The German publication, Der Spiegel, has featured a strong three-part series on the impact of uranium mining upon the impoverished communities (see miner's house made of mine refuse, left) in Niger. Illnesses, radiation dispersed throughout the communities, and few benefits to the miners and their families are just part of the catastrophe. Almoustapha Alhacen, himself a mineworker at the Arlit sight run by the French nuclear giant, Areva, has fought these problems for close to a decade. Read the series (in English) and view the moving gallery of photos.
The entire nuclear fuel chain involves the release of radioactivity, contamination of the environment and damage to human health. Most often, communities of color, indigenous peoples or those of low-income are targeted to bear the brunt of these impacts, particularly the damaging health and environmental effects of uranium mining. The nuclear power industry inevitably violates human rights.
In his public comments at their first meeting, Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps urged Energy Secretary Chu's "Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future" to "put a stop, once and for all, to the shameful history of targeting Native American communities and lands with radioactive waste dumps." Kevin thanked President Obama and Secretary Chu for the tremendous environmental justice victory represented by their wise decision to cancel the Yucca Mountain dumpsite proposal targeted at Western Shoshone Indian lands at Yucca Mountain in Nevada (pictured at left through the frame of a Western Shoshone sweat lodge, 2004 photo courtesy of Gabriela Bulisova), and honored Native American leaders such as Corbin Harney and Grace Thorpe, who devoted their lives to stopping radioactive waste dumps targeted at Native lands. In 2005, along with Pubilc Citizen, Kevin documented the history of this radioactive racism, including at Skull Valley Goshutes in Utah. Nearly 450 groups unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission against licensing the Private Fuel Storage "parking lot dump," but thanks to the tireless efforts of Skull Valley traditionals like Margene Bullcreek and Sammy Blackbear, it was ultimately blocked.
Despite a moratorium authorized by Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, that bans (for now) uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, mining activities have begun adjacent to the World Heritage site. Canadian company Denison Mines has started mining uranium on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. According to the Arizona Daily Sun the mine has been operating since December 2009. The Grand Canyon is ancestral homeland to the Havasupai and Hualapai Nations. An article posted on the Indigenous Action Media Web site details the deadly legacy of past uranium mining inflicted on indigenous communities and plans to resist this latest threat. And watch a video on Native resistence to a proposed new coal plant.
Given breaking developments in Kazakhstan and Niger, leading uranium exporting countries, it's increasingly clear that nuclear power represents the antithesis of energy independence for the U.S. and Europe. On the heels of President Obama’s announcement to increase the United States’ reliance upon nuclear energy as part of his plan for energy independence, the Washington Post published its story on the growing political instability and corruption mushrooming in Kazakhstan, already ravaged by Soviet atom bomb testing, and one of the world’s largest known uranium reserves, where the United States, China, Russia, Japan and Canada are among those jockeying for control of this valued and dangerous uranium ore. Meanwhile, the February 18, 2010 military coup in the sub-Saharan nation of Niger raises more questions than answers about the West African country’s future. While uranium mining makes up the bulk of Niger’s foreign income, 80% of its population lives on subsistence farming, with 60% below the poverty level amidst recurring famines. Coup leaders have made a pledge to bring democracy to the resource rich but impoverished country. (Sidi-Amar Taoua, pictured at left, a Touareg from Niger, spoke out against uranium mining in his homeland at a Beyond Nuclear sponsored appearance at the National Press Club, as well as a standing room only session at the Energy Action Coalition's 2009 PowerShift). However, international intrigue and conflicts continue to brew in Niger as Areva of France's monopoly control of uranium mining is being challenged by China. In our view, nuclear power is the antithesis of “energy independence” as claimed by the industry and its backers, including President Obama. The worsening conflicts in Kazakhstan and Niger illuminate how continued and expanded reliance on uranium power comes at the expense of future resource conflicts, environmental ruination, and economic injustice. In fact, the keys to real energy independence are found in substantially expanding energy efficiency, conservation and expanded renewable energy programs.
A United Nations forum that examined the impacts of uranium mining contamination from tailings in Central Asia took place last June in Geneva. The uranium tailings are a legacy from the military-industrial complex of the former USSR. The state of these tailings which contain huge wastes of uranium and other technological wastes over tens of years after shutdown of these enterprises have significantly worsened, the forum found.