MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Indigenous World Uranium Summit Honors Nuclear Free Heroes

Published by MAC on 2006-12-04


Indigenous World Uranium Summit Honors Nuclear Free Heroes

4th December 2006

Brenda Norrell, Human Rights Editor

U.N. OBSERVER & International Report

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona – Chinese whistleblower Sun Xiaodi, earlier imprisoned and now under house arrest for exposing massive unregulated uranium contamination in China’s Gansu Province, was honored with a Nuclear Free Future Award 2006 for Resistance on the Navajo Nation.

Although under Chinese surveillance, Xiaodi released an acceptance speech to the global awards hosted by the Navajo Nation on Dec. 1. Xiaodi, a former Project 792 worker, has been a whistleblower since 1988, urging the Chinese government to halt the corruption of its nuclear industry.

During the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, From Salzburg to Window Rock, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2, Xiaodi was honored with fellow heroes, Gordon Edwards of Canada for educational activism; Wolfgang Scheffler and Heike Hoedt of Germany for global solutions with innovative green energy reflectors and Ed Grothus of Los Alamos, N.M., for lifetime achievement for creative exposure of the nuclear industry.

Special recognition awards were presented to Phil Harrison, Navajo, honored for his struggle for justice for Navajo uranium miners and the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque for the staff’s relentless struggle for environmental justice.

Xiaodi sent his message to the awards ceremony in the Navajo capitol, where Navajos fighting new threats of uranium mining, gathered with 300 participants from 14 countries around the world, including Western Shoshone, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Goshute, Pawnee and participants from Wind River, Wyoming, Australia, Brazil, Canada, India and Africa.

Delivering Xiaodi’s message in Window Rock, Chinese activist Feng Congde of Human Rights China based in New York, said Xiaodi asked that his $10,000 award be kept for him, in hopes that he can someday be free to receive the award.

From China, Xiaodi said in his message to the ceremony, “Since my release from detention, I have been in an extremely insecure situation in which I am threatened, intimidated and harassed. I felt tremendously honored and touched when I learned that I had been selected as this year’s Nuclear Free Future Award recipient, because I have seen the great power of world peace and development.

“At the same time, I feel a deep sorrow, because I have also helplessly witnessed the environmental problems cause by the failure to effectively contain and reduce nuclear contamination.

“Breaking through fear to fight for a nuclear free environment requires a person to take a path full of hardship, bloodshed and tears, which could end up in either life or death.

“However, I firmly believe that if all people who are peace-loving and concerned with human destiny and upholding justice can come together and take action as soon as possible; a nuclear free tomorrow can become a reality.”

Xiaodi said last year, “The No. 792 Uranium Mine is one of the highest yielding uranium mines in China. Just a couple of days ago, under the cover of night, while the local Tibetans were all asleep, the mine as usual dumped untreated irradiated water straight into the Bailong River, a tributary of the Yangtze. At present, in our region, there are an unusually high number of miscarriages and birth defects, with many children born blind or malformed. But the mine authorities have military backgrounds; our local Party secretary and mine director once said to me, “Get on the wrong side of us, and the birds will be picking your bones!”

Sun Xiaodi’s daughter, Sun Haiyan, said one month ago that her father is now under residential surveillance.

“His health is poor; his teeth are bad and he suffers from rheumatism; he’s aged a lot. My father thanks you from the bottom of his heart for all your efforts on his behalf. The terms of his residential surveillance are very strict – he’s not allowed to talk with anyone on the telephone. He has been deprived of the right to work ever since local officials began retaliating against him in 1989.”

Sun Xiaodi’s wife, Ms. Hu said, “I feel my husband has done nothing wrong – there’s no reason for them to detain him like that. Ever since he began reporting the environmental contamination, local officials have been retaliating against him, and our whole family has been pulled into it. In 1995 I was forced to leave my job.”

Earlier, the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Gansu Province, was a region of green fields and pristine waters, its woodlands thriving with wildlife, is rich with uranium reserves, the award presentation stated.

One of the largest uranium mining and milling installations to operate there was Project 792. Opened in 1967, Project 792, run by the military, annually milled between 140 and 180 tons of uranium-bearing rock until it was officially shut down in 2002, as bankrupt, owing to “ore exhaustion and obsolete equipment”.

However, secretly rising from its radioactive ashes was a private mine operated by Longjiang Nuclear Ltd., its shareholders a brotherhood of politicians and members of the nuclear ministry.

“Today, large sweeps of Ansu Province – dotted with sacred sites – appear to have succumbed to an overdose of chemotherapy. The Chinese have taken no preventive measures to protect local human and animal life from uranium contamination”, the award states.

Tibetan medial workers report that an assortment of radioactivity-related cancers and immune system diseases account for nearly half of the deaths in the region. This remains among the “state secrets” and the patients' medical histories are manipulated to protect state secrets.

Last year, on April 28, Xiaodi met with foreign journalists and told them about the frequent discharges of radioactive waste into Gansu waterways. He also told them about the Tibetan hitchhikers who climb up on trucks transporting uranium ore, happy for a ride. He also exposed that contaminated machinery was merely “hosed down” and sold to naïve buyers in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Zhejiang, Human and Hubei.

“These officials have blood on their hand”, Xiaodi said.

The next day, plains clothesmen “disappeared” him. He was not heard from for months. Finally, mounting international pressure forced his release from Lanzhou Prison on Dec. 27, 2005.

Xiaodi continued to speak out against Project 792.

“They simply changed a military enterprise into a civilian enterprise and continued with large-scale mining.”

On April 4th, Xiaodi visited fellow petitioner Yue Yongjim in prison. Xiaodi found Yongjim emaciated from forced labor on a food allowance of only three steamed flour buns a day.

Xiaodi joined a protest demanding Yongjim’s release. Xiaodi was again “disappeared”, and is now under house arrest.

Navajos, like many Indigenous around the world, were sent to their deaths in uranium mines during the Cold War, without protective clothing. Today, after innumerable Navajo deaths from cancer and lung diseases, there are still 1,200 unreclaimed radioactive sites on the Navajo Nation. Further, there is the threat of new corporate uranium mining near Crownpoint, N.M., which, if allowed to proceed, would poison Navajos’ water source.

Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr., said, “As Diné people, we’re also looking for friends to help us defend ourselves against those who would break our laws to get at the uranium ore underneath our lands”, Shirley said during the Summit that continues today, Saturday, Dec. 2.

“At the same time, they will contaminate our lands, our water and our people. It seems like some people out there, all they care about is money.”

“The heart of this movement is here,” said Norman Brown, among the Navajo organizers with the organization Dineh Bidzill Coalition.

“We are at the center of the heart of this movement today.”

The Nuclear Free Future Awards were presented in cooperation with the Seventh Generation Fund and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, based in Germany. The Franz Moll Foundation for the Coming Generations presented the awards.

Photos of Indigenous World Uranium Summit http://norrellphotos.tripod.com/

Please also see:

DECLARATION OF THE INDIGENOUS WORLD URANIUM SUMMIT http://www.unobserver.com/index.php?pagina=layout5.php&id=2901&blz=1

Los Angeles Times' four part series on the deadly legacy of uranium mining on Navajoland http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-navajo-series,1,6643736.special


Somba Ke: The Money Place

by Macdonald Stainsby

The Monthly Review

3rd December 2006

Not many discuss contemporary geopolitics in a way that brings together both the Manhattan Project of the 1940s and today's global Risk-like die rolls for energy resources, but the producers of the documentary Somba Ke: The Money Place have made a film that does precisely that.

Somba Ke: The Money Place

In the time of World War II, the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was given moral justification thus: if it saves the life of even one American soldier, it's worth it. The racist climate created through vile propaganda, forced segregation, and internment camps for people of Japanese ancestry across Canada and the United States made the slippery slope slide all the way down to the use of "the bomb." That much is common knowledge.

What is not widely known is that Fat Man and Little Boy could not have melted sections of Japan if Canada had not poisoned swaths of Denendeh first, at the start of what was to become known as the "Highway of the Atom" just south of the Arctic Circle on Great Bear Lake. While this hitherto little known story slowly gets broken in the South, the mining corporation Alberta Star has received permits to re-open the uranium mine -- at the very location that many Dene and non-Dene alike remain convinced led to their community of Déline becoming known as "The Village of Widows" and to high cancer rates among all workers. Today the company's homepage boasts: "Alberta Star owns 100% of the Eldorado and Contact Lake Iron Oxide, Copper, Gold, Silver, Cobalt, REE and Uranium Project located in Canada's Northwest Territories."1 The film shows us how we got from the first A-bombs and their near-genocidal effects on Dene to where we are today, perhaps re-opening the same mine.

The documentary film, written, directed. and produced by a team consisting of Linda Henningson, Petr Cizek, and David Henningson, first lays out the economic reasons this is all coming to the fore now. They start with a brief overview of the global energy crunch soon to come. This reality takes us to a surprising clip of former Greenpeace higher-up Patrick Moore suggesting his belief (much disputed) that only nuclear energy can tackle the deficit soon to be left by fossil fuels (perhaps a weakness in the film is its implicit assumption that consumptions patterns must be maintained and hence its failure to effectively challenge the belief like Moore's). Corporations such as Alberta Star deem themselves to be the ones who are to lead this "new" charge, at least in terms of providing uranium ore -- much of which will be bought by Japan and China as they too lurch towards a nuclear answer to the energy question.

The Sahtu Dene who live in the community of Déline, the only community along the shores of the Great Bear Lake, went across the water to Port Radium to help out at the mine and eke out a few extra dollars through trade and labour. Along with some non-Dene from the South, Dene worked as transport workers on the Highway of the Atom, all the while being exposed to the dust of uranium particles headed to Manhattan before landing on Japan. The experience of the community of Déline is outlined and punctuated by the testimony of elders from Déline, as they describe the deaths of worker after worker from cancer -- in a community so far from the "centre" of North America that almost no tobacco ever made it to Déline at the time of the Highway of the Atom. Despite this, the Federal Government of Canada lists cigarettes as responsible for the high cancer rate among former transport workers (including non-Dene) and claims that there is "no conclusive proof" of radiation exposure causing sickness and death.

The same story with different geographical coordinates is told by the Navajo Nation inside American-held territory. The film shows the history of the Navajo struggle for justice after the mine on their land closed. The uranium mine there caused pollution and cancer and other diseases before closure, and the American government eventually paid out compensation money and assumed responsibility. Canada has done neither for Déline. The film includes interviews with members of the Navajo people and a discussion of their visit to Déline in 1990, a visit that culminated a grassroots coalition called the Déline Uranium Committee.

The committee managed to force Ottawa to promise an investigation in 1998. Yet over the next few years the price of uranium climbed, and band council negotiators from Déline suddenly rejected an independent assessment of health effects using blood analysis and instead hired engineers and mining consultants to do a "health study." In 1999, the Federal government set up a "Déline Uranium Team." The team claimed to exonerate the mine and therefore the government of Canada for any health defects from the Eldorado Mine upon release of a report in September 2005.

The film ends with people disputing the claims in the report, presenting evidence of manipulation of data concerning the culpability of the mine. With the price of uranium continuing to rise as reserves of oil dwindle, those who stand to benefit in the short term -- band councils, corporations, and governments -- cooperate to someday re-open the Eldo. A few final remarks on the federal government of Canada buying silence on uranium mining later, we learn that Alberta Star is scheduled to begin "clean-up" at the mine in the Summer of 2007, as per a permit handed out by officials from the Déline Land and Financial Corporation.

We urgently need to discuss the politics of the environment, human and national rights, and alternative power sources on an energy-starved planet. This documentary also examines the implications of the current energy "strategy" abroad, which has put 180,000 American troops in Iraq and tens of thousands of American, Canadian, British, and other occupation forces in nation after nation. The goals of foreign policy are no different form those of domestic energy policy: maintain current energy consumption levels. That this documentary illustrates the costs of the "other" side of oil and industrial growth makes it a very timely and informative viewing.

1 Alberta Star, "About Us," www.alberta-star.com/aboutus.php. Somba Ke: The Money Place has been shown on Canadian CanWest Global network stations and will rebroadcast on February 17, 2007 at 7:00 p.m.

The homepage of the documentary is www.sombake-themoneyplace.com.

For more information about Somba Ke, David Henningson can be reached at: David.Henningson@gmail.com.

Macdonald Stainsby is writer, social justice activist, student, amateur journalist, and professional hitchhiker looking for a ride to the better world. He is based currently in Vancouver and can be reached at mstainsby@resist.ca.

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