Beyond Nuclear International

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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Americans say the Green New Deal is “too expensive”

Are skewed polling and media bias to blame?

By Linda Pentz Gunter

What are opinion polls and what exactly do their outcomes signify?

Their results are predicated on two things:

  1. The level of information the respondents have been exposed to.
  2. The framing of the questions on the poll.

What is missing, when the media report the results of these polls, is their own failure to adequately inform the public on the issue at hand in the first place.

Thus, the responses in a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll on the Green New Deal (GND), as reported in an article in the November 27 edition of the Post, reflected the fact that most people know almost nothing about the GND at all. This is hardly surprising. Most mainstream media outlets, whether print, radio and television or on line, saturate us day after day with everything Trump.

The climate crisis is at last starting to get some traction in the media. But it’s way past due. And it’s only happening now that there is a crisis. The opportunities to heed the scientific warnings even decades ago and start enlightening the public then, were missed, deliberately or otherwise.

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Nuclear winter in a warming world?

India-Pakistan nuclear war would have “no precedent in human experience”

By Daniel Stain

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could, over the span of less than a week, kill 50-125 million people—more than the death toll during all six years of World War II, according to new research.

A new study conducted by researchers from CU Boulder and Rutgers University examines how such a hypothetical future conflict would have consequences that could ripple across the globe. Today, India and Pakistan each have about 150 nuclear warheads at their disposal, and that number is expected to climb to more than 200 by 2025.

The picture is grim. That level of warfare wouldn’t just kill millions of people locally, said CU Boulder’s Brian Toon, who led the research published on October 2, 2019 in the journal Science Advances. It might also plunge the entire planet into a severe cold spell, possibly with temperatures not seen since the last Ice Age.

His team’s findings come as tensions are again simmering between India and Pakistan. In August, India made a change to its constitution that stripped rights from people living in the long-contested region of Kashmir. Soon after, the nation sent troops to Kashmir, moves that Pakistan criticized sharply.

“An India-Pakistan war could double the normal death rate in the world,” said Toon, a professor in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). “This is a war that would have no precedent in human experience.”

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