Beyond Nuclear International

Seeing stars

Did blotting out the night sky dull our drive to stop climate change?

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Our skies are clear. For now. But not at night. Light pollution still blocks out the universe for most of us. If we could see the night sky, would we regain our sense of wonder in our world, and work harder to save it?

Many decades ago I went camping with my family on a wild and lonely beach on the Camargue in the South of France. There was nothing there but sea and sand, bordered by dunes and a reed-lined canal. No cafes or hotels, no facilities, no lights. Nothing. 

On one particularly clear night, my father encouraged us all to float on our backs in the warm sea and look up at the dazzling array of stars in the deep night sky. “What do you think about when you look up there?” he asked us.

My stepmother said she felt overwhelmed at how small and insignificant we are in that vast and endless unknown and how frightening that was. My father, ever the scientist, said he felt amazed at how much humans did already know, and continued to discover, about the universe and how exciting that was.

Today, a depressing “two-thirds of the world’s population — including 99 percent of people living in the continental United States and western Europe — no longer experience a truly dark night, a night untouched by artificial electric light.”

That revelation, among many, is contained in the lyrical and literary non-fiction work, The End of Night. Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light. It is written by Paul Bogard, who teaches creative non-fiction writing, a skill reflected in the vivid style of this work, which is no dry text book.

NASA earthrise
Bill Anders’ inconic photo of earthrise taken from Apollo 8. (Photo: NASA)
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Follow the Yellowcake Road

A journey from Tokyo to Mirrar country

By Alexander Brown

On 19 July 2019 I boarded a plane in Tokyo and headed to Cairns for two weeks of fieldwork connected with my research on transnational activism in the Asia-Pacific. My purpose was to learn about the pathways via which uranium travels from Australia to Japan and the resistance movements and grassroots connections which have formed along the way.

Prior to the Fukushima disaster, Australia supplied approximately one third of Japan’s uranium needs, something I first became aware of when anti-nuclear activists from Australia came to Japan in 2012 for the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World.

Since that time I have pondered the nature of the nuclear relationship between my birthplace and my second home in Japan. After delving into the history of this relationship from my dusty office in Tokyo, it was time to make the physical journey along the yellowcake road and see where it might take me.

In Cairns I met with local Japanese-Australian people who organise Smile with Kids, a registered charity which brings junior high school students from Fukushima prefecture, whose lives have been disrupted in multiple ways by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, for a ten-day visit to Cairns.

The children’s visit happened to coincide with a visit to the city by Peace Boat, a cruise ship with a difference which holds peace and sustainable development education activities onboard during its global and regional voyages.

The ship is part of an NGO which campaigns around these issues and has played a significant role in fighting nuclear power in post-Fukushima Japan. Local activists took advantage of this fortuitous timing to organise a welcome event for Peace Boat passengers and staff at which the Fukushima children spoke about their experiences growing up in the wake of the nuclear disaster.

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Standing up to Rosatom

Anti-nuclear resistance in Russia: problems protests, reprisals

The following is a report from the Russian Social Ecological Union (RSEU)/ Friends of the Earth Russia, slightly edited for length. You can read the report in full here. It is a vitally important document exposing the discrimination and fear tactics used against anti-nuclear organizers in Russia and details their courageous acts of defiance in order to bring the truth of Russia’s nuclear sector to light.

Rosatom is a Russian state-owned corporation which builds and operates nuclear power plants in Russia and globally. The state-run nuclear industry in Russia has a long history of nuclear crises, including the Kyshtym disaster in 1957 and Chernobyl in 1986. Yet Rosatom plans to build dozens of nuclear reactors in Russia, to export its deadly nuclear technologies to other countries, and then to import their hazardous nuclear waste.

This report is a collection of events and details about the resistance to Russian state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, and other activities that have led to the pollution of the environment and violation of human rights. Social and environmental conflicts created by Rosatom have been left unresolved for years, while at the same time, environmental defenders who have raised these issues, have consistently experienced reprisals.

Nuclear energy: failures and Lies

  • In the autumn of 2017, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered a concentration of the technogenic radionuclide ruthenium–106 in the atmosphere of several European countries. A number of experts linked the ruthenium release to the Mayak plant in the Chelyabinsk Region2 3, but Rosatom continues to deny this.
  • On the 8th of August 2019, an explosion occurred during a test of a liquid rocket launcher at a marine training ground in Nenoksa Village of Arkhangelsk Region. The administration of the city of Severodvinsk, 30 km from the scene, reported an increase in radiation levels, but later denied the claim. The Ministry of Emergency registered an increase of 20 times (to2 μSv/h) around Severodvinsk, while the Ministry of Defense reported the radiation level as normal. Only two days later, Rosatom reported that five employees were killed and three were injured at the test site. According to media reports, two employees of the Ministry of Defense were also killed and three were injured, and medical personnel who helped the victims were not informed about the risk of radiation exposure.
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Invisible Fallout

New film helps us find it, measure it and understand it

By Linda Pentz Gunter

There are many ways to teach people about radiation. But if you want to make that lesson accessible, compelling and even moving, then this film is the way to do it.

Let’s go on a journey. A journey to learn about radiation exposure from fallout after a nuclear power plant accident. We have the perfect guide. It is the independent French radiation research laboratory known as CRIIRAD, and its director, Dr. Bruno Chareyron.

The organization’s full name in French is Commission de Recherche et d’Information Indépendantes sur la RADioactivité, hence the acronym. In English it is translated as Commission for Independent Research and Information about RADiation.

For those not familiar with CRIIRAD, our journey begins with a little history, and so does CRIIRAD’s brilliant new 45-minute film — Invisible Fallout (Invisibles retombées is the French title), which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube and below. The film, written and produced by CRIIRAD staff and directed by Cris Ubermann, is in French and Japanese with English subtitles.

When the Chernobyl nuclear disaster hit in April 1986, the French government engaged in a notorious cover-up, claiming that France “has totally escaped any radioactive fallout.” The whole thing was a lie. Five days before the government denial, Chernobyl’s radioactive cloud had covered all of France.

As Invisible Fallout recounts, after Chernobyl, it took 15 years until the French government published accurate fallout maps of France. But the CRIIRAD laboratory, formed right after Chernobyl precisely to establish that France’s immunity was a myth, had already done the work that debunked the official line that the disaster was just a Soviet problem. French citizens not only got dosed by Chernobyl fallout, but would live in perpetual danger of a similar catastrophe at home, with a country almost 80% reliant on nuclear-generated electricity from its 58 reactors.

But Invisible Fallout does not linger long in the past. It segues quickly to the next nuclear catastrophe — the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi meltdowns in Japan — and it is there that the CRIIRAD team, led by Chareyron, take us to learn about the effects of radiation exposure from nuclear power plants.

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Not so “super-duper”

Hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles would return us to the madness of the Cold War

By Karl Grossman

The United States is seeking to acquire “volumes of hundreds or even thousands” of nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles that are “stealthy” and can fly undetected at 3,600 miles per hour, five times faster than the speed of sound. In unveiling the plan, Trump called the new weapon a ‘super-duper’ missile. But with even less time to respond to a potential threat, will this lead to a deadly misjudgment?

Why so many? A Pentagon official is quoted in the current issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology as saying “we have to be careful we’re not building boutique weapons. If we build boutique weapons, we won’t—we’ll be very reluctant to—use them.”

The article in the aerospace industry trade journal is headlined: “Hypersonic Mass Production.” A subhead reads: “Pentagon Forms Hypersonic Industry ‘War Room.’”

On March 19, 2020, the U.S. conducted its first hypersonic missile test from its Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii.

Fast and Furiously Accurate” is the title of an article about hypersonic missiles written by a U.S. Navy officer which appeared last year on a U.S. Naval Institute website.

The piece declares that by “specifically integrating hypersonic weapons with U.S. Navy submarines, the United States may gain an edge in developing the fastest, most precise weapons the world has ever seen.”

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But not to the nuclear industry

“Black communities get more promises than jobs — and they get pollution and they get sick”

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Systemic racism in the nuclear industrial complex has endured for decades. Every community of color has been affected. As we confront the wider impact of centuries of racism in the US, we take a closer look specifically at discrimination against African Americans in the nuclear power sector.

The shackles of slavery may be gone, but there is now a knee on the neck of African American voices, whether literal or metaphorical, when it comes to challenging injustice. And it is there when confronting the bias of the nuclear power industry and other lethal polluters. It is quite deliberately there. It is there not only to oppress — and in the case of George Floyd to kill — but to silence and disenfranchise. To stunt movements for change.

Mati poster 2 copy

Protest poster by Mateusz Sambor

That is perhaps how the NAACP’s A.C. Garner, felt after the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dismissed black concerns over a proposed new nuclear power plant in Mississippi in 2005. It was, he said,  like “posting a ‘WHITES ONLY’ sign on the hearing room door.”

Garner’s statement was a reaction to a January 19, 2005 decision by the NRC to grant permission for a second nuclear reactor to be built at the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi. It was to be built in the poorest county in the state, itself the poorest state in the union. 

It would join Grand Gulf Unit 1, opened in 1985 in the Claiborne County city of Port Gibson, and would be known as Grand Gulf Unit 3, as all there is of Unit 2 is an empty concrete pad— the plant owners, Entergy, having asked the NRC to revoke that planned reactor’s license in 1991.

Grand Gulf 1, the largest single unit in the country, with an output of around 1,500 MW, is located in a community that is 87% African American, with a poverty rate of 46% according to census data. The median household income in Claiborne County is $24,601 per year. At least 35% of the population depends on Medicaid. The Covid-19 infection rate there is still headed on an upward trajectory.

Back in 2005, the county was already ill prepared for a health crisis of any sort. It had just one crumbling hospital, struggling to meet the needs of a deprived community and with zero capacity to handle a nuclear emergency. Evacuation routes were washed out and impassible. The police force was completely under-equipped.

“The county doesn’t even have a hospital that’s open 24 hours, and there’s only one fire station in the entire county,” Rose Johnson, chairwoman of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Jackson Free Press at the time. “The situation should send chills down the spines of anyone who lives within a 100-mile radius of Port Gibson.”

Why such deprivation? Why weren’t Port Gibson and Claiborne County flush with the tax revenues the plant should have brought in? Because in 1986, fearing price hikes for the “too cheap to meter” electricity generated by Grand Gulf nuclear Unit 1, Entergy succeeded in getting the predominantly white Mississippi legislature to pass a bill to redistribute more than 70% of those tax revenues to 47 other counties in the state. It is the only reactor community in the country that does not reap the lion’s share of its nuclear plant tax dollars.

The law left an already poor black community even more desperately deprived. But it pre-empted any complaints about increased electricity costs from whiter communities elsewhere in the state.

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