Beyond Nuclear International

Mother Earth and the “too late” time

We are getting perilously close, warn First Nations

By Linda Pentz Gunter

“I’m choked up. My heart is pounding right now,” said Chief April Adams-Phillips of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne through tears. “We give back thanks to our Mother Earth every day,” she said. But because of our disrespect and our destructive ways, she warned, Mother Earth is “going to get rid of us soon. She’s going to shake us.”

We are heading deeper into the “too late time” when it comes to climate change. “And that too late time is not far away,” said Chief Clinton Phillips of the Mohawk Nation. “Science is saying that. Animals are saying that. Animals who are living where they should not be living are saying that.”

April Adams Phillips

Chief April Adams-Phillips of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne

Are we listening yet? “People are not listening,” Chief Clinton Phillips says. Global warming is upon us and yet we persist with nuclear power whose wastes poison the water, air, land, people and animals. The original guardians of those precious elements of our existence — indigenous peoples — are trying once again to be heard.

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The Facts About Chernobyl

The true impacts of the 1986 nuclear disaster on people and the environment

By Beyond Nuclear staff

The strategy of the desperate is to downplay and dismiss. A major nuclear disaster is more than just an inconvenient truth for an industry that doesn’t want you to know it kills people. As a result, when a serious nuclear accident happens — arguably always preventable and therefore not strictly an accident — there is a scramble to present the event as largely insignificant.

Many myths are quickly put about, usually centered on how few people immediately died, a completely misleading statistic since nuclear power plant disasters do not usually kill people instantly. But over the long-term, their legacy is indeed both considerable and often deadly.

In the newest edition of our periodic Thunderbird newsletter, we look at the facts about the Chernobyl disaster — and touch on one welcome piece of fiction in the form of a novel.

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Children’s shoes, abandoned Pripyat middle school. Photo: Jose Franganillo

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The dogs of Chernobyl

Chernobyl dogs fed by nuclear workers are now getting help

By Lucas Hixson

It’s a common misconception that the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant is devoid of life – in fact there are at least 3,500 people each day who work among the more than 250 stray dogs that roam the grounds.

These dogs can be found in nearly every area of the Chernobyl site, including controlled, indoor areas. The workers have adopted the dogs in a way, and save scraps of the their own meals to feed them.

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The dogs are driven out of the woods to the power plant by packs of wolves and a lack of food to support themselves in the Exclusion Zone. There is even evidence that some of the Chernobyl dogs are breeding with wolves in the area.

In the spring of 1986, the Unit 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded and spread radioactive materials into the environment. In response to the disaster, the former Soviet Union established a 30-km exclusion zone around the facility and evacuated over 120,000 people from 189 cities and communities. The evacuees were not allowed to bring anything that they could not carry.  Pets were abandoned.

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Linda Walker’s healing touch

Her Chernobyl Children’s Project UK helps the young seek respite and joy

By Linda Pentz Gunter

When a deadly nuclear power plant accident spreads radiation across the world, you can’t take it back.  That contamination, from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, hit neighboring Belarus the hardest. Not only those living there at the time, but children born since, have suffered the health effects of exposure to long-lasting radioactive fallout.

The long-term solution, of course, is to rid the world of nuclear power plants, ensuring that no one need suffer from their deadly poison again. But in the short-term, solutions are also needed to help those suffering today.  That is where Linda Walker stepped in.

Linda started her charity Chernobyl Children’s Project UK in 1995, inspired by Chernobyl Children International, founded in 1991 in Ireland by Adi Roche. Linda quickly realized that in addition to bringing children from Chernobyl-affected areas to the UK for so-called “radiation vacations,” something more was needed. She decided that her group needed to be active on the ground as well, in particular in Belarus.  She has been traveling to the country on a frequent basis ever since.

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Alfred Sepepe keeps hope alive

South African besieged with sickness won’t give up fight for worker compensation

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Alfred Manyanyata Sepepe is 66 now. And he is back in the hospital. This time it is lung cancer. Last time it was testicular cancer. On April 9 Sepepe asked to be discharged from the hospital so that he could again go to the Public Protector’s office, a place he has been hundreds of times before. For, while Sepepe has been struggling to stay alive himself for more than 18 years, he has dedicated that time to keeping something else alive — a compensation bid for the former workers at South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear research center.

Today, the work at Pelindaba focuses on the production of medical isotopes. But Pelindaba was also the site where South Africa secretly developed its nuclear weapons, until the country renounced nuclear weapons and began dismantling its bombs in 1989. At the time it had six completed atomic bombs and one still under construction. The work was done under the guise of “peaceful” nuclear energy development.

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Alfred Manyanyata Sepepe

Sepepe, who came from the nearby town of Atteridgeville that supplied much of the Pelindaba workforce, began working in the nuclear complex in 1989, first at the neighboring Advena nuclear laboratory and then at Pelindaba, managed by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA.) He worked as a cleaner, operated machinery and poured chemicals. And he noticed, almost immediately, that there was no protective gear offered to the Pelindaba workers.

“I asked my foreman why we had to work with chemicals,” Sepepe recalled. “And he chased me out.”

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The View from the Ferris Wheel

If we treat each other like expendable dots, can we hope to preserve our humanity?

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The missile attacks this weekend on Syria — by US, French and British forces — are another reminder of just how impersonal war has become. Targets are reportedly hit. But what of the suffering on the ground which, in Syria, is already considerable?

This long-distance and impersonal style of war-making is nothing new of course. We cannot forget the aerial bombing campaigns during World War II and beyond, when terrorized civilians ceased to be human beings but were simply “collateral damage.” Today, we simply have bigger and faster weapons with even greater destructive power.

That’s why I appreciated the analogy former Swiss politician, Moritz Leuenberger, made during last September’s Human Rights, Future Generations and Crimes in the Nuclear Age conference in Basel, Switzerland.

Lamenting the loss of human compassion, he reminded us of the famous scene at the top of the Vienna ferris wheel in The Third Man, when Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles, looks down at the children playing below and asks his old friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton): “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?”

“This is how we lose compassion,” Leuenberger said. “The further away from people that we are.”

In Leuenberger’s case, his presentation was specifically about the victims of the nuclear chain — the fact that our parasitic behavior today will leave an unending debt of ill health and radiation exposures for generations to come.

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