Beyond Nuclear International

Where’s the beef?

Over-cooked rhetoric or actual progress at Singapore summit?

By Linda Pentz Gunter

There was a lot at stake, said the pundits, when Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un finally met at their much vaunted Singapore nuclear summit. Or should that have been at “steak”?  After all, Trump touted a pile of steaks as his own brand after a 2016 primary win in Florida, even though Trump Steaks hadn’t sold a cut since 2007 and the brand trademark was canceled in 2014.

So what can we really trust about what was “agreed” to in Singapore?

The headlines roared that the agreement signed between the respective US and North Korean leaders, meant “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. But what emerged was a single piece of paper replete with glowing rhetoric, one grammatical error and little else. Not as fake as Trump steaks perhaps, but just as bland.

For sure the “optics” — to coin an annoyingly over-used term — served the two dictators well. Each legitimized the other’s authoritarian control over the news cycle and publicity stunts. 

But like the proverbial hamburger, it wasn’t Wendy’s. It was more Peter Pan’s Never Never Land. And that’s about how likely it is that North Korea will “completely denuclearize”, and even more true about the US’s own intentions in that department. After all, it is pretty rich for the US to tell any country to get rid of all its nuclear weapons, when the US itself, in defiance of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — and now the new UN Ban Treaty — is bristling with close to 6,500 of its own. And planning to make new nuclear weapons.

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Jeffrey Lee saved Koongarra from uranium mining

“My responsibility is on that land and I don’t own the land. The land owns me.”

By Stefan Disko

As the sole surviving member of the Djok clan, Jeffrey Lee is the traditional owner and senior custodian of the 12.5 square kilometer Koongarra Project Area, which was excluded from the World Heritage protection of Kakadu National Park when the Park was established in 1979, because it contains a major uranium deposit.

Kakadu National Park is an enormous, biodiverse nature reserve in Australia’s Northern Territory. The park has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, and many of the park’s extensive rock art sites date back thousands of years. The Koongarra enclave is situated in the eastern part of Kakadu and is completely surrounded by the World Heritage property.

The French nuclear energy giant Areva, which holds exploration licences for the uranium deposit, had been pressuring Lee for decades to let the company mine the area, knowing that as the only member of his clan, he in effect controlled the fate of Koongarra. Jeffrey would have become one of Australia’s richest people if he had allowed Areva to extract the estimated 14,000 tonnes of uranium from the area.

The short video with Lee below — A win for Kakadu — explains his quest to protect the land.

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India uranium mines radiate disaster

Villagers of Jadugoda say radiation from uranium mines is impairing their children

By Amita Bhaduri (article originally published by India Water Portal)

The body of Guria Das looked like that of a three-year-old when she passed away at the age of 13. Guria was born in 1999 with a condition that constrained her growth. Her father, Chhatua Das recounts how Guria, unable to speak or move, communicated with him and his wife through gestures; a language that only the three of them could comprehend. Born in Jadugoda, in Purbi Singhbhum district in Jharkhand, Guria was one of the many children who succumbed to the health complications from excessive radiation from the uranium mines.

By 2012, Guria’s bone structure was deteriorating and the local doctors gave up hope. Das, an auto driver, grieves that he was unable to afford his daughter’s treatment during her last days. There were conflicting diagnoses by the doctors; some suspected jaundice, others said Guria was suffering from skeletal distortions and stunted growth and some others held a rare genetic condition as responsible. “With each passing day, her backbone became stiffer, while her eyes continued to hold a lot of emotion till the end. We could only give supporting medicines but lost her as I could not arrange even Rs 3000 for her blood transfusion,” says Das.


Guria Das, who died at 13 but was the size of a 3-year old. Uranium-related health hazards are endemic in Jadugoda.

Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), a public sector unit, has been scraping tons of uranium ore annually out of six mines spread across the hills in Jadugoda. Uranium mined from here is used in making fuel pellets that fire the reactors in nuclear power plants.

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The (nearly) 90-year old man who climbed out the window and got a nuclear weapons ban

By Linda Gunter

With the 2017 ICAN Nobel Peace Prize win and UN nuclear weapons ban, we have celebrated the advent of youth to the cause. But we must not forget or dismiss the elders who got us here.

Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, whom we profiled earlier, is very much the welcome fresh face of today’s nuclear weapons ban movement. But she is not the ICAN founder. That honor lies with 87-year old Dr. Ron McCoy, a Malaysian physician. (Headline photo of McCoy at the campaigners’ meeting by Xanthe Hall (IPPNW/ICAN).

A retired OB/GYN, McCoy participated in the numerous meetings that were the run-up to the successful negotiation of the UN nuclear weapons ban. His compadres were mostly in their 30s. And he was as much a part of the action, as well as the inspiration, that secured the ban.

This was never more apparent than at a meeting held at a charming little villa in Geneva, used for breakout sessions during the 2016 UN Open Ended Working Group on Disarmament. McCoy’s session took place in a far ante room with only one way out — through the main conference room. In that room, the Hibakusha were relating their moving and powerful stories, once again painfully reliving the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their testimonies provided the personal, humanitarian narrative that was central to ICAN’s argument for the ban.

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An “Almighty” good read

Dan Zak’s book on nuclear weapons is a lyrical history rich with personalities

By Linda Pentz Gunter

“The zero hour approached but time seemed at a standstill. There was no cell service out there in the bramble, off a state highway named for a U.S. senator, past the point where brick estates gave way to matchstick shanties, past where foothills overtook steeples, where civilization faded down tangles of switchbacks. Off one sudden turn, a gravel drive hitched into the dim heather and got narrower, until it was just a mud lane rutted with tire tracks that wormed between warped barns. And there was the grove of sycamore, the rows of grapevine and corn, the handsome country house. A sanctuary. On the wraparound porch facing the vegetable garden, especially at night, it was possible to pretend that this was all there was — that the world was made only of tranquil enclaves under ancient starlight.”

If, on reading that evocative paragraph, you did not immediately conclude that this was a non-fiction book about the history of nuclear weapons, you could be forgiven. That lyrical opening was the first, but by no means the only, unexpected thing about Dan Zak’s book, Almighty. Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age.

Zak writes feature stories, and occasional news assignments, for the Washington Post. He is, not to be too harsh on others, a rare pearl among a lot of rather pedantic swine. Fine writing matters, or it should, but it doesn’t seem to much anymore in today’s 280-character blurt-fest.

Robert Oppenheimer the gadget

Robert Oppenheimer makes his final inspection of “the gadget” before the Trinity atomic test

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Solar start-ups are plugging Africa’s energy gap

Solar may soon be the region’s most reliable — and cheapest — source of renewable energy

By Akinyi Ochieng and Fadekemi Abiru, from Africa Expert Network

Life without electricity can be dangerous and difficult. While Scranton, Pennsylvania earned the moniker “Electric City” in 1880, 90% of rural Americans still lacked power by the 1940s. When the wealthiest nation is just a few decades removed from full electrification, does this make electrifying Africa, where nearly 600 million live without it, the world’s most urgent yet daunting developmental challenge?

Based on current trends, the World Bank predicts that even by 2040 over half a billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa will still lack electricity. Although energy use across sub-Saharan Africa has risen by 45% since 2000, supply has not kept pace with demand. However, the emerging potential of cost-competitive solar solutions may soon propel Africa into a bright future. Across the continent, entrepreneurs have driven the growth of the world’s most attractive green energy market by developing ambitious off-grid and utility-scale solar projects.

Africa has emerged as a hotbed for solar investment. In the last three years, solar has been one of the most popular sectors for development institutions and private sector investors targeting areas with significant potential for social and economic returns. In October, M-KOPA, one of East Africa’s leading pay-as-you-go energy providers, secured a total of US$80 million to finance solar installations in one million homes over the next three years.

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