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.
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.
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.
By Jarni Blakkarly (reprinted with kind permission of the author and 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.
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.
By Linda Pentz Gunter
According to the now much parroted African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” But what does it take to get a worldwide nuclear weapons ban?
Once upon a time, it might have taken a room full of white men in ties, but not anymore. Today the face of the UN nuclear weapons ban — and the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize that rewarded this achievement — belongs to a 35-year old woman.
That woman is Beatrice Fihn, young, vibrant, Swedish and the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN. Fihn is not the group’s founder (of that, more in an upcoming article), but she has become its face, and it’s a welcome change in a movement that remains very much dominated by elder statesmen.
Fihn is of course quick to point out that “I did not win the prize. 460 NGOs won the prize.” ICAN is made up of constituent organizations from around the world. Together, they navigated a ban process that focused not on the technical and war-fighting capacity of nuclear weapons but on their devastating humanitarian impact.
By Linda Pentz Gunter
On February 22, the French government mounted a military-style assault on a small community of anti-nuclear activists who had been watchdogging, and living on, a site for the country’s proposed high-level radioactive waste dump in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France near the village of Bure. (Just over a week later, authorities were back to again remove protesters this time with tear gas.)
As many as 500 armed gendarmes in riot gear moved in at dawn, with bulldozers, trucks, helicopters, drones and chainsaws to confront about 15 occupiers, self-described “owls.” They had been living in tree houses and lookout towers for the past 18 months, keeping watch over a forest designated to be torn down for the country’s first high-level radioactive waste repository.
The gendarmes broke down doors, tore down the tree houses, demolished encampments and dragged people away under arrest. To justify this stunt, the government of French president, Emmanuel Macron, claimed the zone was a ZAD — zone à défendre or zone to defend — used to justify clearing out what they define as a militant or anarchist occupation that is blocking a development project.
After removing those occupying the Lejuc Wood — designated for ventilation shafts for the dump —they headed to the House of Resistance in Bure, headquarters for the national campaign against the dump, battering down the door and removing residents by force. The House of Resistance has anchored the anti-Bure campaign for 20 years.