Uranium Mining – Report on Mar 5 Discussion

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Dimity Hawkins, Myrriah Gómez, Yaroslav Koshelev und Muneeb Sanaullah Khan shared their expertise and experiences in the online discussion on the topic of uranium mining. Discussions covered different aspects and focused on different regions: Australia, the USA, Germany and Pakistan.

 

Dimity Hawkins (Nuclear Truth Project, ICAN Australia)

Uranium mining presents enduring environmental and health hazards, particularly impacting indigenous communities by necessitating relocation and severing cultural ties to their ancestral lands. Despite past opposition, there’s a renewed push to expand mining operations in Australia, home to a substantial portion of the world’s recoverable uranium reserves, with only two active mines presently. Indigenous resistance, as symbolized by Yvonne Margarula’s quote „the promises never last, but the problems always do,“ underscores the ongoing struggle against mining expansion. Notable incidents like those at the Ranger Mine, marked by major accidents and leaks, have resulted in its closure since 2021, with costly remediation plans underway. The Australian Nuclear Free Alliance, a coalition of indigenous groups and civil society organizations active for 27 years, continues to advocate against uranium mining. Mining activities in Australia, dating back to 1903 with a notable rise in the 1950s, have left a lasting imprint on both the environment and local communities, amplifying the urgency for sustainable and culturally sensitive mining practices.

 

Myrriah Gómez (University of New Mexico)

Myrriah’s presentation highlighted the profound impacts of the nuclear industrial complex on local and indigenous communities, particularly focusing on the experiences of BIPOC individuals. Her personal connection to the issue, rooted in her family’s displacement for the Manhattan Project, underscores historical injustices endured by affected communities. The decision to locate the project in an area inhabited by a Spanish-speaking community, often exploited due to language barriers, exemplifies systemic exploitation. Tragically, workers faced significant health risks from ionizing radiation, resulting in elevated cancer rates, with inadequate compensation exacerbating the suffering. Efforts such as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) aimed to address these injustices but have faced limitations and expiration, necessitating ongoing advocacy. Preserving oral histories within communities without written records is stressed, especially given contemporary threats like plans for increased plutonium production, which would further impact indigenous lands. Despite shortcomings in media representations, such as the Oppenheimer movie’s failure to accurately portray local perspectives, it sparked crucial conversations and activism, contributing to greater awareness and advocacy efforts. The debate further centers on whether the health and environmental impacts have been adequately addressed and whether the affected communities have been fairly compensated. The question of justice and responsibility is central to this, as the effects of uranium mining are still being felt today, affecting many families and communities in New Mexico and beyond. 

Myrriah recommends watching the documentary “The river that harms”

 

Yaroslav Koshelev (Technische Universität Berlin)

Yaroslav’s involvement in an interview project sheds light on the complex history and ongoing consequences of uranium mining, particularly within the context of the former Soviet Union and East Germany (GDR). Established as a joint USSR-GDR agency in response to nuclear bombings, the massive scale of the operation involved half a million workers and produced enough uranium to potentially create thousands of nuclear weapons. Over a period of 44 years, from 1946 until reunification, more than 231,000 tons of uranium were produced. Despite its state-like structures and privileged status for workers within the GDR system, the toll on health was significant, with ongoing battles for compensation due to illnesses affecting thousands of workers. In modern-day Germany, positive narratives surrounding the mining entity, SDAG Wismut, persist, intertwined with the region’s mining identity and prosperity. Despite hazards being largely unacknowledged at the time, the positive perception of Wismut remains strong, often overshadowing discussions of its environmental and health impacts. The mining tradition and economic benefits associated with Wismut contribute to its continued positive portrayal, with community members sometimes shaming those who speak out against it. While efforts have been made towards environmental redevelopment, questions remain regarding the extent of uranium used for nuclear weapons and the enrichment process, underscoring the complexities of the operation’s legacy and ongoing effects on affected communities. Collaboration with other affected communities is deemed crucial, highlighting the need for broader understanding and support amidst the enduring repercussions of uranium mining. A central concern of the online discussion is the fact that the project often remains hidden in politics and business, revealing the lack of attention paid to uranium mining in Wismut and other regions of the world. This deals with the question of how to support the communities that are still suffering from the consequences and damage of uranium mining worldwide.

 

Muneeb Sanaullah Khan (University of Engeneering and Technology)

The presentation provided a comprehensive overview of uranium extraction methods, detailing techniques for mining uranium at various depths. It compared chemical processes for shallow depths with underground mining methods for deeper excavations, drawing parallels with copper mining practices. The formation of uranium during magma formations was also elucidated. Emphasis was placed on identifying the safest extraction method for uranium. During the Q&A session, Muneeb addressed inquiries regarding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, suggesting that domestically sourced uranium likely fuels Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities. Additionally, the speaker noted a lack of information about protests against uranium mining in Pakistan, indicating limited awareness on the subject.

 

Conclusion

Dimity stressed the importance of monitoring ongoing developments and ensuring that all actions respect the consent of indigenous communities, “just keep an eye on things”. She proposed to raise funds whenever possible due to the constant need for financial resources, especially in light of the pressure from AUKUS in Australia, necessitating support to resist it. It’s emphasized that addressing nuclear issues places a significant burden, with the need to make people understand the high costs of the remediation efforts. Lastly, the importance of offering support as international friends is highlighted. Myrriah highlighted concerns over the increase in plutonium pit production and the potential for new uranium mining applications, especially on indigenous lands. She underlined the need to lookout for new developments and conversation. Further, she emphasized the importance of listening to testimonies and oral stories, reaching out to communities, and promoting international collaboration. Additionally, Myrriah stressed the need to stay informed and support one another in navigating these complex issues. Yaroslav highlighted the predominance of positive narratives from Wismut, emphasizing the importance of better disseminating critical perspectives to empower those who feel marginalized or overlooked. There’s a call for courageous individuals to step forward and for a greater diversity of perspectives to be acknowledged, particularly in regions associated with Wismut. Listening to testimonials from contemporary witnesses is emphasized as their numbers decrease with time. Additionally, there’s a need for state institutions to provide financial support to address these issues effectively.

 

Written by Mara Marx, Juliane Hauschulz, Aicha Kheinette, Marian Losse und Janina Rüther