Religions (Sep 2021)

Hans Jonas, Günther Anders, and the Atomic Priesthood: An Exploration into Ethics, Religion and Technology in the Nuclear Age

  • Sebastian Musch

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 9
p. 741


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This article investigates the ethical implications of the notion of an Atomic Priesthood, an artificially constructed religion built around the preservation of knowledge related to nuclear-waste storage by using the work of Hans Jonas (1903–1993) and Günther Anders (1902–1992). Building on Jonas’ The Imperative of Responsibility from 1979 and Anders’ The Outdatedness of Human Beings from 1956, this article participates in the debate regarding the ethics of the post-closure marking of nuclear-waste storage sites. Assuming that we have a moral obligation toward future generations, as Jonas argued, even after the nuclear-waste storages have been filled and closed, there remains a need to communicate the danger of these sites to future civilizations to whom our languages and other semiotic systems are incomprehensible. Discussing the hypothetical concept of the Atomic Priesthood, an artificial religion whose central purpose would be to make it taboo to approach certain “impure” sites where our civilization had buried nuclear waste, this article argues that due to the unsolved ethical stakes, technological solutions are unequipped to deal with the long-term ramifications of nuclear power.