Will we ever be nuclear-free?

The 2020 winners of the Nuclear Free Future Award dedicate their lives to ensure it

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The recent fate of Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, provides a sharp reminder about the risks also taken by those who oppose Russia’s state-run nuclear power industry.

Like Navalny, these courageous folk have been followed, surveilled, beaten up, their computers seized, and occasionally even homes ransacked. Most of those at the forefront of Russia’s anti-nuclear movement have been tagged as “extremists” or categorized as a “foreign agent.” A few have been forced to flee overseas, choosing exile to protect their personal safety.

We have published two stories on Beyond Nuclear International so far about Russian resistance to Rosatom and the powerful nuclear industrial complex. Most recently it was Standing up to Rosatom, which described the nuclear sector in all its facets and the efforts by citizens to shut down its various components.

Earlier, we ran an article by Oleg Bodrov, himself a victim of violence and persecution brought about by his resolute opposition to nuclear development in Russia (and now, through his Baltic alliance, Finland as well).

In These Russians aren’t going away, Oleg wrote about Fedor Maryasov (above left), “a pioneering journalist”, and Andrey Talevlin (above right), “a campaigning lawyer”. He observed: “anyone who has seen the fate of those who oppose the regime in Russia, knows just what kind of risks both men take to commit to their conscience.”

Fittingly, Maryasov and Talevlin are the 2020 winners of the international Nuclear Free Future Award, which is given in three categories: Resistance, Education and Solution. The Russians take home the Resistance prize, although this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will sadly be no in-person ceremony. However, the Munich-based Nuclear Free Future Foundation, of which Beyond Nuclear is the North American partner, hopes to host zoom events with the winners in the coming months.

Maryasov, who lives in the closed nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk (formerly Krasnoyarsk-26), in Siberia, discovered that his city was destined not only to receive the nuclear waste produced from its domestic nuclear industry, but foreign waste as well, in complete disregard of the health and wellbeing of residents. 

Wrote Bodrov: “Maryasov led a public anti-nuclear protest in the Krasnoyarsk Territory and was able to expose the information blockade around the activities of Rosatom.”

Talevlin has been the go-to lawyer for the Russian environmental movement, winning several cases in court. In 2015, he was “rewarded” for his services by the Russian government when he, and the environmental movement that he leads — For Nature — were named a “foreign agent”.

A spin through some of the previous winners in the Resistance category yields some pretty hair-raising stories. Poisonings, ostracization, isolation, exile— these are often the norm under more repressive regimes. Their triumphs are our collective blessings as humankind.

But what would be the point of resistance if no one hears about it? That’s where this year’s Nuclear Free Future Award winners in the Education category come in. 

Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa run a network and a publication called The Nuclear Resister, which keeps the rest of us connected with those who risk everything to protest the evils of nuclear power and nuclear weapons — even putting their lives on the line. (In the interests of full disclosure, I submitted their nomination.)

Jack and Felice Cohen-Joppa engage in resistance at the Nevada Test Site. (Photo courtesy of the subjects)

As some of those brave souls are eventually tried and jailed, The Nuclear Resister was created to keep the lines of communication open. Together, Jack and Felice, through the Nuclear Resister and its global network, offer support to those imprisoned for the “crime” of sacrificing their personal freedom in the cause of a nuclear-free world.

Since 1980, Jack and Felice have provided comprehensive reporting on thousands of anti-nuclear resisters, and especially those subsequently jailed for their actions. In 1990, they expanded their work to include reporting on anti-war resisters, with the same emphasis on prisoner support.

So we resist, and we educate, but how do we solve all this? The Solution category was created to reward those who innovate, who think not only outside but well beyond the box; who continue to not only believe that a better world is possible, but to do something about it.

Ray Acheson, anti-nuclear feminist, giving a TEDx talk, December 6, 2018. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré

Ray Acheson knows that most people on this Earth are opposed to the manufacture, possession and especially the use of nuclear weapons. Yet at the top levels of government, support for this ultimate weapon of mass destruction continues. Acheson has raised her voice against nuclear weapons, as a human being but, most importantly, as a woman.

Ensuring that women’s voices get heard on the world stage is a perpetual struggle, and at its hardest in a testosterone-loaded environment like nuclear arms. Ray has represented women, argued against discrimination and authored gender-sensitive analyses on nuclear weapons and the international arms trade.

She has also advocated for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which saw its success to date in large part because it took a more feminist approach to the issue, arguing the humanitarian impacts rather than geopolitical nuances or collective firepower. We published an article by her last month advocating for the Treaty, a Green New Deal and other solutions to the global problems that impede peace.

If you have been at all involved in the civil society end of the nuclear abolition movement, then you know Ray, someone who believes a solution is possible, but that it must be adopted with all voices heard, not just the rich, powerful and male.

Each year, the Nuclear Free Future Award team, which is based in Munich, also chooses one or two honorary winners (the Resistance, Education and Solution categories come with a cash prize and are chosen by a jury). This year, the Special Recognition winner is US Representative, Deb Haaland, a Democrat and Native American from the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.

US Representative and Native American, Deb Haaland of New Mexico, fights against nuclear power and for clean energy. (Photo: Kalita Conley for Moms Clean Air Force/Creative Commons)

Haaland fought her way to that position as a single mother living on food stamps who eventually got a degree and then qualified as a lawyer. In Washington, she advocates, among other things, for the extension of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which still today excludes those contaminated by the Trinity Test on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico, the very first atomic detonation. The Act also still excludes uranium miners working after 1971.

“We must inhabit the Earth as sustainable beings; to do so, we must change the direction of our thinking,” says Haaland. “If we take something from the Earth, we must also give something back to her”.

While in the past, the annual Nuclear-Free Future Award ceremony has traveled to a different location around the world, this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it cannot be held in person. However, one or more webinar events with the laureates is planned for the coming months.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear and a member of the Nuclear Free Future Award jury. Beyond Nuclear is the North American partner of the Munich Germany-based Nuclear Free Future Foundation.

Headline photo of Ray Acheson by Tim Wright.

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