Beyond Nuclear International

Building a solar-powered Ethiopia

The radiant smile — and ideas — of Samson Tsegaye Lemma have lit up lives with solar energy

By Brittany Gibbons

Rain tapped on the window as Samson, my supervisor at the Solar Energy Foundation, brewed coffee and prepared a plate of kolo, a snack mix made of roasted grains, for us to share. The aromatic coffee roast wafted through the air as I listened to the water collect in the streets and reflected on my experience in Ethiopia. I had arrived three months earlier and this was my last week as a software developer with the SEF team. In addition to learning more about computer programming, my favorite part of my experience was hearing about my teammates’ life stories. When Samson returned with the snacks, I realized that I had not heard about his experiences. So as he poured coffee from the clay jebena I asked him, “how did it all begin?” He passed me the warm cup and then graciously told his story — a journey from engineer, to detainee, to taxi driver, and finally to leader of one of the first pay-as-you-go solar organizations in Africa.

Living in Addis as a child, Samson constantly fiddled with electronic devices, fixing (and sometimes destroying) radios, watches, and televisions. His passion for technology continued when he enlisted in the military and attended civil engineering classes so that he could use his technical skills in a job that protected his country. Before his 25th birthday, Samson excelled and was quickly promoted to an officer role. However, Samson’s life and the country as a whole were both about to undergo a drastic change, as the regime of then-leader Mengitsu Haile Mariam began to unravel.

Samson slider

Samson Tsegaye Lemma started his own solar business, one lantern at a time.

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Poisoned water and deadly dust

Navajo community contaminated by uranium suffers loss of loved ones and livestock

By Anna Benally

My name is Anna Benally and I am a member of the Navajo Tribe.  I am a resident of Redwater Pond Road Community and have lived here all my life. My clan is Redhouse and Yellow Meadow people.  I am currently a registered voter with Coyote Canyon Chapter House.

I remember at a very young age when mining came into our community.  It was the United Nuclear Corporation (UNC) and Kerr-McGee companies that moved operations in about one mile from where I resided. The two mines were about a half mile from each other. The mine operation was a 24/7 operation in my backyard for about ten to fifteen years of my life.

Anne Benally

Anna Benally

During this time, my mother, Mildred Benally, was a homemaker, rug weaver and had livestock, sheep, goats, horses and cattle. My father, Tom Benally, was a Medicine Man which was handed down from his dad. This was also the same for his brother, Frank Benally, my uncle. He was married to Marita Benally, a sister to my mother Mildred. They all lived at the Black Tree Standing area. Tom was also a member of the Grazing Committee for the Coyote Canyon Chapter House for 8 years. After that he started working for UNC as a laborer. This included repairing lamps and cleaning dressing rooms for workers.

During my childhood days, my siblings and I were instructed to herd sheep. It was a priority to make sure that the livestock were well taken care of, especially watering them daily.  Raising livestock was our way of life and that was the way we understood the importance of respecting them and treating them as members of the family. Having livestock made us feel complete so it was important to take care of them. In addition, we also used some of our sheep as a source of food for traditional ceremonials and other family gatherings.

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“We do not accept anything that harms our mother Earth”

The people of Peruíbe joined together for a renewable energy future

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Sometimes we win. We join together and we fight for what’s right and we prevail. We do it in the name of a nuclear-free world. Or we do it for climate change, or for peace. These victories are important. They deserve to be celebrated and shared and talked about. And they can serve as models for others, guides, roadmaps to success. Inspiration. As we head into a new year we need all of this.

Every time we fight off a uranium mine, a pipeline, a fossil fuel or nuclear plant, an incinerator or nuclear waste dump, we do it for Mother Earth, our only home. While some want to contemplate — and spend billions on — the possibility of living on inhospitable alternative planets like Mars, the rest of us know that if we don’t protect the precious planet we already have, we are pretty much doomed.

Indigenous people have a lot to teach the rest of us about sustainable stewardship of the land, respect for animals and the protection of our precious resources. Over the centuries, the rest of us haven’t been very good at listening, We have preferred to massacre, dominate, impose servitude. We have bombed, and mined, drilled and destroyed.

We coined words like “savages” to describe fellow human beings whose respect for life on Earth is anything but. It is we who have been savage. And remain so. We still aren’t listening. The Dakota Access Pipeline got approved. Nuclear waste could be buried under Beatrix Potter’s Lake District. Rainforests continue to be burned and clear cut. 

Usina protest

Young people were prominent in the movement to stop a massive natural gas project in Peruíbe

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The mad plan to store nuclear waste on the beach

An accident at the California storage site would leave residents nowhere to run

By Diane Ray

On August 9, 2018, standing tall and looking the part of the hero, David Fritch stepped up to the lectern at a Community Engagement Panel meeting between the owner of a now shuttered nuclear power plant and local residents concerned about the beachfront disposal of nuclear waste.  “I may not have a job tomorrow,” he began, “But that’s fine. I made a promise to my daughter.”

Fritch introduced himself as an experienced nuclear power plant safety worker, sent around the country to oversee safety at various sites. He then reported what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) called a “near miss” incident at the radioactive waste storage facility of the local nuclear power plant.

On August 3, 2018,  a 100,000 pound thin-wall cask filled with deadly irradiated nuclear fuel got caught on a flange while being lowered into the steel-lined concrete vault of  the waste storage site, known as an ISFSI (independent spent fuel storage installation). The cask got stuck on a ¼” guide ring for about an hour over an 18-foot drop.

 “It was a bad day…. And you haven’t heard about it,” said Fritch. “And that’s not right.” 

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Rudolph the radioactive reindeer

Dosed by Chernobyl and atomic tests, reindeer and their herders are carrying a heavy nuclear burden

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Fallout from Soviet atomic bomb tests over the Arctic Ocean, compounded by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, have left reindeer too radioactive to eat, even today. That may be good news for the reindeer, sort of. But it’s bad news for the indigenous Laplanders in Finland and Sami herders in Norway, who carry high levels of radiation in their own bodies as well as in the reindeer on which they depend for sustenance and sales.

Reindeer carry heavy radioactive doses, mainly of cesium-137, because they devour lichen, moss and fungi, which bioaccumulate radioactive deposits from fallout. Norway’s radioactive contamination is primarily from Chernobyl, made worse because it was snowing heavily at the time of the April 26 accident. 

Sami herder

A Sami herder feeds his reindeer. (Photo: Suwipat Lorsiripaiboon, Shutterstock)

The Sami story is beautifully explained in this stunning photo essay by Amos Chapple and Wojtek Grojec for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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Crushing children instead of climate change

Young people suing US government over climate change are staying the course

By Linda Pentz Gunter

“As California burns, Trump administration battles climate lawsuit.”

That’s the headline that recently ran across the website of Our Children’s Trust. It refers to a lawsuit brought in 2015 by 21 children, now aged between 10 and 21, first against the Obama administration and now the Trump administration. The children’s claim? That “through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

Trump may want to rake while California burns, but his administration is also using every legal avenue possible to stamp out the fire of these determined young people fighting for their future. 

In effect, the government is using its battery of lawyers to play the game of delay. But, just like climate change, which won’t go away if we simply delay dealing with it, these children remain determined not to go away either. The stakes are simply too high.

Those stakes are best articulated by the young people themselves. Here is Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, then 15 and now 18, and one of the plaintiffs in the suit on behalf of Earth Guardians, of which he is now Youth Director, and who has been speaking out for the climate and our environment since he was six years old.

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