Beyond Nuclear International

The beginning of the end of nuclear weapons

How states stood up to the nuclear bullies and won a ban treaty

By Tony Robinson

At 7pm, on the 6thof June, at the Village East Cinema, in Lower Manhattan, Pressenza International Press Agency, of which I am a co-director, will host the World Premiere of our new documentary on the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. The title, The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons, is a reference to the speech made by Setsuko Thurlow to the assembled throng of dignitaries and International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) campaigners, during her Nobel Laureate Speech in December 2017 when the Peace Prize was awarded to ICAN.

The film charts the story of the development of the atomic bomb through to the negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons, and is told through the interventions of 14 people whose roles have been key in the fields of activism and diplomacy.

The full horror of the US bombing of Hiroshima is explained in the words of Setsuko herself as she recounts the day the bomb was dropped on her hometown, the subsequent impacts on the Hibakusha, as the survivors are known, and the efforts by the government to censor all information on the subject.

04 Ray Acheson

Ray Acheson, of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, interviewed in the film.

A brief history of anti-nuclear activism is set out with the help of veteran campaigner, Alice Slater from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, together with the great strides taken in the 1980s to eliminate entire classes of weapons and bring down international tensions without actually doing anything to abolish nuclear weapons entirely.

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The tiny plant that helped save a desert from uranium mining

South Africa’s Karoo has been spared nuclear desecration — for now

By Stefan Cramer

People all over the Karoo were deeply shocked when they found out way back in 2014 that their backyards had been licensed for uranium exploration.

Farms from places as far as Prince Albert to Murraysburg, from Steytlerville to Merweville, were suddenly earmarked by an unknown Australian mining company called PENINSULA ENERGY.

They reckoned that they were sitting on a world-class deposit of the “nuclear stuff” only a few metres below the dry Karoo surface. Sure, there had been attempts in the last century. However, nothing had come of it except for a few ugly holes around Beaufort West, still polluting the environment until today.

Karoo landscape Bernard Dupont

The spectacular Karoo won’t be fracked or mined for uranium. (Photo: Bernard Dupont/Creative Commons/Flickr)

At that time people knew or had heard about fracking. Yes, there were consultations and a public outcry about the oil and gas industry suddenly carving out large chunks of the Karoo. Actually, the entire Karoo was marked for drilling and fracking for natural gas from the shales deeply buried in the Karoo. Some landowners got together to voice their opposition, others signed petitions and attended meetings. But uranium was on nobody’s radar screen.

Yet, the uranium industry was miles ahead. When the news broke, they had basically finished their exploration exercise, had drilled thousands of boreholes, and were already applying for mining licenses all over the place.

But uranium is potentially a much bigger, more imminent and more dangerous prospect: hundreds of farms were marked for open-pit mining, potentially creating large plumes of radioactive dust blowing over the Karoo and contaminating the few groundwater resources that are left here for agriculture.

However, things changed quickly in 2015 when word spread, and people started to realize the impending threat. This was just in time, as the application processes for exploration and mining licenses allowed for public input.

Suddenly, hundreds of submissions flowed to the Department of Mineral Resources, whereas in the past there was a slow trickle of only two or three. More and more, these submissions were high-powered, arguing scientifically and with legal weight and institutional support.

Then one thing happened that nobody expected.

One good morning after a beautiful rain, a farmer’s wife near Aberdeen discovered a tiny little plant in the veld, only a few millimetres high and which she had not seen before.

A quick check by botanical specialists revealed that this was a rare species of Nananthus, a tiny succulent never studied in these areas. The botanical survey of the developers — it turned out — had missed it, including many other endemic plants. The entire environmental impact assessment was delayed, and botanical studies had to be redone.

That bought us enough time to organize a group of some twenty concerned South African scientists to develop a more systematic submission arguing forcefully why uranium mining is not an option for the Karoo. The developers were fuming.

Yellow X Karoo protest

The author (left) and his wife Erika stand by the Yellow X — which indicates the local resistance against uranium mining — placed on a Karoo farm on the road between Aberdeen and Beaufort West.

Meanwhile, things also didn’t go well for the Australian-based company at their main mine in Wyoming in the USA. There, they had chosen the wrong technology and the mine yields were plummeting. Yet, prices for uranium were and are still so depressed, as nobody had built nuclear power stations in the last twenty years and the appetite for more is low after Fukushima.

Technically, the company was broke, if it were not for the deep pockets of their Russian backers. But even Russian oligarchs have no money to waste – and so eventually they pulled the plug on the Karoo adventure, after having burnt more than 10 million US-dollars in legal fees and consultants – and sure some splendid banquets for the politicians involved.

In October 2017 the company finally threw in the towel and announced it would completely and permanently withdraw from the Karoo. Being unable to even sell their share in this project to any bidder, they had to cancel the entire application processes.

They now have to use the proceeds from the sale of the 300,000 hectares of farm lands around the proposed uranium mines in the Karoo for their rehabilitation obligations.

We have to watch out to ensure it is done properly, as the stakes are high, and it will be easy for them to skip the more demanding tasks of rehabilitating the Rest Kuil Mine (near Rietbron) or the Rietkuil pit between Beaufort West and Merweville, if residents are not vigilant.

It is still not clear whether this is a permanent victory for the integrity of the Karoo. While any new contender will have to think twice, after such deep pockets failed, there is another scenario on the horizon.

If the Russian and Chinese manage to build the next generation of nuclear power stations across the world and the price of uranium shoots through the roof again, some desperados may feel inclined to test the Karoo case again. It is therefore imperative to continue the struggle against nuclear power and nuclear weapons, back home in the Karoo and everywhere else.

Dr. Stefan Cramer is science advisor to Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute. 

This article originally appeared on Karoo News and is republished with kind permission of the author.

Headline photo of Little Nananthus courtesy of the author.

A rebel with many causes

Muna Lakhani’s anti-nuclear work was just one giant component of an enormous activism repertoire

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Is it possible to love someone you’ve never met? Even if Muna Lakhani had never entered my life, I could answer that with a resounding “yes.” When the first photo arrived from our US adoption agency of the tiny baby girl they had selected for us in Vietnam, powerful waves of love engulfed me. I could not imagine a love more fierce.  I was not just in love with a photo. Even though I had not yet met her, this was my daughter. Without a doubt.

It was a love that only grew stronger, even through the trauma of the adoption being canceled twice, as our agency, fearing too much corruption in Vietnam to complete the process, advised us to put her back on the shelf like a box of supermarket cereal. They would find us another daughter, in Russia. Absolutely not, we said, fighting through to the end. That’s what love does.

Muna appeared on the scene at about the same time we were working through that drama. Ours was a work connection as the pebble bed reactor had become an imminent threat in South Africa. Muna was with Earthlife Africa. He was based then in Durban. My organization at the time, and others, jumped in to help derail the pebble bed plans.

Muna

Muna Lakhani. From his Facebook page.

When I first got to know Muna I was entranced by his musical name. As our connection was forged over email, I didn’t know at first if it belonged to a man or a woman. Somehow, building a connection with this warm and effervescent person whose gender I was not sure of was refreshingly without preconceptions. But then Muna, who had leant a near-stranger’s loving empathy to our ongoing adoption ordeal, nominated himself our daughter’s “uncle” as soon as she was home. That, as it turned out, was a typically Muna thing to do. And so I came to love Muna, even though I can’t truly say I knew him.

Muna has died now. If you’ve been following our websites, you have seen a few obituaries lately. Too many. Perhaps it is a factor of getting older, this losing people. But our movement has been dramatically bereft of late.

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Accused of “treason,” one man stands up to the nuclear powers and prevails

Film relates Hans Schuierer’s conversion to anti-nuclear hero

By Linda Pentz Gunter

A viewing of the poster and trailer for Wackersdorf, the new feature film from Oliver Haffner, might lead you to believe it is an action-packed drama about the large and sometimes violent protests at the proposed site of a new nuclear reprocessing facility in what was then West Germany.

Wackersdorf did indeed become famous for its sometimes riotous scenes along the fence line of the site, where two protesters died. The trailer also features rabble-rousing speeches by locals and angry ex-miners desperate for employment in order to feed — and hold together — their families.  

In the midst of this turbulence is a quiet and serious middle-aged man who is tasked with the final decision on whether or not to green-light the nuclear project. His name is Hans Schuierer, and it is in fact his story that this film is about. Schuierer, who was awarded the Nuclear-Free Future Award for lifetime achievement in 2014, is captured in a sensitive performance by Johannes Zeiler.

Wackersdorf premiere in Germany

The Wackersdorf film premier in Germany. (Photo: Thomas Kniess/WikiCommons)

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When resistance becomes a duty

An unimaginable ordeal that became an important anti-nuclear milestone

The following was the acceptance speech given by Hans Schuierer on receiving the Nuclear-Free Future Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2014

By Hans Schuierer

You will probably not be surprised when I tell you that today I am filled with gratitude and joy. Firstly, I would like to express my thanks. Thanks to those who nominated me as a prize recipient and thanks to those who chose me. Thank you to my presenter, Dr. Heribert Prantl.

The invitation speaks of “the architects of a nuclear-free future.” Speaking for myself, I have to admit, regretfully, that I am at best a latecomer, as, together with many other colleagues, I was a long time advocate for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It was only when I was forced to deal with the plans of the Bavarian State government and the nuclear energy operators to build a reprocessing plant (WAA) in Wackersdorf, that I quickly became convinced the opposite was true.

But the proponents and nuclear operators made it easy for me. Because any honest and objective observer of the plans for this WAA could quickly realize that the whole package from start to finish was a pack of lies.

And so it was 35 years ago when the then President of the State of Bavaria, Franz Josef Strauss, gave me the answer to my question: whether it was true that a nuclear site was planned for the Upper Palatinate.

“There are neither plans nor any considerations for building a nuclear site in the Upper Palatinate or anywhere else.”

Franz_Josef_Strauß_1986

Franz Josef Strauß (center) visits Schwandorff in 1986. He told Schuierer there were no plans for a reprocessing plant in Bavaria — which turned out to be untrue. (Photo: Winfried Weithofer/WikiCommons)

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The fox we need to guard this henhouse

Trawsfynydd nuclear site could get small modular reactors

By Linda Pentz Gunter

It was a lowering, blustery day, clouds hanging heavily above our heads when Meilyr Tomos, with People Against Wylfa B, and I went to rendezvous with Awel Irene, one of the lead watchdogs on the Trawsfynydd (pronounced Trousfinneth) nuclear power plant site tucked inside Snowdonia National Park in Wales.

We collected her in a parking lot before driving on. She was delivered there by her partner, a handsome man in a woolly sweater flecked with pieces of straw. “I have to get back to the sheep,” he said by way of explanation. “How many do you have?” I enquired.

“Only a few now,” he said. “Just a hundred.”

In Wales, where sheep outnumber people three to one, 100 sheep is a small flock. They dot the landscape everywhere, not only grazing in meadows but perched on precipitous hillsides, sometimes high up, looking like tiny white outcroppings on the mountains that give Wales its rightful place as one of the most scenic regions of the UK.

We set off, and that famous Welsh landscape began to unfold before our eyes. Villages were tucked into rolling green hillsides, or scattered along valleys. Abandoned slate quarries revealed the scarred, grey interior of lush and looming mountainsides. The daffodils were already blooming. Streams cascaded down from rocky heights. Rugged ponies grazed on vertiginously sloping grasslands. And of course there were sheep. Everywhere.

Traws 5

The two closed Trawsfynydd nuclear power reactors, lakeside. (Photo by the author)

But as we approached Trawsfynydd, site of two old Magnox reactors which opened in 1965 and closed in 1991, the scene turned appropriately grim, the rain began to fall and the skies to darken.

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