Beyond Nuclear International

Injustice at sea

American sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan were exposed to radiation from Fukushima. Many are sick. Some have died. Why can’t they get justice?

By Linda Pentz Gunter

“Coverage of the USS Ronald Reagan has been astoundingly limited,” wrote Der Spiegel in a February 2015 story. Since then, nothing much has changed.

The German magazine was referring to the saga of the American Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier whose crew pitched in to help victims of the March 11, 2011 Tsunami and earthquake in Japan, then found themselves under the radioactive plume from the stricken coastal nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Since then, crew members in eye-popping numbers have come down with unexplained illnesses — more than 70 and still counting. Some have died. And many are suing.

The USS Reagan was part of Operation Tomodachi, a U.S. armed forces mission involving 24,000 U.S. service members, and numerous ships and aircraft bringing aid to the victims of the tsunami and earthquake.

Reagan scrubbing deck

Sailors wash down the decks of the radioactively contaminated USS Ronald Reagan. (US Navy)

On January 5, 2018, a federal judge in San Diego, CA, dismissed the latest version of a class action lawsuit brought by USS Reagan sailors and US Marines. This was just the latest milestone in a long and winding path to justice strewn with roadblocks and delays.

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Fleeing from Fukushima: a nuclear evacuation reality check

By Dr. Ian Fairlie

(The following is an excerpt from a longer article on the subject of evacuations after severe nuclear accidents. While this section focuses on Fukushima, there are lessons here for all nuclear sites and the likely failure of “on paper” evacuation plans.)

If another severe nuclear accident, such as Windscale (in 1957), Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011) were to occur, then the most important response, in terms of preventing future cancer epidemics, is evacuation. The other main responses are shelter and stable iodine prophylaxis. Adverse health effects would primarily depend on wind direction and on the nature of the accident.  This article looks primarily at the Fukushima evacuation and its after-effects.

When the Fukushima-Daiichi, Japan nuclear disaster began on March 11, 2011, evacuations were not immediate and some were hampered by the destructive after-effects of the Tsunami and earthquake that precipitated the nuclear crisis.

Once people were evacuated, little, if any, consideration seems to have been given to how long such evacuations would last. For example, the large majority of the 160,000 people who left or were evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture are still living outside the Prefecture. Many are living in makeshift shelters such as shipping containers or prefabricated houses.

A_slogan_sign_in_Futaba,_Fukushima_in_2013

Deserted town of Futaba, with ironic welcome banner: “nuclear, a bright and future energy source.”

At present, the Japanese Government is attempting to force evacuees (by withdrawing state compensation) to return to less contaminated areas, with little success. Currently, seven years after the accident, an area of about 1,000 square kilometers is still subject to evacuation and no entry orders. This compares with the area of 2,700 square kilometers still evacuated and subject to no or restricted entry at Chernobyl, almost 32 years after the accident.

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At risk of their lives

Protesting nuclear power in India can mean facing death or imprisonment

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The province of Madhya Pradesh sits right in the center of India. It gained notoriety internationally as home to the city of Bhopal, site of the world’s worst industrial accident. On December 2 and 3, 1984 a leak of methyl isocyanate and other gases from the Union Carbide pesticide plant there exposed more than 600,000 people. Although official figures list fewer than 4,000 deaths resulting from the accident, the likely figure is closer to 16,000.

Although the Bhopal site is now abandoned, it remains toxic and has not been adequately cleaned up. The surrounding communities are still fighting for compensation, suffer chronic health problems and a high rate of birth defects.

The story is a classic example of corporate crime, with Union Carbide and later Dow Chemical, which took over the plant, disputing fatality figures among other stalling tactics. It is reminiscent of similar efforts by American companies, including Dow, to avoid compensation for the victims of Agent Orange, a dangerous and persistent dioxin sprayed on Vietnam — and on its people and US military personnel — during the American War there.

Today, Madhya Pradesh is once again at the center of industrial iniquity, but this time the source is the country’s own government and the industry in question is nuclear power.

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Almoustapha Alhacen

An unrelenting campaign for justice for Niger’s uranium miners and their families

By Linda Pentz Gunter

When Almoustapha Alhacen (pictured above right), a Touareg from Niger, Africa, left his nomadic life in 1978 to become a uranium miner in Arlit, he was unaware of the dangers of the “yellow dust” about which indigenous peoples — in ancient tales going back generations — had sounded a single and universal warning: Leave it in the ground.

In Niger, the yellow dust in question — uranium — has been far from left in the ground. From Arlit to Agadez, a distance of 250 kms, and all around the region, uranium mining has transformed the landscape and the environment.

The Arlit population of just several thousand was lured by promises of a future that would turn it into the “Paris of the Sahara”. Instead, despite decades of uranium mining, people exist in poverty, without running water and electricity, many living in shacks. The herding life of the nomadic Touareg has been destroyed in the region. Instead, uranium mining has caused water shortages in an area already suffering from climate change-induced desertification. The uranium mining and milling operations have poisoned the land with radioactive dust, and lured the Touareg off the land and into the mines.

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Australian nuclear waste dump divides tiny outback town

The Australian government is considering three South Australian properties — two near Kimba, and Barndioota, and one near Hawker in the ­Flinders Range — as a potential national dump site for the country’s so-called low- and medium-level radioactive waste. On February 6, 2018, the Senate referred an inquiry into the selection process to the Senate Economics References Committee for inquiry and report by 14 August 2018. The following feature, while first published by Al Jazeera in November 2016, illuminates the struggle to save the Flinders range. 

In addition to the article below, this 22-minute documentary tells the story of efforts to preserve the land, the nature, tourism and the future of the Flinders Range.

For decades, the Australian government has wanted to build a central waste facility to store all of the country’s low-grade and intermediate-grade nuclear waste

By Jarni Blakkarly (reprinted with kind permission of the author and Al Jazeera.)

Sign_NoDump_AUS

A sign saying no to the proposed nuclear waste dump on Yappala territory, near Hawker [Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera]

Hawker, South Australia – The towering mountains of the Flinders Ranges (picture at top) stand imposingly against the hundreds-of-kilometres-long stretch of flat, desolate country.

While the mountains are named after the British explorer who trekked them in the early 19th century, the indigenous Adnyamathanha people have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years.

This arid and remote part of South Australia has become the unlikely centre of a heated public debate after it was named the preferred site for the country’s first nuclear waste dump.

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Requiem for Hiroshima

Images and sounds draw us back to the past with a warning for the present

How do you capture the sound of Los Alamos in New Mexico? Or the Trinity Test site? Or the quiet headstone that marks the original location of the Fermi nuclear pile in Chicago?

Can you hope to evoke through symbolic photographic images the sorrow and the agony that was the Hiroshima atomic bombing while conveying to contemporary audiences just how grave the peril of nuclear war remains?

These were some of the intriguing challenges facing two installation artists who have collaborated in a project they call Afterimage Requiem. It is a partnership that came out of a discovery made by American sound artist, Andrew Paul Keiper, and Japanese-born photographer Kei Ito, as they uncovered a shared history.

Ito’s grandfather was a Hiroshima survivor who lost his mother, brother and a niece to the attack along with his home which was incinerated. Keiper’s grandfather had worked on the Manhattan project, although he could never divulge in what capacity and his secret life extended to having a second, contemporaneous family with his first.

Keiper and Ito were roommates when they learned of their eerie connection. They knew immediately that they should make art together on a subject that was profoundly important to both of them.

What emerged was a moving, transporting and utterly original installation which found a perfect space inside the giant central hall of the War Memorial in Baltimore, also Keiper’s home town. There, 108 of Ito’s images were laid out across the floor, some lit, some in semi-darkness, each one Ito’s own body, captured in a flash of red and white against a dark background.

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