Beyond Nuclear International

Things just got worse, again

Trump’s reckless acts make a nuclear Iran more likely

By Linda Pentz Gunter

If one was to sum up 2019 in a phrase, it would probably be “just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse.”

On second thoughts, it’s probably been a daily refrain ever since Donald Trump took office as President of the United States. In those early days we still held out hope that his tenure could not last. It seemed incredible then that such an incompetent and unqualified man could enter, let alone remain, in the White House.

Now here we are at the start of 2020, Trump is still in the White House, and with sickening predictability, things just got worse once again.

This time it’s the tense situation with Iran, a story that is by no means over, whether or not violent reprisals cease or resume. The Pandora’s Box got opened by Trump with his rash and reckless decision to assassinate Iran’s top general. One might call the act ill-advised, except it’s likely no one advised him. Or if they did, he didn’t listen. Trump is an oligarch basking in autocracy. Like the petulant child he is, he shall do as he pleases. And the rest of us will pay the price.

Although, lest we forget, we have been here before. On February 4, 2012, under the Obama administration, a rally was held at the White House — simultaneously with others around the world — to call for “No War on Iran, No Sanctions, No Intervention, No Assassinations.” Instead, all of these things have continued to happen.

2012 no irn war demo

National Day of Action ANSWER Coalition NO WAR ON IRAN Protest in front of the White House, February 4, 2012. (Photo: Elvert Barnes Protest Photography/Wikimedia Commons)

At the time of the 2012 protests, the Answer coalition stated:

“The U.S.-led campaign to bring about regime change is escalating. The European Union has announced a complete embargo of Iranian oil. Taken together with the other economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies, this is a campaign meant to impose maximum suffering on the people of Iran by destabilizing and destroying the country’s economy.  At the same time, covert action inside the country, including assassinations, sabotage and drone over flights, is intensifying. U.S. military bases surround Iran, while nuclear-armed U.S. aircraft carriers and Trident submarines sit right off its cost.”

No lessons learned, then.

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The human cost of nuclear weapons

More than a “feminine” concern

By Lilly Adams

The nuclear weapons world is full of subtle and not-so-subtle misogyny, and I’ve had my share of experiences: Fighting my way onto an otherwise all-male panel, only to have my speaking time cut short. Meeting a male colleague at a conference for the first time, where he immediately told me that he liked the red dress I was wearing in my Facebook profile photo and that I should dress like that more. Having a male superior tell me he saw no problem with the all-male, all-white panel he was organizing and scoffing at the idea that we had a “gender problem.”

It would be easy to dwell in frustration on experiences like these, or similar ones I have seen my colleagues face. Instead, I’m inspired by the women who excel in this field despite these challenges. What’s more, I’m glad that these experiences led me to start poking holes in the received nuclear weapons wisdom and to seek new approaches. One such approach, which is often overlooked but increasingly gaining prominence, is to examine nuclear issues through a social justice lens. As with many social justice issues, women, indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income and rural communities have often been those hit hardest by nuclear weapons production and testing.


A medical team conducting annual medical examinations of Marshallese people who were exposed to radioactive fallout from an atmospheric nuclear weapons test in 1954. (Photo: US Dept. of Energy.)

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An assassination, uranium and the fate of a country

The Democratic Republic of Congo and America’s nuclear weapons

By Jasmine Owens and Tara Drozdenko

Eighty percent of the uranium used in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs originated from the Shinkolobwe mine in the Belgian Congo, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Congo was the number one supplier of uranium to the U.S., and the people of the DRC paid a heavy price.

Forced Labor and Exploitation

In 1885, without the support of his government, King Leopold of Belgium created his own personal colony in what is now the DRC. Leopold’s private army terrorized the indigenous population and basically turned the entire area into a forced labor camp for resource extraction. The human rights violations were so extreme that there was intense diplomatic pressure on the Belgian government to take official control of the colony, which it did by creating the Belgian Congo in 1908. Things improved slightly when the Belgian government took over, but not much.

Article 3 of the new Colonial Charter stated that: “Nobody can be forced to work on behalf of and for the profit of companies or privates”. But, this was not enforced, and the Belgian government continued to impose forced labor on the population through less obvious methods.

When Germany occupied Belgium in June of 1940, the U.S. convinced the Belgian company that managed Shinkolobwe to move all of its mined supplies of uranium to the United States for safekeeping. Twelve hundred tons of ore was shipped from the Congo to Staten Island, NY, and stored there.


The Shinkolobwe mine in the 1940s. (Public domain)

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Nuclear colonialism

Indigenous opposition grows in New Mexico against proposal for nation’s largest nuclear storage facility

By Kendra Chamberlain, NM Political Report

A proposal for New Mexico to house one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities has drawn opposition from nearly every indigenous nation in the state. Nuclear Issues Study Group co-founder and Diné organizer Leona Morgan told state legislators recently that the project, if approved, would perpetuate a legacy of nuclear colonialism against New Mexico’s indigenous communities and people of color.

Holtec International, a private company specializing in spent nuclear fuel storage and management, applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico.

The proposal, which has been in the works since 2011, would see high-level waste generated at nuclear power plants across the country transported to New Mexico for storage at the proposed facility along the Lea-Eddy county line between Hobbs and Carlsbad. Holtec representatives say the facility would be a temporary solution to the nation’s growing nuclear waste problem, but currently there is no federal plan to build a permanent repository for the waste.


“Dry casks” similar to these containing high-level radioactive waste would be stored “parking-lot” style in New Mexico. (Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Wikimedia Commons)

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The pigeon murders

The strange tale of the bird ladies of Sellafield

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Growing up, I loved hearing Tom Lehrer sing “Poisoning the Pigeons in the Park.” Not that I wished harm on the innocent birds. In fact I was something of an aspiring birder at the time. I just enjoyed Lehrer’s dark humor. 

But the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facility, on England’s northwest coast, made that song a reality. Sellafield was poisoning pigeons routinely with its radioactive releases. It was just that, for a while, no one knew it.

Not until, that is, two middle-aged twin sisters, living in the nearby small town of Seascale, began overpopulating their garden with pigeons. Jane and Barrie Robinson fed and cared for the birds out of love. They called their place the Singing Surf pigeon sanctuary.


Drigg Road in Seascale, where the Robinson twins lived, and whose garden was home to around 700 pigeons. (Photo: Linda Pentz Gunter)

But the neighbors weren’t so happy about it. Adhering to to the usual pigeon cliché about “flying rats”, and fearing a health hazard from all the droppings, they called authorities on the bird ladies of Sellafield. And the strange tale began to unfold.

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Slow violence and toxic waste

Art exhibition “Hot Spots: Radioactivity and Landscape” makes the invisible visible

By Jodi Heckel

Illinois leads the nation in the amount of energy it produces from nuclear sources. But the aftermath of its production often is unseen.

An exhibition that opened at Krannert Art Museum (KAM) in October seeks to make visible the long-term impact of the nuclear industry, particularly issues surrounding radioactive waste. “Hot Spots: Radioactivity and the Landscape” features the work of a variety of artists and collectives. It opened at KAM on Oct. 17 and runs through March 21.

The exhibition was organized by the University of Buffalo Art Galleries and inspired by the role the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area played in the Manhattan Project; the radioactive waste being stored at sites such as the Niagara Falls Storage Site; and the “hot spots” from radioactive slag once used as backfill in roads and parking lots there.

“This exhibition is about slow violence and how toxic waste has a duration we cannot compute. It outlives humans,” said Amy Powell, KAM’s curator of modern and contemporary art.


Hot Spots: Radioactivity and the Landscape, installation at Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, 2019. Photo by Julia Nucci Kelly.

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