On the 17th anniversary of the catastrophe at Chernobyl, a day when previously classified KGB files revealed that a leak had occurred at the Ukrainian reactor four years before the actual explosion, and that the concrete “tomb”now enclosing the damaged reactor is now in a critical condition, it was a little disappointing that only about seventy people assembled at the State Library for a rally called by Nuclear Free Australia in a bid to revive the anti-nuclear movement. Perhaps Melbourne is experiencing rally fatigue, or it may have been the holiday and the fine weather. Those who did come had a chance to hear wide-ranging accounts of the dangers and the proven damage already done by the nuclear industry both overseas and in Australia, including the experiences of indigenous people whose land has been polluted and health seriously affected, for who knows how many generations to come.
A call to action issued by Nuclear Free Australia and addressed “To community organisations & activists”runs in part as follows:
With very little visible public opposition the Australian nuclear industry is expanding at a rate not seen since nuclear testing in the South Australian desert in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. John Howard has indicated that Australia will consider its own nuclear missile shield, despite the fact that US plans for such a shield are already provoking a new nuclear arms race. Uranium Mining provides the fuel for depleted Uranium that is being used to bomb Iraq. New Uranium mines in South Australia use a technique known as in situ leach mining. Chemicals are used to get the Uranium to the surface. The result is radioactive pollution of the water basin. The new nuclear reactor in Sydney is being built at a cost of $500 million. This is despite the fact that other cheaper alternatives to nuclear medicine, such as cyclotrons exist. The new reactor also gives Australia the knowledge and fuel to build its own nuclear weapons. Approval has been given by the federal government for a national nuclear waste dump in the South Australian outback somewhere near Woomera. This is despite overwhelming public unpopularity and strong traditional owner opposition. A nuclear waste dump is no answer to nuclear waste. There is no safe long term method of disposal. There is a strong danger of nuclear accidents on the transport route, and it will make it easier for nuclear installations to operate.
Nuclear facilities aren’t just a risk to the environment and to local residents, they play a major part in the expansion of Australian and US militarism and in the nuclear war fighting machine.
Nuclear Free Australia
Mobile: 0417 506 150
One of the speakers, Dr Bill Williams of the Medical Association For The Prevention Of War, recently addressed a MAPWA conference under the banner “Global Conflicts – A Clinical Audit”. Here is part of what he said on that occasion:
When researchers began to identify the dramatic and unexpected rise in thyroid cancers in people exposed as children to Chernobyl’s radioactive iodine fall-out, their findings were initially dismissed by nuclear proponents as “screening artefacts”.
An estimated 10,000 people will develop thyroid cancer as a consequence of Chernobyl. A number of these victims were exposed to very low doses of I-131 – 50 mSv in some cases, maybe as low as 10mSv. This has reinforced the plausibility of the linear no threshold hypothesis: there is no “safe dose” of ionising radiation. It has also given rise to some serious questioning of the radiation protection regimes around the world. A recent report from WHO has recommended dropping the exposure limit for intervention with stable iodine in children to 10mGy, which is one tenth of the current Australian intervention dose. And one hundredth of the old NH&MRC standard when I was in first year Med.
The global nuclear industry is struggling for very good reason. It is inherently unsafe, and inevitably expensive.
And now we find that the almost untraceable remnants of this nefarious entangling nuclear chain – depleted uranium – are an integral part of war-mongering once again. Depleted uranium contains about 0.2% uranium-235, in comparison to natural uranium, which contains about. 0.7% uranium-235). D.U. is tough stuff – amongst it favoured roles have been ships ballast and – believe it or not! – tooth fillings.
It amazing hardness also makes it ideal for armour penetration, so 300 tonnes of DU was incorporated into missile and bullet tips then spread across Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. Reports of increased levels of malignancy and congenital abnormalities abound but are as yet not scientifically authenticated. More than 70% of a DU penetrator can be aerosolised upon impact with a target resulting in rapid oxidation and burning of the uranium. The potential for human contamination by particles of uranium oxide as well as alterations of the biosphere, including decrease in functional diversity of micro-organisms in the soil, are all significant. Embedded fragments in wounds will solubilise and redistribute in brain, lymph nodes, gonads, liver, kidney, and spleen, with the highest concentrations in skeletal tissue. “DU internal contamination presents a potential neurotoxic, endocrine, reproductive, nephrotoxic, and mutagenic hazard.” (Military Medicine, Vol.167, Aug. 2002)
Prominent at the front of the rally was an enormous banner upon which people had been invited to place their handprints in support of the slogan “Put your hands up for a nuclear free future”. This is an initiative of the group “React now!”.
Another speaker was Eve Vincent, from the Melbourne Kungkas, a support group for a council of Senior Aboriginal Women based in Coober Pedy, South Australia – the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta. She has been good enough to supply a rough transcript of what she said. It is a pity there were not more there to hear.
Firstly I’d like to acknowledge that we are gathered here today on Kulin Nation land.
I don’t say that as a mere formality, it’s especially relevant that we recognise this as we reflect on the history of nuclear colonialism.
My name’s Eve and I’m a member of the Melbourne Kungkas, a support group for a council of Senior Aboriginal Women based in Coober Pedy, South Australia called the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta. I work on the Irati Wanti Campaign, which is the campaign of the Kungka Tjuta against the proposed nuclear waste dump in South Australia. I have just returned from what seemed like an epic road with members of the Kungka Tjuta and activists from the Irati Wanti Campaign Office. There were four members of the Kungka Tjuta squashed into a Tarrago with the three of us young mob as well as lots of wool, and we realised driving along one day that we were seven sisters travelling across the land together.
The seven sisters is the creation story, or Tjukur of the Kungka Tjuta, and it’s not for me to tell that story. The Kungkas are great storytellers … they have sharp memories and a strong sense of the importance of history-telling, of passing on their life stories to their families, communities, and to the broader community. The Kungka Tjuta remember the past, drawing it into a direct relationship with the present, which is I think one of the tasks for any commemorative gathering such as this.
The Kungkas history tells of a long relationship with Irati, the nuclear poison. They are survivors of the British Atomic Testing program undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s in the South Australian desert. 2003 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first nuclear bomb detonated on the Australian mainland by the British government with the support of the Australian Govt. Totem One, tested on 15 October 1953 at Emu Fields produced a dense radioactive cloud which travelled over Aboriginal camps and pastoral stations in the region, bringing sudden deaths and sickness.
I understand the decision to allow nuclear bombs to be detonated on inhabited homelands to rely on a colonial conception of the desert as a vast, blank space. And the present Federal Govt decision to allow a nuclear waste dump in the same region relies on this same historical myth.
To the Kungka Tjuta the desert is neither remote, dead or disused. It is their home – intimately known, densely named and overlaid with stories, meanings and histories. The desert supports diverse plant and animal life through vast underground water sources. The Kungka Tjuta value water, because it is life-sustaining, and they say ‘we are worrying for our kids, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren. They have to have their life’. The Kungka Tjuta are great grandmothers, yet they still look towards the future. They are taking care of kids and country.
The reason I undertook this recent road trip is that two members of the Kungka Tjuta have just been awarded the prestigious 2003 Goldman Environmental prize, which recognises that the Irati Wanti Campaign has a message of urgent and broad global applicability. It offers a vision for a nuclear free future. Their ethic of care is something that our destructive culture has much to learn from. I urge you to learn more about the Irati Wanti Campaign by visiting our website http://www.iratiwanti.org
[Note – the Irati Wanti Campaign also maintains a news list – for more information visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/iratiwanti-news.]