in a position to make claim to “the first and globally unique monument to failed technology in scale 1:1” (says fellow activist Bernd Lötsch)- referred to here is the atomic power station in Zwentendorf which, in 1978, was closed before being put into operation – owes more than a little to the efforts of Peter Weish.

At the end of the ‘70s, the Social Democrats who were able to govern without a coalition and who were almost to a man pro atomic energy, laid a major report about nuclear energy before the parliament as a response to the growing anti-nuclear protests across the land from Lake Constance to Lake Neusiedler. And it exemplified the existence of black holes. Intended to convert politicians and the populace into nuclear energy supporters, the paper was full of them. The risks and unanswered questions disappeared into the void.

At that time, Peter Weish was the one who expounded, in hearings and panel discussions, in a very clear, detailed analytical form, that this so-called Safety Expertise, without even a radiological ecological study, promised anything but a safe future. Weish was not only concerned with a possible catastrophe but he also pursued hard and doggedly the question of the quality of the normal daily operation: Is it allowable, in the absence of a threshold value for radiation exposure, to set limit values for radiation exposure levels? Are cost benefit analyses acceptable, when the benefits are reaped today, but the real costs lie in the distant future? How safe is safe? And in relation to this, what is the “residual risk”?

It was said that in the late ‘70s the atomic energy lobbyists chose to keep themselves well in the background when the man with the extraordinarily confident smile was announced as a participant in a round of discussions in advance of the planned nuclearisation of the republic. Weish, who between 1966 and 1970 was himself a member of staff at the Institute for Radiation Protection in the reactor centre in Seibersdorf, not only knew the manner in which the nuclear technologists cobbled things together, but also learnt how they ticked. In particular it was this knowledge which made him a fairly insurmountable obstacle and, with the support of the Austrian civil community, caused Zwentendorf to become a signal fire that glowed.

The matter of nuclear power was, is, and remains of paramount importance for Weish, but by no means the only matter of importance. From 1974 he was a researcher and lecturer at the Institute for Environmental Technology and Nature Conservation. Together with Austria´s brilliant ecologist Bernd Lötsch he developed studies relating to urban ecology, on protecting species and nature, and repeatedly concerning energy policy and the dangers relating to nuclear concepts. In 1984 Peter Weish was promoted to professor at the University of Vienna for his work “Human ecology´s contribution to the evaluation of technology based on the example of nuclear energy”. The bearer of the Konrad Lorenz National Award and the Golden Order of Merit of the Vienna region remains so resolute, because he stands firmly with both feet on the ground, one anchored in the area of ethics and philosophy and the other in natural science.

Austria´s grand old man of the anti-atom resistance would be inclined to pass on praise to the many undeterred who fought to ensure that the Alpine republic became the solitary peak of freedom from atomic energy.

Felix Austria! Fortunate Austria!