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Around the World, Victim Assistance Comes Up Short

Current assistance programs for victims of nuclear weapons use and testing have provided compensation or other benefits to individuals in about a dozen countries around the world.

 Article 6 of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) requires states parties to provide assistance – “including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support as well as…social and economic inclusion” – to individuals affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons. All states parties with the ability to help are required to do so, not only those states where victims of nuclear use and testing live.

This review points to the following policy questions for when states parties to the TPNW or others design future victim assistance. It highlights that no single best practice exists and that much more work needs to be done to extend the benefits of these programs to all who have suffered.

1. Who does the program intend to assist and how does it determine eligibility?

 

 

While some programs only provide assistance in response to a radiation-linked illness, others support all habitants of an affected area or all nuclear test veterans.

 For programs predicated on an illness, there have been two general approaches for determining eligibility. One approach uses geographic and time-bound criteria to presume impact and eligibility. This approach is easier to understand and administer but draws hard categorical boundaries.

 The second approach measures exposure and the likelihood that exposure caused illness by examining demographic and behavioral factors. While this approach appears more equitable in theory, it raises serious challenges in practice. Further, the threshold for eligibility within the formula may be more of a political calculation than a scientific one.

 While the enabling statute of France’s program includes a presumption of causation, it also states that radiation exposure must cause more than a “negligible risk.” As a result, the French administering agency initially used a more technical approach to establish risk that resulted in claim approval rates of less than 10%, leading to widespread frustration. In 2017, the program was amended to remove the “negligible risk” language and, while questions still remain about program application, initial data show that claim acceptance rates rose above 50% in 2018.

2. Is the assistance monetary compensation or programmatic (e.g. health care)

assistance? Is it one-time or ongoing?

 

 Some programs have provided one-time financial compensation (United States, France, Canada, Fiji, Isle of Man, India), some provide ongoing financial compensation (China), some provide other ongoing benefits (Japan for decades, Australia only belatedly), and some provide a combination of financial and non-financial compensation (Russia, Kazakhstan, Marshall Islands).

Long-term assistance programs may better meet victims’ ongoing needs, but also require more robust program structure or bureaucracy.

 The TPNW calls for assistance that establishes or reestablishes social and economic inclusion of the impacted communities. Provision of health care or pension payments are positive contributions, but a more comprehensive assessment of individual and community needs may be necessary to meet this standard moving forward.

3. Does the assistance account for changing costs over time (e.g. inflation)?

 

Hanford Journey 2019, Yakama Nation Swan Dancers, photo by Kiliii Yüyan I Columbia Riverkeepers

For programs with one-time benefit awards, it is important to consider how costs may change over time. Under the U.S. program, the award amounts have remained the same over a 30-year period; general inflation has cut the value of these awards essentially in half.

4. Does the assistance account for multi-generational harm?

 

Alijan

 As first-generation victims from World War II and the subsequent era of nuclear testing age and pass away, the focus for victim assistance may shift to second- and third-generation victims. There is growing concern that the harm caused by radiation exposure gets passed down to future generations.

Kazakhstan provides healthcare for children born in affected areas, but no other programs recognize and compensate for the harm caused directly on second-generation survivors. Some existing programs provide benefits to family members in the case of death of the primary victim.

5. Are the benefits of the assistance distributed without discrimination across all

affected populations?

 

George Coleman : US Nuclear Test Veteran

Countries often started with benefits to veterans and then expanded to civilians, although some like China only provide veteran assistance.

 Most often, tests were conducted in close proximity to already marginalized groups, including colonized or Indigenous populations and some groups have received more assistance than others. Under the French program, for example, only one Algerian has received compensation over the last decade.

6. Does the assistance come with an explicit apology or assumption of moral

responsibility by the providing entity?

Only the United States has issued an apology, and only to its own citizens in 1990 legislation. To citizens of the Marshall Islands, the U.S. stated it had a responsibility for the nuclear tests but it did not apologize.

The United Kingdom refuses to recognize any health impacts from nuclear tests or provide any compensation. France recently recognized the involuntary contributions of French Polynesia to its nuclear program but has not apologized for any of its tests. Other countries have provided payment to veterans without accepting legal or moral responsibility.

While the TPNW does not legally require an apology (in part because it requires non-responsible states to provide assistance when possible), it is important to many victims and communities.

In summary, these questions raise important policy issues to be discussed and highlight shortcomings in existing programs. Looking ahead, the rights-based approach established in the TPNW should guide future victim assistance efforts, even for states not party to the treaty. It is important to also pay attention to the TPNW language that calls for age- and gender-sensitive assistance, given the evidence that shows women and girls are more affected by fallout. Policymakers must consider the questions raised above with input and participation from the directly affected communities themselves.

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First Committee Foreshadows Disarmament Fights At 2020 NPT Review Conference

For the last month, the First Committee of the United Nations has met to discuss, debate and vote on resolutions related to disarmament issues. While nuclear-weapon states have attempted to obstruct progress or backtrack on previous commitments, the majority of states continued to push forward a nuclear disarmament agenda. At the upcoming 2020 NPT Review Conference, this majority will need to resist the efforts of a small few and hold firm to strong language on disarmament and the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons.

Support for the TPNW

Around 50 countries expressed support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in remarks to the committee. Nearly two dozen states and ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement asserted that the TPNW complements the existing legal architecture, including the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Many further noted how it complements other treaties and urged their fellow states to join the TPNW. Twelve states – Guatemala, Algeria, Mongolia, Jamaica, Fiji, Ghana, Ireland, Timor-Leste, Nepal, Tanzania, Myanmar and Brazil – reported on their own progress towards ratification of the TPNW.

“If you think that nuclear weapons do not affect your country, you should think again,” Ms Maria Eugenia Villareal stated on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons to the gathering. “The 14,000 nuclear weapons that exist in the world today pose an acute existential threat to all of us. No nation is immune to the radioactive fallout that would transcend national borders if these weapons were ever used again. No nation is immune to the climate disruption, agricultural and economic collapse, mass human displacement and famine that would inevitably follow even a limited nuclear war.”

The Committee again approved a resolution in support of the TPNW. The nuclear-weapon states – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – issued a joint statement reiterating their opposition to the 2017 treaty, saying it risks undermining the NPT and ignores security issues.

NPT and Nuclear Disarmament

What really undermined the NPT at the First Committee was the repeated attempts by nuclear-armed states to walk back commitments on disarmament and even on consensus past NPT Review Conference outcome documents.  Under Article VI of the NPT, all states parties are “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

But in a resolution titled “Nuclear Disarmament,” France, the United Kingdom, and the United States voted against language highlighting the commitments of nuclear-weapon states contained within the NPT. Indeed, the United States seems to want to back away from language previously agreed upon in NPT Review Conferences and was the only nation to vote against language welcoming the UN Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda and Implementation Plan. Russia and China, for their part, voted against language in support of disarmament verification and education and language that calls upon the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to return under the auspices of the NPT.

Further undermining disarmament was a resolution introduced by Japan entitled “Joint courses of action and future-oriented dialogue towards a world without nuclear weapons.” The title is a watered-down version of a comparable resolution from the year before: “United action with renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.” The body of the resolution also contains much weaker language on disarmament when compared to last year. Specifically, it removes the previous language about a “commitment” to a nuclear-weapon-free world, one of the two resolutions before the Committee to do so (the resolution “Nuclear Disarmament” is the other). It also shifts from a place of “deep concern” about the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons to merely “recognizing” these impacts. New Zealand, a steady supporter of nuclear disarmament and the TPNW, voiced the concerns of many when it stated that it “regrets the low level of ambition which is reflected, in general, in this resolution with respect to the advancement of nuclear disarmament.” In attempting to placate both nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states by including weak references to disarmament and the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, Japan-only succeeded in alienating both. The lesson is clear: watering down this key language is not a winning strategy.

There were a couple of other items of note from the committee’s actions. A majority of the committee approved a resolution, practically unchanged from one the year before, opposing nuclear weapons use due to their devastating humanitarian consequences. In a resolution entitled, “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments,” the sponsors added new language this year to stress the urgency around stopping the new nuclear arms race.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead to the 2020 NPT Review Conference starting in April, it is reasonable to expect similar fault lines in the debates about how to move disarmament forward. As nuclear-weapon states move away from their own commitments under Article VI, other countries must call out and condemn such backsliding. Attempts to find “middle ground” that backtrack from previously agreed commitments allow nuclear-weapon states to keep pushing the end goal further into the distance. Instead, previous commitments must be recognized, emphasized, and used as the basis for any future discussions.

At the same time, it is encouraging to see the high level of support in statements for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the recognition of the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. As the TPNW draws ever closer towards entry into force, the will of the majority cannot be trumped by a stubborn few.

First Committee resolutions will go forward for a final vote by the UN General Assembly in December.

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Part 3 : Hanford’s Dirty Secret- “Ways of Knowing and Radiation Exposure”

A few months ago, in a two-part blog series, we explored the secret suffering of communities at Hanford – known as the most toxic place in the United States- and the status of cleanup of 56 million gallons of nuclear waste at the Hanford Site. The site has been called “an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen.” In part 3, we look at a workshop that explores the ways in which the communities exposed to radiation perceive it and the recent reduction in funding for cleaning up Hanford.

Workshop explores how impacted communities perceive radiation exposure and contamination

Workshop attendees pictured by Green Legacy Peace Tree dedicated to Hiroshima survivor Dr. Hideko Tamura Snider.

Earlier this year, on 19-21 June 2019, Dr Jacob Hamblin and ICAN supporter Dr Linda Marie Richards organized an interdisciplinary international academic workshop, “Ways of Knowing and Radiation Exposure” at Oregon State University (OSU) to examine how individuals and communities in Hanford comprehend radiation exposure.

Communities living close to the site continue to pay the price for the United States’ Cold War legacy; they have to live with countless medical crisis and years of environmental damage from radiation exposure. Yet the ways of assessing, investigating, and ultimately understanding human and environmental contamination have historically differed among stakeholder groups. During the workshop, part of the three-year National Science Foundation Award research project “Reconstructing Nuclear Environments and the Hanford Downwinders Case,” attendees and presenters explored the way individuals and communities in Hanford understand radiation’s effects on health, livelihood, and society as a whole, and what role the scientific community and the government have played in shaping those perceptions.

According to Oregon State undergraduate Mahal Miles – who attended the workshop as part of an Honors College Center for the Humanities Summer Internship –  some of the most powerful conversations revolved around:

  • The challenge to make the invisible effects of radiation visible without giving the scientific community sole influence over the ‘ways of knowing’: from a citizen’s standpoint, grappling with the experience of -and difficulty communicating- the effects of radiation to cultivate community action is further aggravated by a lack of full comprehension and consent.
  • The political interests of the scientific community, and scientists as individuals. Scientists, such as nuclear physicists, are subject to political interests, which blur the line between professional and personal integrity. Academics are cautioned in seeing a binary between those harmed and scientists. These two sides are often described as in an expert versus non-expert battle, which in turn, strains relations between both parties. However, there is a much more permeable barrier between those who are scientists and those who are not. How these groups interact to create new relationships, types of communicative power and dynamics deserve scrutiny.
  • The historical trend of façade when it comes to acknowledging and  “knowing” radiation exposure through government response and foreign relations. Government entities invested in nuclear sciences have traditionally communicated reassurances through a rhetoric of “…couldn’t happen here!” in response to widely publicized nuclear disasters.
  • For those harmed by radiation- be it from the highly broadcasted events to those unethically dismissed – there is a shared struggle to receive holistic education and reasonable compensation from governing bodies.

The workshop featured sixteen presenters, ranging from academics living as far away as Tasmania (Australia) to an award-winning poet and a Hanford Downwinder. It also featured Downwinder accounts specific to the Hanford nuclear production complex, as well as insight to the nuclear history collections residing in OSU’s SCARC. A public event by poet Kathleen Flenniken and Hanford Downwinder Pat Hoover made the story of contamination accessible using poetry and prose, which was framed with introductory remarks by indigenous educator Dr. Allison Davis White Eyes.

“It is essential,“ said Richards, “to create space in academia for sharing knowledge about the various ways of comprehending radiation exposure. Our workshop displayed the true value and function of scholarship in asking questions about contamination and consequences of nuclear weapons.”

Reduced budget for Hanford Site clean up

Hanford Journey 2019, Yakama Nation Swan Dancers, photo by Kiliii Yüyan I Columbia Riverkeepers

Meanwhile, the current US administration has announced plans to cut Hanford’s funding by $416 million even though the crucial cleanup at Hanford needs more funding and not less. Hanford’s long-term plan is the Waste Treatment Plant. It would turn liquid waste, the most dangerous waste at Hanford, into solid bars that would be buried at an undetermined site. A plant like this has never been developed and Hanford is touted as an innovator in environmental remediation. However, construction will cost $20 billion, while operational costs could reach an additional $60 billion USD. The plant is expensive and, by a Hanford employee’s own admissions, puts both workers and the local communities at an even greater risk. Meanwhile, the US administration plans on downgrading the threat levels of some radioactive waste to save $40 billion on clean up. This aims to speed up the clean-up process at Hanford and make it seem cheaper but has been criticized for not actually carrying out the clean-up part.

The affected communities at Hanford continue to face the brunt of US Cold-War nuclear weapons legacy by battling severe health problems, lack of government support and seemingly no path forward from the complex clean-up plans at Hanford. That’s why initiatives like the “Ways of Knowing and Radiation Exposure” workshop are such an important platform that empower these communities to keep fighting for justice.

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The U.S. Missile Test: Provocative and Unnecessary

Just 16 days after formally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States tested on August 18 a cruise missile that would have violated the terms of the treaty had it still been in force. Provocative and unnecessary, the action escalates a nuclear arms race the world cannot afford to have. The United States plans an additional test later this year.

Russia and China immediately condemned the test and warned about the consequences of a renewed arms race, and the United Nations Security Council met on 22 August to discuss the situation. Numerous representatives expressed fears about a new global arms race at the meeting and called for better dialogue on arms control agreements; the South African representative specifically urged the United Nations community to sign and ratify the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The type of cruise missile tested is particularly destabilising because it can host either a nuclear or non-nuclear warhead. When launched, others might not know if it is a nuclear strike or not, but choose to respond as if it was. The ambiguity can lead to mistrust and escalation.

“The nuclear weapons arms race is here and we all have a choice,” said ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn. “We can remain passive and wait for these weapons of mass destruction to be used or we can fight for the stigmatization, prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. I urge countries that have not done so to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”

The United States and Russia signed the INF Treaty in 1987. In recent years, each side has accused the other of violating the terms of the treaty. The United States claimed Russia developed numerous noncompliant missile battalions and waited for years for Russia to return to compliance. Russia claimed that the United States’ deployment of a specific missile launcher in eastern Europe violated the treaty, while the United States maintained the version deployed in Europe could only launch defensive missiles, not offensive ones. Notably, the United States used the launch equipment in question for its test of an offensive missile this month, a fact that can only reinforce Russia’s concerns. For its part, Russia does not seem inclined to shy away from a new arms race, as President Putin has boasted about developing new “invincible” nuclear weapons.

Aside from increasing the risk of the use of nuclear weapons, this new arms race means that United States taxpayers will pay nearly $500 billion over the next ten years to maintain and modernize its country’s nuclear weapons arsenal – and an estimated $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years. Every dollar spent on nuclear weapons in any country represents a missed opportunity to improve programs that enhance social well-being and security of the people.

The devastating humanitarian and environmental impact from the development, testing, and use of nuclear weapons has been made abundantly clear by decades of evidence. In the face of this reality, the global community took a bold step to approve in 2017 a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty universally condemns any actions related to nuclear weapons and strips them – and the underlying theory of nuclear deterrence – of legitimacy.

As some nations seem prepared to embark on a morally bankrupt, fiscally devastating arms race, the majority of the world’s states have turned to a hopeful and realistic alternative. A growing community of states have signed and ratified the Treaty, which will enter into force once 50 states have ratified it. You can learn more about it here. 

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Exploring the Legacy of Nuclear Weapons Testing in Kazakhstan

In an interview with ICAN,  Phil Hatcher-Moore, an independent photojournalist, who spent two months in and around the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan—where nearly a quarter of the world’s nuclear tests were conducted during the Cold War— shares his experience on his project “Nuclear Ghosts” that  explored the tests’ legacy on the communities that live nearby.

Inspiration behind the “Nuclear Ghosts” project

Phil at the Institute of Radiation and Ecology in Semey.

I was astounded when I came across the statistic that a quarter of the world’s nuclear tests took place in a small, remote region in what is now Kazakhstan. I wanted to learn more about the effects on both the local population, and the environment there. And the more I researched, the darker the story got. I was fortunate to win the 2016 Yves Rocher Foundation prize, which allowed me to undertake two, month-long trips to the region, and meet people who shared their direct experience of the time, and their research into the subsequent effects.

Meeting people affected by nuclear tests

Berik

I met people who had been affected by the nuclear tests in very different ways, from witnesses to the original tests, to children whose health suffered despite even their parents not having been directly exposed to the tests. Amongst everyone I met, it’s hard to say whose story was the most moving, but I felt a deep sense of injustice to all of those whose lives had been so deeply affected, especially people like Berik—who was born blinded by severe disfigurements —and Alijan—who was born with mental impairments, and his mother who has had to give up everything to look after him, along with his three siblings.

Intergenerational impact of nuclear weapons testing witnessed in Kazakhstan

Alijan

One of the things that surprised me most was the extent to which the effects of nuclear testing could be passed on through the generations. Its traces are etched into the DNA of the local population, even those many miles away, as winds blew the fallout towards other major population centres. Some of these effects manifested themselves early on, but children are still being born today with illnesses and birth defects that are linked to the testing at the Polygon.

Kadariya Omarov, 83, continues to live on the edge of the former test-site, and says the black marks on his face were a result of the sand that blew in following the blasts. Berik Syzdykov, 38, was not yet born when his mother saw a flash in the sky, but carries the disfigurement of the radiation exposure. And eight year-old Alijan Imanbaev has no physical scars, but his life is marked by the learning disabilities which are attributed to the radiation from tests near his grandparents village during the Cold War many years before Alijan was even born.

Experience on the field as a photographer in Kazakhstan covering the life of survivors

I never find it easy to ask people about traumatic, or difficult events, especially if I’m also dragging up memories of something six decades ago. It took time for people to talk openly about the effects that the testing has left on their lives. What surprised me was how many people—from individual families, to officials—seemed to feel shame that they were living with this legacy. I considered that the tests were forced upon them by Moscow at the time, and that if anything, they should feel pride that on gaining their independence in 1991, Kazakhstan renounced the nuclear weapons they inherited, and closed the Polygon.

One of the more ridiculous situations I found myself in was when the manager of an industrial plant I wanted to photograph refused access because he had been so angered by the film Borat, and feared that I was just trying to portray the country in the same light! And once driving across the frozen Steppe, with outside temperatures down at around -30ºC, our car broke down. There was nothing for miles, and all I could see outside was 360º of white; no other cars, no features on the horizon, and all but a barely discernible distinction between land and sky. If it were not for the handy mechanics of our driver, we would have frozen to death out there! The photo of that scene—an old Mercedes with its bonnet up, surrounded by white—is one I’m particularly fond of.

Effects of nuclear weapons testing on the environment and surroundings in Kazakhstan

Phil on the field

One of the things that struck me most when driving around places like Kurchatov—which the headquarters of the testing programme in the Polygon—was the massive amounts of waste from the period. Row after row of apartment blocks stood decaying, emptied of the thousands of people who used to live in this “closed military area” during the Cold War. Nearby, the Chagan military town is now completely empty, and desolate. Thousands of tonnes of concrete shells of buildings, abandoned. It seemed like an apt metaphor for mankind’s folly, of which nuclear weapons seem to be the ultimate testament. The ground is left scarred by the tests, the radiation seeped into it for generations to come. And families who live in the region wear those same scars—sometimes visibly, sometimes not.

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The questionable legacy of India’s nuclear tests

For some Pokhran, India, residents nearby explosions are so common that one man said, “we don’t even register them anymore.” The villages near the Pokhran testing range are where the military tests explosives every day. But even with the constant barrage, two incidents stand out: the so-called ‘Smiling Buddha’ test of 1974 and the series of tests between May 11 to 13, 1998.

Pokhran Test Site I Government of India

The forgotten, tragic reality of underground nuclear tests

Starting after the 1974 test, rates of cancer and genetic abnormalities, birth defects or developmental delays, began to climb. In this region of Pokhran, it seems that nearly every family has a story of a loved one suddenly lost to cancer. Following ‘Smiling Buddha’, land and homes were destroyed, crops turned white, skin and eye irritation began, and soon diseases struck. The same occurred, but on a larger scale in 1998. The effects of radiation have compounded over decades in the villages because groundwater was contaminated. Residents ingest radiation from both the 1974 and 1998 tests and genetic mutations are passed through generations.

A village leader in Khetolei estimated that 56 people had died of cancer every year since 1998. The population is only about 3,000 people. The cancer mortality rate seems to be four times the national average. Children seem to be particularly at risk. Rates of childhood cancer and mortality seem to be increasing. Birth defects and genetic abnormalities, even in children born years after the tests, are common. There are many children who have never learned to walk or speak. High rates of breast cancer have also been reported. Unfortunately, this is to be expected: ionizing radiation, which is released in a nuclear explosion, disproportionately affects rapidly growing and dividing cells, which are generally found in women and children.

Despite nuclear weapons testing’s obvious health effects, the Indian government only provided compensation for land damaged immediately after the test. Multiple small-scale studies have confirmed that there is a dangerous health phenomenon near Pokhran. But there has been no government-accepted investigation and the villages must rely on their own estimates of cancer deaths and other illnesses. With no formal study, it is hard for residents to demand assistance because they cannot explicitly point to the nuclear weapons tests as the cause. 

Pokhran Residents by Neha Dixit

The global consequences of “limited and regional” problems

Underground nuclear tests, like India’s, were argued to be a safer alternative than atmospheric or underwater tests. That’s why the Partial Test Ban Treaty, adopted in 1963 by the US and the Soviet Union, banned all nuclear tests, except for those performed underground. One look at Pokhran and it’s obvious this is wrong. Even if no one sees the mushroom clouds, underground tests can still have the same devastating health effects as atmospheric tests.

The ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan is often perceived to be a ‘regional threat’. But a so-called “limited” nuclear war still has catastrophic effects — and those are rarely recognized when political action is taken in Kashmir and nuclear war is threatened. A limited war still destroys cities, kills thousands, and injures hundreds of thousands more. Furthermore, it would have environmental effects that would harm global agriculture, trigger famine, and place close to two billion people worldwide at the brink of starvation. 

The environment and communities near Pokhran have suffered without recognition or care. And the current political environment places them at risk again. The 1998 tests were ordered when the current political party was last in power. The recent changed political status of Kashmir has dramatically increased tensions with Pakistan and in Kashmir. India and Pakistan have gone to war three times before and it is civilians and Kashmiris who suffer the most. Now there is talk of war again, this time with mentions of nuclear weapons. This creates a scenario where the legacy of India’s nuclear tests reaches far beyond Pokhran and creates a global humanitarian catastrophe.

Check this out for photos of Pokhran residents, that speak a thousand words about the impact of nuclear testing.

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These 7 peace activists face 25 years in prison for taking peaceful action at a U.S. nuclear submarine base

On August 7, 2019, the seven Catholic Peace activists facing up to 25 years in U.S. prison for their symbolic, non-violent action in the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in April 2018 are scheduled to appear in federal court for oral arguments. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons reiterates the call for all charges against these peaceful activists to be dismissed.

“What kind of world are leaving our children? Now is a good time to say, ‘Don’t go to sleep. Don’t think these weapons are props.’ We’re on alert 24/7.”- Patrick O’Neill, one of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 activists.

What did the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 (KBP7) do, and why?

KBP7 defendants after their hearing

On April 4, 2018—the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination—a group of 7 Catholic Peace activists  broke into the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St Marys, Georgia, USA, which houses six Trident submarines carrying hundreds of nuclear weapons. Many of these weapons have up to 30 times the explosive power of the bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945. Once inside, the group defaced symbols and a monument to nuclear warfare and spray-painted anti-nuclear weapon slogans before peacefully giving themselves up to security personnel.

Read more about the action here.

Watch the Democracy Now interview with 4 of the KBP7 here. 

The KBP7 based their action on a sense of moral conviction and a sense of urgency to end nuclear weapons, drawing inspiration from Isaiah 2:4: “And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” This action continues a long history of similar non-violent symbolic actions around the world. Members of the Plowshares movement have symbolically “disarmed” nuclear weapons on at least 100 separate occasions since the 1980s.

As such, the KBP7 invite everyone to join global coalitions working to promote governments’ adherence to – and full implementation of – the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and other efforts towards a world free of nuclear weapons, such as divestment campaigns.

Who are the KBP7?

The 7 activists are all known as caring, generous members of their communities, aged between 55 and 78, they have spent decades standing up for the social good.

The KBP7 consist of Elizabeth McAlister ,78, of Jonah House, Baltimore; Fr. Steve Kelly SJ, 69 , of Bay Area, California; Carmen Trotta , 55, and Martha Hennessy , 62,  of the New York Catholic Worker; Clare Grady, 59, of the Ithaca Catholic Worker; Mark Colville , 55, of the Amistad Catholic Worker, New Haven, Connecticut; and Patrick O’Neill , 61, of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker, Garner, North Carolina.

Ahead of their hearing, and on the day after, they will be holding vigils outside the sites in Brunswick and Kings Bay Submarine to mark the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Read this powerful family history by Frida Berrigan– the daughter of  Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister, members of the plowshares movement.

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The INF Treaty’s definitive collapse: dawn of a new nuclear arms race?

Today, 2 August 2019, the governments of the US and Russia have missed a troubling deadline: the end of the six-month notice period that began when both countries announced their withdrawal from the INF Treaty earlier this year.

2017 Nobel Peace Laureate ICAN – International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – deplores the irresponsible destruction of the INF Treaty and calls on the United States and Russia to:

  •  uphold international law, including international humanitarian law;
  •  undertake urgent talks to restore compliance and fully implement the INF Treaty;
  •  make deeper cuts in their arsenals;
  •  and pave the way for nuclear-free security by joining the UN’s multilateral Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was negotiated and adopted by over two-thirds of the UN General Assembly in 2017.

ICAN also calls on the leaders of all responsible nations to step up to end nuclear weapons, by joining the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) without delay. This Treaty, adopted in 2017, prohibits nuclear weapons altogether, including all related activities,, and provides all nations with a clear path to end nuclear weapons.  To date, the Treaty has 70 signatories and 24 of the 50 States Parties required for its entry into force. Countries that are serious about their commitment to nuclear disarmament should join the TPNW as soon as possible.

What is the INF Treaty and what is changed by its collapse?

 The 1987 INF Treaty was the first agreement between Russia and the US that eliminated entire categories of nuclear weapons. For over 30 years, both sides agreed to the elimination of all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometre. At the height of the Cold War, the INF Treaty banned and eliminated over 2,600 of the most destabilising class of intermediate-range missiles, thereby pulling the world back from the brink of nuclear war and kick-starting further deep cuts in the two largest nuclear arsenals.

The collapse follows months of public disagreements between the two states about the allegations that Russia was violating the INF Treaty, and against the backdrop of a new nuclear arms race. When the US presented its intended withdrawal from the INF Treaty on 1 February 2019, President Vladimir Putin responded in kind by announcing Russia was suspending its observance of the Treaty, and in June 2019 both houses of Russian parliament voted to support this move.

With the collapse of the INF Treaty, the US and Russia are now free to build and deploy this category of weapons, which would fall in line with their seeming determination to kick-start a new nuclear arms race. The US alone is projected to spend $1.2 trillion in the coming 30 years to maintain and modernize its existing arsenal, and there have been indications that nuclear weapons producing companies are preparing to build nuclear weapons capable of striking within the 500 to 5500 km range.The collapse of the INF Treaty is a significant loss that puts the world – and Europe in particular – at increased risk.

 

For media statement and contact details

 

Further reading:

See it to believe it : US & Russia discuss possibility of new nuclear agreements, amid escalating arms race | ICAN

US withdrawal from INF Treaty put Europe (and the world) at risk | ICAN

Polls: Public opinion in EU host states firmly oppose nuclear weapons | ICAN 

Producing mass destruction : Private companies  and the nuclear weapons industry | DBOTB 


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Part 2: Hanford’s Dirty Secret– 25,000 years and $80 billion dollars

Part 2:

Hanford is the most toxic site in the United States. Why is the cleanup plan destined for failure?

In 2017, the Hanford Waste Management Site, Washington, was suddenly evacuated. A radioactive waste storage tunnel, built in 1965, had collapsed and the fallout was unknown. Hanford holds the waste from most of the US’s weapons-grade plutonium, about 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge in decrepit tanks. Fortunately, the tunnel only housed old, contaminated railroad cars and no radiation was released into the atmosphere, but its collapse was a terrifying demonstration of the potential danger. If the next accident involves one of the old, leaking tanks, the Hanford fallout zone won’t be so lucky.

Production at the Hanford Site stopped in 1989 but since then it has been called “an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen.” The 2017 accident begs the question: why has cleanup barely begun? In Part 1, we explored the secret suffering at Hanford and why reports of pollution and unsafe working conditions have been dismissed by the contracted company and the government. In Part 2, we are investigating why cleanup has barely begun at Hanford, whether efforts have worked and at what cost, and why a total cleanup may never be feasible.

What are the cleanup plans?

The 2nd PUREX plant tunnel holding rail cars loaded with highly radioactive Hanford nuclear reservation waste has been filled with concrete-like grout to stabilize it. The site’s 1st tunnel partially collapsed.

A tunnel very similar to this holding radioactive materials collapsed in 2017.

So far only 7.5 million gallons of waste have been relocated from leaky tanks to new ones and some groundwater has been treated. It’s good, but it’s still a temporary fix. However, materials at Hanford can have a half-life of up to 24,100 years. Tanks and other infrastructure were built decades ago with improper materials, like wooden support beams in the collapsed tunnel, and are now accidents waiting to happen. Hanford needs a solution that will last longer than fifty years.

Hanford’s long-term plan is the Waste Treatment Plant. It would turn liquid waste, the most dangerous waste at Hanford, into solid bars that would be buried at an undetermined site. A plant like this has never been developed and Hanford is touted as an innovator in environmental remediation. The plant’s start date has continuously been pushed back, most recently from 2019 to 2036.

Will it work?

Clean up at Hanford

The current design has flaws that make it dangerous and ineffective; an internal report that an employee whistleblower gave to the Hanford Challenge identified 362 vulnerabilities. The technology would have to work perfectly for 40 straight years because it would be too dangerous for anyone to go into the facility and make repairs. Pumping and agitating radioactive materials increases the risk of an explosion that would release radioactive material into the atmosphere. Construction will cost $20 billion, while operational costs could reach an additional $60 billion USD. The plant is expensive and, by a Hanford employee’s own admissions, puts both workers and the local communities at an even greater risk.

Despite these problems, the Waste Treatment Plant is hailed as “the most sophisticated garbage disposal on earth” and is the largest environmental remediation plan in the world. If this seems impractical and ineffective that’s because nuclear weapons were produced with no regard for their long-term effects. When the waste was produced, no treatment plan was considered.

Turning to activists…

People holding up protest signs demanding clean up of Hanford

Waste is one of the most insidious ways that nuclear weapons disregard the environment and the health of future generations because cleanup is left until years later, when the damage seems to have already been done and forgotten. The affected workers and communities around the world have been the fiercest advocates for proper cleanup, justice, and care. Through their efforts, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted in 2017, contains specific clauses that establish a global standard and national obligations for environmental remediation and victim assistance. And the TPNW confronts nuclear waste where it begins: the creation and continued acceptance of nuclear weapons.

It’s baffling that anyone would create more waste, nonetheless we know that nuclear armed states are expanding and updating their arsenals in massive modernization programs. The United States alone is slated to spend $1.7 trillion on modernization in the next 30 years. If we have no solution for the past’s pollution, there is little reason to believe the next nuclear weapons won’t have the same devastating effects. Sharing today’s stories challenges the nuclear status quo and will help to protect the future.

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Hanford’s Dirty Secret– and it’s not 56 million gallons of nuclear waste

Part 1: 

Building nuclear weapons requires materials and labor, not just from scientists, but also from the men and women living in communities nearby. After the Cold War, many of the United State’s most crucial nuclear weapons production sites ‘closed’ and were forgotten, but not by workers and local communities, who were left to deal with the devastating, toxic legacy of these sites.

This is obvious at Hanford Waste Management Site, Washington. It is sometimes referred to as “the most toxic place in America,” yet most people will never have heard of it. While the workers and activists of Hanford speak out, their stories are dismissed because they demonstrate the real cost of nuclear weapons.

What happened at Hanford site?

Radioactive waste found in the ground at the Hanford Site

Hanford site was one piece of the Manhattan Project puzzle. It developed plutonium for the Trinity Test, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and Cold War weapons. By 1965, there were nine weapons reactors, five reprocessing plants, hundreds of support and research buildings, and 177 underground waste tanks.  Ultimately, Hanford produced 74 tons of plutonium, roughly two-thirds of the US’s stockpile. The production facilities were phased out as the Cold War ended and the Dept. of Energy delegated cleanup to various private companies.

Hanford left a lot more than just history. Before any nuclear site can close it must contend with its dangerous waste. Hanford has 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks and solid waste buried throughout the site. By the site’s own admission, innumerable spills and solid waste burials were not accurately recorded. The environmental and health effects have been devastating–and ignored.

The real Hanford pushed aside

Seth Ellingsworth, 35, spends most days confined to his home in Richland, Washington.

 Seth Ellingsworth, former worker at Hanford.

Time and time again, activists have sounded the alarm on Hanford’s damaging practices and each time researchers and whistleblowers were proven right at a devastating cost. The river was polluted by the cooling system that diverted its water and by accidental spills, which were never fully recorded at Hanford so their scale is hard to know. Radiation reached the Pacific Ocean 200 miles away and contaminated fish and soil on its way. Today, Hanford holds 56 million gallons of radioactive waste which leaks into the soil and groundwater because many tanks have never been replaced. In 2013, Governor Inslee admitted that one tank was leaking up to 300 gallons a year; the contracted cleanup company knew–and did nothing. Still, authorities claim that none of the radiation is dangerous to public health. Local residents and workers disagree.

Around Hanford, people report unusually high rates of thyroid disorders, cancer, and handicaps, because of river pollution. In particular, Native American communities who rely on the river and salmon fishing to support their cultural way of life have been affected. The government claims the radiation is not dangerous, but that’s no comfort to the estimated 2 million people on the shores of the Columbia who have been exposed to radiation.

On Hanford’s grounds, the Dept. of Energy “reported toxins in the air ‘far exceeding occupational limits’ and a ‘causal link’ between vapor exposure and lung and brain damage.” Vapor exposure has harmed more than a hundred workers, resulted in respiratory and cognitive problems (even dementia), and lead to at least one death. A former worker, Seth Ellingsworth, 38, used to be an athlete, but after inhaling an unknown toxic substance at work, he struggles to breath. There are obvious health concerns at Hanford, but workers have been fired for speaking publicly. In Ellingsworth’s words, “The program (regarding worker safety and chemical vapors) is designed to make workers feel safe, not actually be safe. To protect workers would cost too much money” and the company denies responsibility for his condition. Workers have dedicated years to this environmental remediation project, but when they truly advocate for themselves and the environment they are silenced.

Why haven’t these stories been told?

People with a sign on the shore of the Columbia River before the Hanford Journey

At Hanford, obscure statistics of ‘safe’ radiation levels have a life or death impact. Private contracting companies seem to care more about their cleanup fee than their employees and have made little progress in healing the environment. As they are contracted by the Dept of Energy or Dept of Environmental Affairs, private companies can brush aside accusations of pollution and fire workers who speak publicly. As a nuclear armed state, the US argues that these weapons keep us safe. To prop up that narrative, the true story of nuclear weapons and the harm done at every nuclear site cannot reach the public. Today, you can take a guided tour of the cleanup efforts at Hanford. But it probably won’t include these stories.

Raising the voices of workers like Ellingsworth will make him and other Hanford activists harder to dismiss in their fight for justice and care. The needs of nuclear victims, from production, testing, or cleanup, must be met in the United States and anywhere else, and their voices have been the most powerful in the fight to obtain justice and assistance. Thanks to the efforts of vocal nuclear survivors and activists from all over the world, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted in 2017, includes specific clauses on victim assistance and environmental remediation. When the Treaty enters into force, nations will be obligated to fulfill those clauses. Whether the US will actually choose to do so is yet to be seen, but the TPNW sets a global standard of victim assistance and environmental remediation.

Article 6 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

 Next, in Part 2, we will explore that cleanup efforts at Hanford. Every story out of Hanford shows that cleanup is necessary, but cases like Seth Ellingsworth pose the question: is the ‘largest environmental remediation plan in the United States’ even working?