Beyond Nuclear International

A rebel with many causes

Muna Lakhani’s anti-nuclear work was just one giant component of an enormous activism repertoire

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Is it possible to love someone you’ve never met? Even if Muna Lakhani had never entered my life, I could answer that with a resounding “yes.” When the first photo arrived from our US adoption agency of the tiny baby girl they had selected for us in Vietnam, powerful waves of love engulfed me. I could not imagine a love more fierce.  I was not just in love with a photo. Even though I had not yet met her, this was my daughter. Without a doubt.

It was a love that only grew stronger, even through the trauma of the adoption being canceled twice, as our agency, fearing too much corruption in Vietnam to complete the process, advised us to put her back on the shelf like a box of supermarket cereal. They would find us another daughter, in Russia. Absolutely not, we said, fighting through to the end. That’s what love does.

Muna appeared on the scene at about the same time we were working through that drama. Ours was a work connection as the pebble bed reactor had become an imminent threat in South Africa. Muna was with Earthlife Africa. He was based then in Durban. My organization at the time, and others, jumped in to help derail the pebble bed plans.

Muna

Muna Lakhani. From his Facebook page.

When I first got to know Muna I was entranced by his musical name. As our connection was forged over email, I didn’t know at first if it belonged to a man or a woman. Somehow, building a connection with this warm and effervescent person whose gender I was not sure of was refreshingly without preconceptions. But then Muna, who had leant a near-stranger’s loving empathy to our ongoing adoption ordeal, nominated himself our daughter’s “uncle” as soon as she was home. That, as it turned out, was a typically Muna thing to do. And so I came to love Muna, even though I can’t truly say I knew him.

Muna has died now. If you’ve been following our websites, you have seen a few obituaries lately. Too many. Perhaps it is a factor of getting older, this losing people. But our movement has been dramatically bereft of late.

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Accused of “treason,” one man stands up to the nuclear powers and prevails

Film relates Hans Schuierer’s conversion to anti-nuclear hero

By Linda Pentz Gunter

A viewing of the poster and trailer for Wackersdorf, the new feature film from Oliver Haffner, might lead you to believe it is an action-packed drama about the large and sometimes violent protests at the proposed site of a new nuclear reprocessing facility in what was then West Germany.

Wackersdorf did indeed become famous for its sometimes riotous scenes along the fence line of the site, where two protesters died. The trailer also features rabble-rousing speeches by locals and angry ex-miners desperate for employment in order to feed — and hold together — their families.  

In the midst of this turbulence is a quiet and serious middle-aged man who is tasked with the final decision on whether or not to green-light the nuclear project. His name is Hans Schuierer, and it is in fact his story that this film is about. Schuierer, who was awarded the Nuclear-Free Future Award for lifetime achievement in 2014, is captured in a sensitive performance by Johannes Zeiler.

Wackersdorf premiere in Germany

The Wackersdorf film premier in Germany. (Photo: Thomas Kniess/WikiCommons)

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When resistance becomes a duty

An unimaginable ordeal that became an important anti-nuclear milestone

The following was the acceptance speech given by Hans Schuierer on receiving the Nuclear-Free Future Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2014

By Hans Schuierer

You will probably not be surprised when I tell you that today I am filled with gratitude and joy. Firstly, I would like to express my thanks. Thanks to those who nominated me as a prize recipient and thanks to those who chose me. Thank you to my presenter, Dr. Heribert Prantl.

The invitation speaks of “the architects of a nuclear-free future.” Speaking for myself, I have to admit, regretfully, that I am at best a latecomer, as, together with many other colleagues, I was a long time advocate for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It was only when I was forced to deal with the plans of the Bavarian State government and the nuclear energy operators to build a reprocessing plant (WAA) in Wackersdorf, that I quickly became convinced the opposite was true.

But the proponents and nuclear operators made it easy for me. Because any honest and objective observer of the plans for this WAA could quickly realize that the whole package from start to finish was a pack of lies.

And so it was 35 years ago when the then President of the State of Bavaria, Franz Josef Strauss, gave me the answer to my question: whether it was true that a nuclear site was planned for the Upper Palatinate.

“There are neither plans nor any considerations for building a nuclear site in the Upper Palatinate or anywhere else.”

Franz_Josef_Strauß_1986

Franz Josef Strauß (center) visits Schwandorff in 1986. He told Schuierer there were no plans for a reprocessing plant in Bavaria — which turned out to be untrue. (Photo: Winfried Weithofer/WikiCommons)

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The fox we need to guard this henhouse

Trawsfynydd nuclear site could get small modular reactors

By Linda Pentz Gunter

It was a lowering, blustery day, clouds hanging heavily above our heads when Meilyr Tomos, with People Against Wylfa B, and I went to rendezvous with Awel Irene, one of the lead watchdogs on the Trawsfynydd (pronounced Trousfinneth) nuclear power plant site tucked inside Snowdonia National Park in Wales.

We collected her in a parking lot before driving on. She was delivered there by her partner, a handsome man in a woolly sweater flecked with pieces of straw. “I have to get back to the sheep,” he said by way of explanation. “How many do you have?” I enquired.

“Only a few now,” he said. “Just a hundred.”

In Wales, where sheep outnumber people three to one, 100 sheep is a small flock. They dot the landscape everywhere, not only grazing in meadows but perched on precipitous hillsides, sometimes high up, looking like tiny white outcroppings on the mountains that give Wales its rightful place as one of the most scenic regions of the UK.

We set off, and that famous Welsh landscape began to unfold before our eyes. Villages were tucked into rolling green hillsides, or scattered along valleys. Abandoned slate quarries revealed the scarred, grey interior of lush and looming mountainsides. The daffodils were already blooming. Streams cascaded down from rocky heights. Rugged ponies grazed on vertiginously sloping grasslands. And of course there were sheep. Everywhere.

Traws 5

The two closed Trawsfynydd nuclear power reactors, lakeside. (Photo by the author)

But as we approached Trawsfynydd, site of two old Magnox reactors which opened in 1965 and closed in 1991, the scene turned appropriately grim, the rain began to fall and the skies to darken.

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Fusion confusion

Physicists’ flawed fantasy should be shunned

By Daniel Jassby

Fusion reactors have long been touted as the “perfect” energy source. Proponents claim that when useful commercial fusion reactors are developed, they would produce vast amounts of energy with little radioactive waste, forming little or no plutonium byproducts that could be used for nuclear weapons. These pro-fusion advocates also say that fusion reactors would be incapable of generating the dangerous runaway chain reactions that lead to a meltdown—all drawbacks to the current fission schemes in nuclear power plants.

And, like fission, a fusion-powered nuclear reactor would have the enormous benefit of producing energy without emitting any carbon to warm up our planet’s atmosphere.

But there is a hitch: While it is, relatively speaking, rather straightforward to split an atom to produce energy (which is what happens in fission), it is a “grand scientific challenge” to fuse two hydrogen nuclei together to create helium isotopes (as occurs in fusion). Our sun constantly does fusion reactions all the time, burning ordinary hydrogen at enormous densities and temperatures. But to replicate that process of fusion here on Earth—where we don’t have the intense pressure created by the gravity of the sun’s core—we would need a temperature of at least 100 million degrees Celsius, or about six times hotter than the sun. In experiments to date the energy input required to produce the temperatures and pressures that enable significant fusion reactions in hydrogen isotopes has far exceeded the fusion energy generated.

Sun

To replicate the sun’s fusion reactionon Earth we would need a temperature of at least 100 million degrees Celsius, or about six times hotter than the sun. (Photo: WikiCommons)

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Can the NPT and the TPNW co-exist?

Bridge building to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

By Alexander Kmentt

As we approach the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May 2020 and “celebrate” the Treaty’s 50th anniversary, there is much talk of “bridge building” between the different perspectives on nuclear disarmament. The advent of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017 was the latest manifestation of the rift in the international community. The Ban Treaty was supported by a majority of States not in possession of nuclear weapons, and is seen as an important and necessary legal measure upon which to build much overdue progress on nuclear disarmament.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nuclear weapons States object to this approach, criticising the Ban Treaty and alleging it to be detrimental to the NPT. Disagreements over the Ban Treaty will be difficult to bridge. Nevertheless, nuclear States should engage substantively and constructively with the humanitarian arguments underpinning the Treaty, rather than treating it primarily as a nuisance. Such a discussion would be welcomed by NPT member States and could aid in rebuilding trust in the disarmament discourse, vital to ensuring continued broad support for the NPT.

Nuclear weapons have always been the subject of diametrically opposed views: “nuclear haves” insist on the value of nuclear weapons for international security due to their deterrent quality. In this understanding, nuclear disarmament may well be a desirable objective in the long-term but relinquishing weapons is not possible given today’s international system and security environment.

In the opposing view, “nuclear have-nots” consider the existence of nuclear weapons and the concept of nuclear deterrence as highly precarious, morally questionable and the division of haves and have-nots, discriminatory. For States holding this view, nuclear disarmament is an urgent priority.

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