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Film warns about toxic waste

Photo courtesy of International Film Circuit

Many people have a basic idea of what nuclear energy is.

What is done with the toxic waste produced by nuclear power plants is much less known.

The latter topic is the concern of the documentary “Into Eternity,” which will be screened at the Gateway Film Center beginning Friday and running through April 14.

The film will be screened as part of the partnership between the theater and the Wexner Center.

The film focuses on a current project in Finland to build a series of tunnels underground to hold nuclear waste for 100,000 years, the time estimated by Finnish scientists for it to become safe.

“It’s a film that just struck me as such an innovative, contemplative look at a very naughty problem,” said Wendy Lidell, founder of International Film Circuit, distributor of “Into Eternity.”

It’s the first attempt at a post-human structure, something being built to last beyond modern humans, said Michael Madsen, director of “Into Eternity.”

The period of 100,000 years is what drew Madsen’s attention in the first place, but when he began the project he was surprised to find that many of those working on it had as little an understanding of the timespan as he did.

“It’s clear that we are setting things in motion that we simply cannot control, yet we still seem to think, or believe that we can,” Madsen said, “and that is, of course, a weird belief.”

He was also surprised to find a difference in opinion among scientists over the actual time needed for nuclear waste to become safe.

“There is a very big difference in the time scale,” Madsen said, “100,000 years in Finland, but 1 million years compared to the U.S.”

One of the other major issues addressed in “Into Eternity” is how to warn potential future populations on Earth about the contents of the facility.

When Madsen asked those involved with the project about the hazards of the facility in the future, he found that it was a topic they had not considered, and didn’t want to, he said.

“It kind of has this epic, cosmic, science fiction feel,” said Chris Stults, film curator for the Wexner Center. “It feels like it’s taking place on another planet.”

Madsen said the idea to make “Into Eternity” first came to him about five years ago when he heard a story about the facility in Finland on the radio.

Officials from Posiva, the company that runs the facility, had a negative reaction to Madsen at first, but were very cooperative once he convinced them he was genuinely interested in what they were doing.

When the company began receiving bad press on another nuclear venture of theirs, the cooperation ended abruptly.

“Throughout the process, this relationship deteriorated to the point of receiving a contract that our lawyers in Denmark said ‘this is literally a f— off contract,'” Madsen said.

Attempts to find contact information to reach Posiva for comment were unsuccessful.

It took about nine months for the two sides to work out a contract, and the making of the film carried on from there.

Once the film came out, about a year ago, Madsen said it accomplished what he had hoped it would just by getting the information it contains out to the public.

Madsen has also been pleased with the response to the documentary and the questions that it poses.

“What I really appreciate about it is that it’s making me think about a subject in a way that I had never, ever thought about it before,” Lidell said, “and that to me is what makes great art.”

Madsen said the film has built in popularity over the last year, and has recently become even more relevant with the nuclear hazards that have arisen in Japan.

“With the timing of ‘Into Eternity,’ it’s just a great opportunity for people to start talking about, or thinking about the issues of long-term storage of nuclear waste,” Stults said. “It’s also just remarkable film-making.”

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