Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Buried in the sand of Southern Algeria – the radioactive pollution from French nuclear tests

September 14, 2021




Algérie: sous le sable, les déchets nucléaires français,  translation by


Hervé CourtoisC.A.N. Coalition Against Nukes, 2 July 21

This is one of the major issues in the reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria. A subject that has long remained buried in the sands of the Sahara: the pollution of southern Algeria by French nuclear tests.

More than fifty years after the last test in 1966, Algiers has just created an agency for the rehabilitation of former nuc;ea test sites.

The Propaganda

From 1960 to 1966, the French army conducted 17 nuclear tests in southern Algeria, on the sites of Reggane and In Ekker. At the time, Albdekrim Touhami, a native of Tamanrasset, was a teenager. In Ekker is 150 kilometers north. He remembers the installation of the French military base, seen then as a welcome source of employment.”For us, it was a godsend. Everyone came running to get a job as a laborer or simple worker on the site. We didn’t think that this bomb was going to be a disaster for the region. We were told, “Here it is, the bomb will go off at such and such a time. You may feel some shaking, like an earthquake. But don’t worry, there will be no problem.” “

Fifteen years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the danger of nuclear weapons is known. Southern Algeria is chosen to conduct these tests, because the area is considered quite deserted compared to the Southern Alps or Corsica, while being close to the French mainland.

France wanted to quickly demonstrate its capacity to use the bomb in the context of the Cold War and the race for nuclear deterrence.”France wanted to catch up with the other nuclear powers, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom, to remain in what was called at the time “the big league”. This partly explains why the priority was the result, not the concern about the environmental impact or the collateral damage to the population. The priority was to explode the bomb,” recalls Patrice Bouveret, co-founder of the Observatoire de l’armement, an independent center of expertise.A highly polluted area .

In1962, Algeria became independent. The tests continued. Most of them, eleven, were carried out between 1962 and 1966 and therefore with the agreement of the new Algerian authorities. Systematically, the waste generated by these tests was buried, explains Jean-Marie Collin, spokesperson for Ican-France (International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons) who published a study with Patrice Bouveret, “Under the sand, the radioactivity! “.

Very clearly, France has a desire to bury,” emphasizes Jean-Marie Collin. It considers the desert as an ocean, an ocean of sand, and it buries everything that is likely to be contaminated. Algerian independence and the fact that France left Algeria under rather complicated conditions did not play in favor of depollution. On the contrary, even more waste was left behind. “Waste that goes from the simple screwdriver to the tank exposed to test the resistance of military equipment to the atomic bomb. Another pollution linked to nuclear tests, the accidental one during the Berryl underground test in 1962.

The reason for the tests was that the nuclear technology was not fully mastered and therefore there were accidents that released radioactive lava,” continues the Ican-France spokesman. The test concerned was in 1962. We were there in 2007. The scientists measured the radioactivity, which was extremely high, and they told us: “You should not stay more than twenty minutes on the spot, if you do not want to absorb radioactivity that is dangerous for your body. “

Only one victim compensated.

Contaminated rocks left in the open air, in areas of passage. Contaminated sand disseminated by the winds beyond the Algerian borders, particularly in neighboring Niger. For about fifteen years, in the area of Tamanrasset and with very few means, Abdelkrim Touhami and his association Taourirt tries to draw up a sanitary assessment.We learned that many people died of suspicious deaths,” he confides. People were dying little by little. Babies were being born with deformities. Cancers were occurring through this disaster. “

To date, no official census of the people exposed, whether French or Algerian. Only one Algerian victim has been compensated under the Morin Law (2010). The decree of May 31 creating an agency for the rehabilitation of test sites in Algeria is an important step for Jean-Marie Collin of Ican-France.

Until now,” he explains, “the Algerian state created a certain surveillance zone on these sites, but there had never been any action to protect these zones in order to avoid any real access. This decree opens up the possibility that international organizations such as States could come and help rehabilitate these nuclear test sites. What we have at the same time are discussions between France and Algeria, officially revealed in April, whereas until then, these discussions did not officially exist.

“These discussions took place within the framework of the Franco-Algerian working group on nuclear tests, created in 2008 under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. This issue of rehabilitation was also included in the report by Benjamin Stora on the reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria. Algiers must ratify the Tian, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, to which France is not a signatory, before mid-October.

.Supporters of the rehabilitation of former nuclear test sites want a joint Franco-Algerian mission to be sent to map the polluted sites in order to circumscribe them, and eventually treat them so that the inhabitants are no longer exposed to radioactivity. . https://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20210629-alg%C3%A9rie-sous-le-sable-les-d%C3%A9chets-nucl%C3%A9aires-fran%C3%A7ais?fbclid=IwAR2Gn0qmn8xngwhyIaCBN1ut9lU9w_YwziHLSr9S2SkwmBGc9oaWL0f18As

Australia has another go at cleaning up decades old pollution from old uranium mine Rum Jungle.

June 17, 2021

This is why Rum Jungle is so important: it was one of the very few mines once thought to have been rehabilitated successfully.

We got it wrong with Rum Jungle …….. Getting even a small part of modern mine rehabilitation wrong could, at worst, mean billions of tonnes of mine waste polluting for centuries.

Let’s hope we get it right this time.

The story of Rum Jungle: a Cold War-era uranium mine that’s spewed acid into the environment for decades  https://theconversation.com/the-story-of-rum-jungle-a-cold-war-era-uranium-mine-thats-spewed-acid-into-the-environment-for-decades-160871, Gavin Mudd Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering, RMIT University, May 18, 2021   

Buried in last week’s budget was money for rehabilitating the Rum Jungle uranium mine near Darwin. The exact sum was not disclosed.

Rum Jungle used to be a household name. It was Australia’s first large-scale uranium mine and supplied the US and British nuclear weapons programs during the Cold War.

Today, the mine is better known for extensively polluting the Finniss River after it closed in 1971. Despite a major rehabilitation project by the Commonwealth in the 1980s, the damage to the local environment is ongoing.

 first visited Rum Jungle in 2004, and it was a colourful mess, to say the least. Over later years, I saw it worsen. Instead of a river bed, there were salt crusts containing heavy metals and radioactive material. Pools of water were rich reds and aqua greens — hallmarks of water pollution. Healthy aquatic species were nowhere to be found, like an ecological desert.

The government’s second rehabilitation attempt is significant, as it recognises mine rehabilitation isn’t always successful, even if it appears so at first.

Rum Jungle serves as a warning: rehabilitation shouldn’t be an afterthought, but carefully planned, invested in and monitored for many, many years. Otherwise, as we’ve seen, it’ll be left up to future taxpayers to fix.

The quick and dirty history


Rum Jungle produced uranium
 from 1954 to 1971, roughly one-third of which was exported for nuclear weapons. The rest was stockpiled, and then eventually sold in 1994 to the US.

The mine was owned by the federal government, but was operated under contract by a former subsidiary of Rio Tinto. Back then, there were no meaningful environmental regulations in place for mining, especially for a military project.

The waste rock and tailings (processed ore) at Rum Jungle contains significant amounts of iron sulfide, called “pyrite”. When mining exposes the pyrite to water and oxygen, a chemical reaction occurs generating so-called “acidic mine drainage”. This drainage is rich in acid, salts, heavy metals and radioactive material (radionuclides), such as copper, zinc and uranium.

Acid drainage seeping from waste rock, plus acidic liquid waste from the process plant, caused fish and macroinvertebrates (bugs, worms, crustaceans) to die out, and riverbank vegetation to decline. By the time the mine closed in 1971, the region was a well-known ecological wasteland.

(more…)

Australia’s part in continuing nuclear havoc in Pacific islands – legacy of atomic bomb tests

June 17, 2021
75 years after nuclear testing in the Pacific began, the fallout continues to wreak havoc    https://theconversation.com/75-years-after-nuclear-testing-in-the-pacific-began-the-fallout-continues-to-wreak-havoc-158208?fbclid=IwAR3q9QJvy507ds2kD0ibOvkD6ZzxFqgGjfHsGrwqJUVMNpujOu8sAeLVPtY
April 6, 2021 
 Patricia A. O’Brien Patricia A. O’Brien is a Friend of The Conversation.Historian, Visiting Fellow in the School of History, Australian National University and Adjunct Professor in the Asian Studies Program, Georgetown University,    This year marks 75 years since the United States launched its immense atomic testing program in the Pacific. The historical fallout from tests carried out over 12 years in the Marshall Islands, then a UN Trust Territory governed by the US, have framed seven decades of US relations with the Pacific nation.Due to the dramatic effects of climate change, the legacies of this history are shaping the present in myriad ways.

This history has Australian dimensions too, though decades of diplomatic distance between Australia and the Marshall Islands have hidden an entangled atomic past.

In 1946, the Marshall Islands seemed very close for many Australians. They feared the imminent launch of the US’s atomic testing program on Bikini Atoll might split the earth in two, catastrophically change the earth’s climate, or produce earthquakes and deadly tidal waves.

A map accompanying one report noted Sydney was only 3,100 miles from ground zero. Residents as far away as Perth were warned if their houses shook on July 1, “it may be the atom bomb test”.

Australia was “included in the tests” as a site for recording blast effects and monitoring for atom bombs detonated anywhere in the world by hostile nations. This Australian site served to keep enemies in check and achieve one of the Pacific testing program’s objectives: to deter future war. The other justification was the advancement of science.

The earth did not split in two after the initial test (unless you were Marshallese) so they continued; 66 others followed over the next 12 years. But the insidious and multiple harms to people and place, regularly covered up or denied publicly, became increasingly hard to hide.

Radiation poisoning, birth defects, leukaemia, thyroid and other cancers became prevalent in exposed Marshallese, at least four islands were “partially or completely vapourised”, the exposed Marshallese “became subjects of a medical research program” and atomic refugees. (Bikinians were allowed to return to their atoll for a decade before the US government removed them again when it was realised a careless error falsely claimed radiation levels were safe in 1968.)

In late 1947, the US moved its operations to Eniwetok Atoll, a decision, it was argued, to ensure additional safety. Eniwetok was more isolated and winds were less likely to carry radioactive particles to populated areas.

Australian reports noted this site was only 3,200 miles from Sydney. Troubling reports of radioactive clouds as far away as the French Alps and the known shocking health effects appeared.

Dissenting voices were initially muted due to the steep escalation of the Cold War and Soviet atomic weapon tests beginning in 1949.

Opinion in Australia split along political lines. Conservative Cold War warriors, chief among them Robert Menzies who became prime minister again in 1949, kept Australia in lockstep with the US, and downplayed the ill-effects of testing. Left-wing elements in Australia continued to draw attention to the “horrors” it unleashed.

The atomic question came home in 1952, when the first of 12 British atomic tests began on the Montebello Islands, off Western Australia.   Australia’s involvement in atomic testing expanded again in 1954, when it began supplying South Australian-mined uranium to the US and UK’s joint defence purchasing authority, the Combined Development Agency.

Australia’s economic stake in the atomic age from 1954 collided with the galvanisation of global public opinion against US testing in Eniwetok. The massive “Castle Bravo” hydrogen bomb test in March exposed Marshall Islanders and a Japanese fishing crew on The Lucky Dragon to catastrophic radiation levels “equal to that received by Japanese people less than two miles from ground zero” in the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts. Graphic details of the fishermen’s suffering and deaths and a Marshallese petition to the United Nations followed.

When a UN resolution to halt US testing was voted on in July, Australia voted for its continuation. But the tide of public opinion was turning against testing. The events of 1954 dispelled the notion atomic waste was safe and could be contained. The problem of radioactive fish travelling into Australian waters highlighted these new dangers, which spurred increasing world wide protests until the US finally ceased testing in the Marshalls in 1958.

In the 1970s, US atomic waste was concentrated under the Runit Island dome, part of Enewetak Atoll (about 3,200 miles from Sydney). Recent alarming descriptions of how precarious and dangerous this structure is due to age, sea water inundation and storm damage exacerbated by climate change were contested in a 2020 Trump-era report.

The Biden administration’s current renegotiation of the Compact of Free Association with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and its prioritisation of action on climate change, will put Runit Island high on the agenda. There is an opportunity for historical redress for the US that is even more urgent given the upsurge in discrimination against US-based Pacific Islander communities devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are peoples displaced by the tests.

Australia is also embarking on a new level of engagement with the Marshall Islands: it is due to open its first embassy in the capital Majuro in 2021.It should be remembered this bilateral relationship has an atomic history too. Australia supported the US testing program, assisted with data collection and voted in the UN for its continuation when Marshallese pleaded for it to be stopped. It is also likely Australian-sourced atomic waste lies within Runit Island, cementing Australia in this history.

Shattered remains — the fallout from the Trinity nuclear bomb test

June 17, 2021

Tularosa Basin Downwinders continue their fight for recognition

Shattered remains — Beyond Nuclear International The fight to right the injustices of Trinity  https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/72759838/posts/3391600721 By Tina Cordova, 14 June 21, In a world searching for sustainable energy infrastructures, the US has still not rectified the injustices that came about with the earliest moments of the nuclear era. On July 16, 1945, when the US government detonated the first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site in South Central New Mexico, officials had little to no concern for the people who lived in the adjacent area.

Most of them were people of color, Native Americans and also Hispanos who had emigrated north from Mexico (or their ancestors had likely done so). These people were warned neither before nor after the so-called “test” as to the dangers they were facing as a result of the bomb

As we know, this “test” would be the first of many from both Western and Eastern superpowers. Within the US context, other communities considered marginal to the US would be devastated; the atomic explosions on the Marshall Islands and their impacts on Indigenous communities are one of the best-known of these horrific accounts. Debates around nuclear power continue to have great international resonance today. 
 
As documented in written and oral histories recorded by the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC), ash fell from the sky for days after the bomb was detonated and settled on everything—the people, the land, and the animals.  The TBDC was originally organized to bring attention to the negative health effects suffered by the people of New Mexico as a result of their overexposure to radiation as a result of the “test.”  Ultimately, the TBDC’S goals include raising awareness and attaining justice for impacted local communities and families.

Fallout
The bomb detonated at Trinity produced massive fallout that blanketed the earth and became part of the water and food supply that the people of the area rely on for sustenance. The bomb was incredibly inefficient, inasmuch as it was overpacked with plutonium: it incorporated 13 pounds of plutonium when only three pounds were necessary for the fission process.  The remaining 10 lbs. of plutonium—with a half-life of 24,000 years—was dispersed in the radioactive cloud that rose over eight miles above the atmosphere, penetrating the stratosphere.

The bomb was detonated on a platform at a height of 100 feet off the ground, the only time a device was ever detonated so close to the ground.  At this height the blast did not produce massive destruction—but it did produce massive fallout. In fact, Trinity produced more fallout than any of the atomic bombs detonated at the Nevada Site.  In Japan, the bombs were detonated at heights of 1600 (Nagasaki) and 1800 (Hiroshima) feet respectively, which produced massive destruction and the horrific images which we know too well. In contrast, the accounts of communities in southern New Mexico are best characterized by what Rob Nixon calls “slow violence.” Through this concept, Nixon wants us to focus on how environmental degradation that occurs at the hands of human actors can slowly accumulate and impact communities for years after an initial event. 

To understand the exposure received by New Mexicans in the area, it is important to understand the lifestyles of the people living there in the 1940s and ’50s. In rural parts of New Mexico in 1945 there was no running water, so people collected rainwater for the purpose of drinking, cooking, and the like. There was no refrigeration, so there were no grocery stores to buy produce, meat, or dairy products. Mercantile stores sold things like sugar, flour, coffee, rice, cereal, and other nonperishables, but all the meat, dairy, and produce that was consumed was grown, raised, hunted locally. Most if not all the food sources were negatively affected by the radioactive fallout that became part of almost everything that was consumed

The regional water infrastructures included cisterns, sometimes dug into the ground, to collect water directed off of rooftops. Once inside a cistern, radioactive debris would remain effectively forever (having no place else to go) so that water dipped out of a cistern for drinking or cooking would be replete with radioactive isotopes that were then consumed. Even one particle of plutonium inhaled or ingested would remain in the body giving off radiation and destroying cells, tissue, and organs.

Denial

People who have shared with the TBDC their stories of the blast that day have said that they thought it was the end of the world. Imagine: the bomb produced more heat and more light than the sun. It was detonated at about 5:30 a.m. and many reported that the explosion “knocked them out of bed.” They said first the sky lit up brighter than day, and then the blast followed. Many said that they were gathered up by their mothers and made to pray. The light is reported to have been seen all the way to California and the blast was felt as far north as Albuquerque. It was an unprecedented event that no one received warning about, and within days a lie was delivered and perpetuated by the US government: a munition dump at the Alamogordo Bombing Range had accidently exploded but no one was hurt, it claimed.

People who have shared with the TBDC their stories of the blast that day have said that they thought it was the end of the world. Imagine: the bomb produced more heat and more light than the sun. It was detonated at about 5:30 a.m. and many reported that the explosion “knocked them out of bed.” They said first the sky lit up brighter than day, and then the blast followed. Many said that they were gathered up by their mothers and made to pray. The light is reported to have been seen all the way to California and the blast was felt as far north as Albuquerque. It was an unprecedented event that no one received warning about, and within days a lie was delivered and perpetuated by the US government: a munition dump at the Alamogordo Bombing Range had accidently exploded but no one was hurt, it claimed.

The US government has never returned to conduct a full epidemiological study on the impacts of this exposure on the people of New Mexico. Yet in 1990, a bill was passed called the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which provided recognition, an apology, and reparations to the people living downwind of the Nevada Test Site and elsewhere in the Southwest not counting the region around the Trinity site. So while the people of New Mexico were the first to be exposed to this horrific form radiation anyplace in the world, while they lived much closer to the Trinity test site and were therefore exposed to much more higher doses of radiation, and while they were also documented as being downwind of the Nevada Test site, they have never been included in the RECA fund.   
 
Documentation

There has been a recent challenge by the National Cancer Institute to what we know to be true about the people’s use of cisterns in rural parts of New Mexico. To dispel the idea that people in the 1940s and ’50s didn’t use cisterns, the TBDC is now undertaking a process for collecting notarized affidavits in which people recount what they remember about how they acquired water for drinking and cooking purposes. Many of the statements are clear about how rainwater was collected mainly in cisterns and that this water was considered a precious commodity.

This archival work provides the TBDC with the opportunity to document, for the first time, the memories of local and elderly community members about the region’s water infrastructures and support their efforts for environmental justice. This ongoing archival work was even useful for TBDC’s March, 2021, presentation to the US Congress on the importance of expanding RECA.

The collection of affidavits is made public so that there is a record of what has been shared with the TBDC through this process. People who wrote the statements in these affidavits are from varying communities across New Mexico, and it is interesting to note that most of them were typically not familiar with each other, yet their statements have many common themes.   

The TBDC believes that there is an imperative to document the truth as told by those who experienced the Trinity bomb and know of their living conditions. It is hoped that the affidavits will inform the public as to the inaccuracies that are often told by the government and agencies that represent the government. All of this is especially crucial today as nuclear energy has continued to be of great importance globally. Numerous administrations have sought to expand US nuclear power abroad, yet as both the US and other governments around the world continue to look towards nuclear, its origins and those present during its origins must no longer be overlooked.

Tina Cordova is a seventh generation native New Mexican born and raised in the small town of Tularosa in south central New Mexico, and is past Vice President of the New Mexico Highlands University Foundation, her Alma Mater. A thyroid cancer survivor, in 2005 Tina co-founded the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.

The effects of radioactive waste water released into the ocean

June 17, 2021

when radionuclides are present in seawater alongside commonly-occurring metals like copper, the DNA damage caused by radionuclides to the mussels was increased.

the need for transparency when it comes to nuclear technology has never been greater

After all, we are what we eat: our health as a global community depends on the health of the environment, and a contaminated ocean knows no geographical or political borders.

Nuclear power: how might radioactive waste water affect the environment? https://theconversation.com/nuclear-power-how-might-radioactive-waste-water-affect-the-environment-159483   Awadhesh Jha
Professor of Genetic Toxicology and Ecotoxicology, University of Plymouth     April 30, 2021
 It’s been just over a decade since the fourth most powerful earthquake of the modern era triggered a tsunami that struck Fukushima on the eastern coastline of Japan, causing thousands of deaths and leaving hundreds of thousands unable to return home. That tsunami was also responsible for the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster.

When the 14-metre wave flooded the Fukushima Daiichi plant, it shut down emergency generators, triggering a series of heat-induced meltdowns.Now, the Japanese government’s decision to allow the release of more than one million tonnes of radioactive water from the plant into the ocean has dividedopinion.

Water is a vital tool for all nuclear power stations: it’s used to cool their heat-generating radioactive cores. During the cooling process, the water becomes contaminated with radionuclides – unstable atoms with excess energy – and must be filtered to remove as many radionuclides as possible.

The filtered water is then stored in huge steel tanks or released into nearby bodies of water. As huge amounts of water are required by every plant, most nuclear facilities are built on coastlines – or, in the case of Chernobyl, surrounded by huge lakes. That way, filtered waste water can be discharged into the ocean or lake once it’s been assessed and confirmed safe by authorities.

This is how workers at Fukushima dealt with waste water while the plant was operating. But since the tsunami hit in 2011, authorities have used more than a million tonnes of water to try and cool the plant’s disabled reactors, which are still hot thanks to the long-term release of energy from the nuclear power source. All that radioactive water – which is more contaminated than standard waste water – has to go somewhere. The decision to release it into the oceans is – some would argue – the most pragmatic long-term solution.

What could the impacts be?

The process of filtering and diluting the huge amounts of water to meet safety standards will take a few years to complete. Then, we’d usually expect the water to be released gradually in small volumes through coastal pipelines. That way, any potential effects of releasing the radioactive waste will be minimised. However, the fact is that we don’t know exactly what those effects will be on marine – or human – life, given the sheer volume of water set to be released from the Fukushima plant.

Our own research has shown that a number of marine species could have their DNA damaged through extended exposure to radionuclides in seawater. It’s important to note that our conclusions are mostly drawn from studies in the lab, rather than in the real world; when a nuclear accident takes place, human safety takes priority and biological assessment often takes place decades after the original event.

That being said, our experiments with both marine and freshwater mussels found that when radionuclides are present in seawater alongside commonly-occurring metals like copper, the DNA damage caused by radionuclides to the mussels was increased. Much, much more research is needed to understand the effects of exposure to different types of radionuclides on different species.

In the meantime, anger towards Japan’s decision from fishing communities is understandable. In a world where global dependence on fisheries for food is increasing – and at least 10% of the world’s population depend on fisheries for their livelihood – a potentially contaminated environment could result in a contaminated food chain, raising consumer concerns.

We also know that around 95% of cancers in humans are triggered by exposure to toxic substances present in the environment, food included. If these substances damage genetic material within our cells, that damage must be repaired. Otherwise, the damaged cell either dies or divides. And when the latter happens, the damage – which can cause genetic mutations – is passed on to dividing cells in a process that may lead to diseases like cancer.

If that genetic damage happens to egg or sperm cells, it may be passed down from parent to child, triggering new diseases in future generations. To neutralise these complex threats, it’s key to ensure that only safe levels of nuclear waste are being released into the ocean.

Where do we go from here?

As new nuclear plants emerge in the effort to tackle climate change, the need for transparency when it comes to nuclear technology has never been greater: especially if we are to build public confidence in the benefits of nuclear energy.

When nuclear reactors are mentioned, it’s disasters which tend to spring to mind. Yet considering the long history of nuclear power generation, serious accidents – involving loss of life and severe damage to the environment – are extraordinarily rare. The huge amounts of data gathered from each disaster site have enabled powerful advances in nuclear security, making future accidents even less likely. Meanwhile, waste from the world’s nuclear reactors is being managed safely every day, although long-term solutions to waste disposal still pose a challenge.

Rapidly developing technology like nuclear fusion – mimicking the Sun’s way of generating energy by fusing hydrogen atoms to form helium, and converting that helium into energy – may eventually slash generation of nuclear waste. There’s also room for improvement of our existing nuclear facilities to help minimise waste generation: for example, by forcing radioactive byproducts to decay faster.

But while we still rely on nuclear power, the most urgent priority is to set internationally accepted regulations for radiation exposure levels across different species. After all, we are what we eat: our health as a global community depends on the health of the environment, and a contaminated ocean knows no geographical or political borders.

Getting the facts straight about Chernobyl, nuclear disasters, and ionising radiation

May 3, 2021

Fact check: 5 myths about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster

Monday marks the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. What happened in the former Soviet Union on April 26, 1986, is no longer a secret.  DW, 

Is Chernobyl the biggest-ever nuclear disaster?

The 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near the city of Pripyat in northern Ukraine is often described as the worst nuclear accident in history. However, rarely is this sensational depiction clarified in more detail. 

The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) does classify nuclear events on a scale of zero to seven, breaking them down into accidents, incidents and anomalies. It was introduced in 1990 after being developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (NEA/OECD). Level seven denotes a “major accident,” which means “major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.”

Both the Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima disaster have been categorized as such. But INES does not allow for nuclear events to be classified within a level.

If the term nuclear disaster is not only used to describe events, or accidents, in nuclear reactors but also radioactive emissions caused by humans then there are many occasions when human-caused nuclear contamination has been greater than that of the Chernobyl disaster, explained Kate Brown, professor of science, technology and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Let’s take the production of plutonium,” she told DW, referring to the American and Soviet plants that produced plutonium at the center of a nuclear bomb. “Those plants each issued as part of the normal working everyday order at least 350 million curies [a unit of radioactivity — Editor’s note] into the surrounding environment. And that was not an accident.

“Let’s look at, even more dire, the issuance of radioactive fallout in the detonation of nuclear bombs during the periods of nuclear testing ground, which were located throughout the world, ” she continued. “Those just take one isotope, one radioactive iodine, which is harmful to human health because it’s taken up by the human thyroid, causing thyroid cancer or thyroid disease.

“Chernobyl issued 45 million curies of radioactive iodine just in two years of testing, in 1961 and 1962. The Soviets and the Americans issued not 45 million curies, but 20 billion curies of radioactive iodine,” she said. And these tests, she added, were by design — not due to an accident or human error.

Are there mutants in the exclusion zone?

………….. “The influence of ionizing radiation may cause some restructuring in the body, but mostly it simply reduces an organism’s viability,” he explained, giving the example of high embryo fatalities in rodents due to genomic defects that prevented the organism from functioning. Those animals that survive the womb sometimes have disabilities that prevent them from staying alive in the wild. Vishnevsky and his colleagues have conducted research into thousands of animals in the exclusion zone, but have not found any unusual morphological alterations.

“Why? Because we were always dealing with animals that had survived and had won the fight for survival,” he said. He added that it was difficult to compare these animals with creatures that scientists had deliberately exposed to radiation in laboratories.

“That’s a very seductive idea, that human messed up nature and all they have to do is step away and nature rewrites itself,” she said. In reality, however, biologists say that there are fewer species of insects, birds and mammals than before the disaster. The fact that some endangered species can be found in the exclusion zone is not evidence of the area’s health and vitality.

Has nature reclaimed the site of the disaster?

Reports entitled “Life Flourishing Around Chernobyl” and photo series suggesting that the exclusion zone has become a “natural paradise” might give the impression that nature has recovered from the nuclear disaster. But Brown, who has been researching Chernobyl for 25 years, is adamant that this is “not true.”

“That’s a very seductive idea, that human messed up nature and all they have to do is step away and nature rewrites itself,” she said. In reality, however, biologists say that there are fewer species of insects, birds and mammals than before the disaster. The fact that some endangered species can be found in the exclusion zone is not evidence of the area’s health and vitality.

On the contrary: there has been a significant increase in the mortality rate and a lowered life expectancy in the animal population, with more tumors and immune defects, disorders of the blood and circulatory system and early ageing.

Scientists have attributed the apparent natural diversity to species migration and the vastness of the area. “The exclusion zone comprises 2,600 square kilometers [about 1,000 square miles]. And to the north are another 2,000 square kilometers to the north is Belarus’ exclusion zone,” said Vishnevsky. “There are also areas to the east and west where the human population density is extremely low. We have a huge potential for preserving local wild fauna.” That includes lynxes, bears and wolves which need a great deal of space.

But even 35 years after the disaster the land is still contaminated by radiation, a third of it by transuranium elements with a half-life of more than 24,000 years.

Is it safe for tourists to visit Chernobyl?

The exclusion zone was already a magnet for disaster tourists, but in 2019 annual numbers doubled to 124,000 after the success of the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. The State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management has set up a number of routes so tourists can visit the region by land, water or air. It has also drawn up a number of regulations to protect visitors, stipulating that people must be covered from head to toe. They shouldn’t eat any food or drink outside, and they should always follow official paths. It’s estimated that the radiation dose received over a one-day visit does not exceed 0.1 millisievert (mSv) — roughly the same dose that a passenger would be exposed to on a long-distance flight from Germany to Japan, according to Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation

Are there people living in the area?

Today, Pripyat, the closed city built to serve the nuclear plant and house its employees, is often described as a ghost town, as is the nearby city of Chernobyl.

However, neither has been entirely empty since 1986. Thousands of people, usually men, have stayed there, often working two-week shifts and ensuring that the crucial infrastructure in both cities continues to function. After the explosion in reactor No. 4, reactors 1, 2 and 3 continued to operate, closing down only in 1991, 1996 and 2000. Special units of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry police the zone. There are also stores and at least two hotels in Chernobyl, which are mainly for business visitors.

There are also a number of unofficial inhabitants, including people who used to live in the area and have chosen to return. They have settled in villages that were evacuated after the disaster. The exact number of people is unknown: when DW asked the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management how many people lived in Chernobyl, the official answer was “nobody.” 

In 2016, about 180 people were thought to be living in the entire exclusion zone. Because they tended to be older, this number may well have fallen. Even though these locals are officially only tolerated, the state does support them in their everyday lives. Their pensions are delivered once a month, and every two to three months they are supplied with food by a mobile store.   https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-5-myths-about-the-chernobyl-nuclear-disaster/a-57314231

Below – a video from past years tells the earlier story of the chernobyl disaster

Harm done to people by the Fukushima evacuation, but radiation was still the root cause of all this

April 5, 2021

The Lancet 6th March 2021, “The evacuation was the biggest risk factor in impacting health”, said Masaharu Tsubokura, an expert in radiation health management at Fukushima Medical University. “But [the evacuation] was inevitable, so I’m not saying that it was the wrong choice”, he added. He describes the tsunami-hit region of northeast Japan as a case study in the myriad health issues arising from natural disasters—an interplay between non-communicable diseases, the effect on mental and physical health of sudden upheaval, family separation, and the struggle to provide nursing care in ageing communities that hold little appeal for younger people, including health-care staff, who are worried about radiation and lack of job opportunities.

The evacuation was the most effective way to reduce exposure, Tsubokura said, but added that it had also had the biggest effect on mid-term and long-term health outcomes by exacerbating chronic and non-communicable diseases, notably diabetes, obesity, and impaired bone health and motor function. “Some might say that medically, these are not related to radiation”, he said, “but I would say that in the secondary sense, everything has a connection to radiation”. Evacuees with the financial means fanned out across Japan, with some seeking refuge as far away as Okinawa, more than 1000 miles to the south. Many others moved to temporary housing or found rented accommodation in parts of Fukushima that were considered a safe distance from the stricken plant. Following a ¥2·9 trillion (£19 billion) operation to remove millions of cubic metres of contaminated topsoil from areas near private homes, schools, and other essential public buildings, the government began lifting evacuation orders in 2015. Yet even now, several neighbourhoods located near Fukushima Daiichi remain no-go zones because of radiation levels above 20 mSv a year—the maximum exposure recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Japan raised acceptable levels of radiation for Fukushima residents to 20 mSv per year from 1 mSv per year, although the country insists that 1 mSv remains the long-term goal. Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, and Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, are among those who have challenged the IAEA’s conclusion, pointing to the lack of comprehensive exposure data from the initial days of the crisis.

Burnie and Fairlie cite a 2019 study led by Hidehiko Yamamoto of Osaka Red Cross Hospital that concludes “the radiation contamination due to the Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents is positively associated with the thyroidcancer detection rate in children and adolescents. This corroborates previous studies providing evidence for a causal relation between nuclear accidents and the subsequent occurrence of thyroid cancer”. Burnie said, “The extent to which the current thyroid rates are due to radiation exposure is not proven. However, given the uncertainties, including dose data, it is not credible to dismiss an association between iodine exposure and the higher incidence of thyroid cancer. The authorities need to continue screening and prioritise other physical and mental health issuesarising from displacement and evacuation, as well as monitor people who have returned”. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00560-2/fulltext

French report on the unfairness of France’s nuclear history in Algeria

April 5, 2021

French report grapples with nuclear fallout from Algerian War  https://thebulletin.org/2021/03/french-report-grapples-with-nuclear-fallout-from-algerian-war/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ThursdayNewsletter03042021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_AlgerianWar_03042021&cf_chl_captcha_tk=32bfe924bf6171eab26d9deb08cd73459b5e69dc-1614896664-0-AWxxiguytXLkG_ERcOpFeDyCqmv7X1FYZmZBNGAnlwY6ZlI8PgWd2By Austin R. Cooper | March 4, 2021 n January, the French historian Benjamin Stora filed a report commissioned by the French President Emmanuel Macron aimed at “reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria,” which France ruled as the jewel of its colonial empire for more than 130 years.

The Stora Report addressed several scars from the Algerian War for Independence (1954–62), a bloody struggle for decolonization that met savage repression by French troops. One of these controversies stems from French use of the Algerian Sahara for nuclear weapons development.

France proved its bomb in the atmosphere above this desert, naming the inaugural blast , or Blue Jerboa, after the local rodent. Between 1960 and 1966, France detonated 17 nuclear devices in the Algerian Sahara: four atmospheric explosions during the Algerian War, and another 13 underground, most of these after Algerian Independence.

French nuclear ambitions became inextricable from the process of Algerian decolonization. The Saharan blasts drew international outrage, stalled ceasefire negotiations, and later threatened an uneasy peace across the Mediterranean.

The Stora Report signaled that radioactive fallout from the Algerian War has remained a thorn between the two nations. But the document comes up short of a clear path toward nuclear reconciliation.

A United Nations dispute. The French bomb collided with the Algerian War before the first mushroom cloud rose above the Sahara. In November 1959, Algerian allies representing independent states in Africa and Asia contested French plans for the desert in the First Committee on Disarmament at the United Nations.

Part of the French strategy at the United Nations was to drive a wedge between the nuclear issue and what French diplomats euphemistically termed the “Question of Algeria.” French obfuscation continued for decades.

France would not, until 1999, call the bloodshed a war, preferring the line that what happened in Algeria, as part of France, amounted to a domestic dispute, rather than UN business. Macron became, in 2018, the first French president to acknowledge “systemic torture” by French troops in Algeria.

The Afro-Asian challenge to Saharan explosions hurdled France’s diplomatic barricades at the United Nations. The French delegation tried to strike references to the Algerian War as irrelevant. But their African and Asian counterparts painted the desert blasts as a violation of African sovereignty.

The concern was not only for contested territory in Algeria, but also for independent states bordering the desert, whose leaders warned that nuclear fallout could cross their national borders. Radiation measurements taken in the wake of Gerboise bleue proved many of them right.

Nuclear weapons represented another piece of French imperialism on the continent.

Secret negotiations resumed in September 1961, with US Ambassador to Tunisia Walter N. Walmsley serving as France’s backchannel. The US State Department worried that French attachment to the test sites might thwart the decolonization process.

Lead Algerian negotiator Krim Belkacem asked Walmsley if prospects for a ceasefire still hinged on France retaining control of the test sites. Krim got his answer when Franco-Algerian talks resumed the following month, at the end of October 1961.

France did not abandon its goal to continue nuclear explosions in the Sahara. But the Algerian position appeared to have softened. So long as further blasts did not impinge on Algeria’s “eventual sovereignty” over the desert, as one archival document put it, a deal looked possible.

The Evian Accords marked a nuclear compromise. Finally signed in March 1962, the landmark treaty granted France a five-year lease to the Saharan test sites but did not specify terms of use.

Going underground. Advice from the French Foreign Ministry played a key role in pushing France’s weapons program beneath Saharan mountains. French diplomats suggested that underground explosions would present, according to one archival document, “significantly less serious” challenges than atmospheric ones for future relations with Algeria and its African neighbors.

This did not stop Algeria’s first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, from winning political capital with the nuclear issue. In public, Ben Bella cast Saharan blasts as an intolerable violation of Algerian sovereignty, as had his allies at the United Nations. In private, however, Ben Bella acquiesced to the Evian terms and reportedly tried to squeeze French financial aid out of the deal.

The Hoggar Massif shook 13 times before France handed over its two Saharan test sites to Algeria in 1967. An accident occurred during one of these underground blasts, dubbed Béryl, when containment measures failed. Several French soldiers and two high-ranking French officials suffered the highest radiation exposures, but roughly 240 members of “nomadic populations” in the region received lower doses.

Meanwhile, France began construction on its Pacific test range in French Polynesia, the site of nearly 200 nuclear explosions between 1966 and 1996. Most took place underground, but France also conducted atmospheric detonations in Polynesia, and these continued into the 1970s. Even though the Limited Test Ban Treaty had gone into effect in 1963—prohibiting nuclear blasts in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space—France refused to sign it.

Contamination and compensation. As part of its reconciliation proposal, the Stora Report encouraged Franco-Algerian cooperation on environmental remediation of the Saharan test sites. An expert report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, however, concluded in 2005 that environmental interventions were “not required” unless human traffic near the sites should increase.

The Stora Report briefly mentioned compensation linked to radiation exposure from French nuclear weapons development, but this deserves a closer look. In 2010, the French Parliament passed a law recognizing these victims and establishing funds and procedures to provide compensation for illness and injury. So far, France has earmarked 26 million euros for this purpose, but almost none of that has gone to Algerians.

Decades earlier, France’s nuclear allies turned to compensation programs in an attempt to reconcile with marginalized groups affected by weapons development without disclosure or consent. In 1993, for example, the United Kingdom settled with Australia as redress for indigenous people and personnel involved in UK explosions conducted in the former colony.

Facing similar lawsuits, the United States provided monetary compensation and health benefits to the indigenous people of the Marshall Islands, where US nuclear planners “offshored” their most powerful blasts during the Cold War arms race. Other US programs have made compensation available to communities “downwind” of the Nevada Test Site and surrounded by the uranium mines fueling the US nuclear arsenal, including Tribal Nations in the Four Corners region.

Compensation programs map a global history of colonial empire, racial discrimination, and dispossession of indigenous land, but postcolonial inequalities look particularly stark from the Sahara. Including appeals, France has granted 545 of 1,739 total requests filed by French soldiers and civilian participants in the nuclear detonations, as well as exposed populations in Algeria and Polynesia. Only 1 of 52 Algerian dossiers has proven successful.

French officials responsible for evaluating these files report that the ones from Algeria often arrive incomplete or in a shoddy state, and pin the blame on the Algerian government’s inability or unwillingness to provide the geographical, historical, and biomedical evidence that French assessment procedures demand. Claims must demonstrate that an individual worked or lived in a fixed area surrounding one of the two Saharan test sites, between February 1960 and December 1967, and suffered at least one of 21 types of cancer recognized as radiation-linked by French statute.

A step toward reconciliation. If Macron really wants to tackle France’s nuclear history in Algeria—and its aftermath—his government should start here. The French Parliament opened the door to Algerian compensation in 2010, and important revisions to the evaluation procedures took place in 2017, but there has never been a level playing field. Macron could, for example, require that French diplomats posted in Algeria help Algerians build their cases and locate supporting documents.

Another option: Macron could declassify archival materials documenting the intensity and scope of radioactive fallout generated by French nuclear blasts. Draconian interpretations of French statutes on the reach of military secrecy continue to block access to the vast majority of military, civil, and diplomatic collections on France’s nuclear weapons program—including radiation effects. Foreign archives have provided useful information, but official documentation from the French government would help exposed populations—like those in the Sahara—understand what happened, evaluate the risks, bolster their claims, and likely find these more successful.

The Stora Report did well to acknowledge nuclear fallout from the Algerian War. Giving Algerians a fair shot at compensation should mark France’s first step toward reconciliation.

Continued use of nuclear energy brings pollution, cancers and birth defects

February 18, 2021
mitigating climate change, is both unnecessary and downright harmful.
A Grim Reality.   https://beyondnuclearinternational.org/2021/02/15/a-grim-reality/, Living longterm in radioactively contaminated areas damages our health, By Cindy Folkers, 15 Feb 21,

A growing body of evidence supports a grim reality: that living in radioactively contaminated areas over multiple years results in harmful health impacts, particularly during pregnancy.

This is borne out in a recent study by Anton V. Korsakov, Emilia V. Geger, Dmitry G. Lagerev, Leonid I. Pugach and Timothy A. Mousseau, that shows a higher frequency of birth defects amongst people living in Chernobyl-contaminated areas (as opposed to those living in areas considered uncontaminated) in the Bryansk region of Russia.

Because the industry and governments are pushing to spend more money on new nuclear reactors — or to keep the old ones running longer — they have been forced to come up with a deadly workaround to surmount the strongest argument against nuclear power: its potential for catastrophic accidents.

Even the nuclear industry and the governments willing to do its bidding understand that you cannot really clean up after a nuclear catastrophe. For example, in Japan, where the March 2011 nuclear disaster has left lands radioactively contaminated potentially indefinitely, there is an attempt to mandate that people return to live in these areas by claiming there are no “discernible” health impacts from doing so.

Bodies that are supposed to protect health and regulate the nuclear industry, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International Commission on Radiological Protection and Nuclear Regulatory Commission are raising recommended public exposure limits, considering halting evacuations from radiation releases, and encouraging people to live on, and eat from, contaminated land. 

The public justification for continued nuclear energy use is, ostensibly, to address the  climate crisis. The reality is more likely a desperate last-ditch effort by the nuclear industry to remain relevant, while in some countries the nuclear energy agenda remains inextricably linked to nuclear weapon programs.

Forcing people to live on and consume produce grown from radioactively contaminated land is contrary to scientific evidence indicating that these practices harm humans and all animals, especially over the long-term. By the time these health impacts are unearthed, decades later, the false narratives of “harmless low radiation doses” and “no discernible impact” have solidified, covering up the painful reality that should be a touchstone informing our debate over nuclear power.

The recent joint study, whose implementation, says Korsakov, would not have happened without the support and efforts of co-author Mousseau, found that birth defects like polydactyly (having more than five fingers or toes), and multiple congenital malformations (including those that are appearing for the first time — called de novo), were “significantly higher… in newborns in regions with elevated radioactive, chemical and combined contamination.”

Uniquely, Korsakov also examines areas contaminated by both Chernobyl radioactivity and industrial chemicals. Multiple congenital malformations (MCM) were much higher in areas of combined contamination, indicating an additive and potentially synergistic effect between pollutants for these birth defects.

Congenital malformations (CM) are thought to originate in the first trimester of pregnancy and represent a main cause of global disease burden. They are considered “indicators of adverse factors in the environment,” including radioactive pollution, and can afflict numerous organs (heart, brain, lungs, bones, intestines) with physical abnormalities and metabolic disorders. Counted among these are clubfoot, hernias, heart and neural tube defects, cleft palate and lip, and Down syndrome.

CMs are the leading cause of infant mortality in many developed nations, accounting for 20% of U.S. infant deaths. For those living past infancy, the effects can be lifelong. While a number of CMs are obvious early in life, some may not be identified until later, even into adulthood. Countries of low- and middle-income are affected disproportionately.

In the Bryansk region of Russia, birth defects were examined over the 18-year period from 2000-2017. For areas contaminated with radiation alone, dose estimations from Chernobyl radiation (released from the 1986 nuclear catastrophe) ranged from 0.6 mSv to 2.1 mSv per year, while in areas contaminated with radiation and chemicals, dose ranges were 1.2 to 2.0 mSv per year.

As the Bryansk study authors point out, “[n]early all types of hereditary defects can be found at doses as low a [sic] 1–10 mSv indicating that current radiation risk models are inadequate for low dose environments.”

In comparison, Japan and the U.S. maintain that there is little risk to resettling or inhabiting areas contaminated by nuclear catastrophe where estimated doses would range from 5-20 mSv/year. Yet harm was found among Bryansk populations exposed to doses far lower than the much higher ones proclaimed “livable” by nuclear proponents.

One explanation for the disconnect between the expected and actual health effects is an underestimate of the impact of ingesting or inhaling manmade radioactive isotopes, particularly beta emitters, a large source of exposure following radiation releases from nuclear power catastrophes.

A number of these isotopes mimic nutrients that our bodies need such as calcium (radiostrontium) and potassium (radiocesium), so our body doesn’t know to avoid them. Of course, nuclear proponents recognize that economic recovery of polluted places will be difficult without being able to grow, sell and consume food that might be contaminated with isotopes that give off this radiation,.

Korsakov et al. point to yet another explanation for the disconnect — the assumption that dose reconstruction models properly fit all realistic exposures. When experts estimate doses they often do so without adequate knowledge of local culture and habits. Therefore, they fail to capture variations in exposure pathways, creating enormous errors in dose reconstruction. As a starting point, radiation science would be better served by directly measuring contamination levels where people actually live, play, breathe and eat.

But it seems dose models also fail to adequately represent the damage done to fetuses and neonates, not least because damage can be random (stochastic) making it difficult to predict. Stochastic health impacts include cancer and other genetic damage, and may be severe even at low doses.  During pregnancy, one hit from radiation could damage or destroy cells meant to form entire organs, making accounting for stochastic impacts during fetal development extremely important — especially as fetal tissue collects some radionuclides in greater amounts than maternal tissue.

Health impacts in the Bryansk region could be a result both of direct radiation exposure during pregnancy and of cumulative impact over a “series of generations (genetic load)” raising the specter of heritability of genetic damage. Past studies have indicated that radiation damage can be heritable — passing from parents to offspring; that living in environments of elevated natural background radiation will increase mutations and disease; that the ability to withstand radiation doses appears to diminish as continually-exposed generations progress; and that doses from catastrophic releases should be accounted for across generations, not just in the generation initially exposed.

These currently sparse, yet growing data, support long-held conclusions that humans do not differ significantly from every other animal and plant — they, too, suffer heritable damage from radiation.

The Korsakov study projects that overall, multiple congenital malformations will increase in the next few years in the contaminated regions. Increases in birth defects are occurring despite access to free in-depth medical exams for pregnant women residing in areas of higher contamination and, if warranted, pregnancy termination. Such access has apparently greatly decreased the number of stilbirths in the region, as did a similar program at the end of the 1990s in Belarus, the country which bore the brunt of radioactive Chernobyl contamination. But even with such programs, overall birth defects have increased in the contaminated areas in Russia.

So not only is it unhealthy to live in radiologically-contaminated areas, attempts at mitigating the effects, particularly those on pregnancy, have limited impact. Encouraging, or worse yet, forcing people to live in contaminated areas and eat contaminated food, is foolishly cruel (particularly to people of reproductive age who may face wrenching decisions about wanted pregnancies) and not in the interest of public health.

Meanwhile, the continued use of nuclear energy that has forced us into this Faustian bargain in the name of mitigating climate change, is both unnecessary and downright harmful.

 

Courts threaten freedom of Russian nature protector

February 18, 2021

Courts threaten freedom of Russian nature protector, 10 Jan 2021, 

An act of love — Beyond Nuclear International 

Lyubov Kudryashova loves nature. Now she may be jailed for defending it

By Jack Cohen-Joppa

In Russian, her name means love. And it’s true. Lyubov Kudryashova loves the broad valley of Russia’s Tobol River, where it meanders out of Kazakhstan into the Kurgan Oblast. Her grandfather is buried there, she was born there, and she’s raised three sons there. As far as she knows, her ancestors have always lived there.

There, below the southern Urals, frigid continental winters give way to spring floods that inundate a landscape of oxbow lakes, wetlands, forests and fields. The waters sustain a large aquifer that Russia recognizes as a strategic reserve of fresh water.

“We, native people of the land, are against a barbaric attitude towards nature,” she says. “But our voices are too low.”

Which is why the passion of this campaigning environmentalist and entrepreneur has been met with fabricated charges of encouraging terrorism via the internet. She’s now on trial in a military court in Yekaterinburg, six hours away from her small town.

But Lyubov Kudryashova will not be spurned. “My ecological activity is going to continue. Well, I guess till the day the unjust court could takes away my freedom.”

In 2017, the government awarded an operating license for borehole leeching of uranium to Dalur, a uranium mining subsidiary of the Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom. The license to tap the Dobrovolnoye deposit around the village of Zverinogolovskoye condemned the very farmland Kudryashova’s father managed when she would accompany him as a child.

Dalur has two other leaky in-situ uranium projects in the Kurgan.

Many Tobol Valley residents feared environmental disaster when they learned that hundreds of exploratory wells would be drilled through the aquifer into the mineral deposit lying beneath it, without any public environmental review. Borehole leeching would eventually involve drilling thousands of wells and the injection of a million tons of sulfuric acid over 20-30 years, then withdrawing the dissolved minerals and chemically extracting the uranium.

Several times, activists tried to start a referendum and demand an independent environmental review, but met only refusals from the local officials.

Last fall, environmentalists surveyed some of Dalur’s other boreholes in Kurgan and documented much higher radiation levels than permitted. Despite the concerns, construction began on an in-situ leaching pilot plant and the huge clay-lined “mud pits” needed to receive the massive volume of toxic, acidified sludge produced in the process.

Beginning in 2017, Kudryashova was involved in the legal case against the Russian Federation over its refusal to conduct an environmental impact assessment before awarding the license to develop the mine.

That year, she also co-founded the Public Monitoring Fund for the Environmental Condition and the Population Welfare with the regional branch of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. One month later, a judge of the Kurgan Regional Court issued an order giving the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) authority to wiretap her telephone.

The Fund publishes information on the environmental impact of Dalur’s mining activity. Kudryashova writes, “Shortly after the completion of the case in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the registration of the environmental fund, a hidden judgment of another court was rendered that allowed the FSB to begin wiretapping my phone and, I believe, begin to look for fictitious crimes in order to stop my work.

“I guess money is more important than the radioactive contamination of land,” she observed.

So it was that on January 29, 2019, armed men led by an FSB captain broke into her family’s home and spent the day searching it. That summer the FSB got a local court to involuntarily commit Kudryashova to the Kurgan District Psychiatric Hospital for most of the month of July. She was kept from speaking with family or others outside without permission of the agency.

Then in March 2020, the FSB charged Kudryashova with 12 counts of “public justification of terrorism using the Internet” based on a specious forensic analysis of posts on the social network VKontakte, which, according to Kudryashova, never belonged to her page. The actual source of those posts remains unknown because the protocol and the DVD-R capturing those posts show evidence of fabrication and forgery.  And at the most recent session of her trial in late December, a CD-R the defense had presented to the court for evidence was found to have been erased by an FSB operative.

Prosecutors say she advocated for violent overthrow of the constitutional order by re-posting memes with such seditious phrases as, “The fate of Russia is determined by each of us, what you personally or I do, then Russia will. A correct position can only be revolutionary” and “If the nation is convinced that the ruling power in the state is directed not at the development of its cultural, economic and other needs, but, on the contrary, at trampling them, then it is not only the right, but also the duty of the nation to overthrow that power and establish one corresponding to the national interests of the people.”

Kudryashova writes, “Nonviolent ecological activism, in the understanding of the rulers of my country, is a crime. That’s why prisons are full of people who wanted to protect nature, but those who harmed it are free… Ecological crimes against present and future generations are not subject to the judgement of a military court.

“I’m 55 years old and my life is not as important as the preservation of nature. My duty and responsibility are to make a small contribution in a great cause — to stop violence against nature and people. The price of atomic energy is the life of future generations.”

Her trial is in the Central District Military Court of Yekaterinburg, where the next hearing is scheduled for 28-29 January, 2021. Agora International Human Rights Group and the Memorial civil rights society in Russia have provided an attorney and other support for Kudryashova.

Letters in support of Lyubov Kudryashova and seeking dismissal of the charges against her should be addressed to the chair of the court collegium examining the case, Judge Sergei Gladkih, st. Bazhova 85, Yekaterinburg, Russia 62005, or by email to opo.covs.svd@sudrf.ru. Refer to Case №: 2-42/2020, Lyubov Kudryashova.

Jack Cohen-Joppa is the co-editor of The Nuclear Resister, the co-founder of the eponymous organization and co-winner with Felice Cohen-Joppa of the 2020 Nuclear Free Future Award in the category of Education.