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Uranium mining and human rights - indigenous voices speak out

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Natalie Wasley, project coordinator

The Beyond Nuclear project based in Washington DC, U.S.A., recently convened a series of speaking events for Indigenous people affected by nuclear industry projects. Featured speakers included Mitch, an Arrernte/Luritja woman from Central Australia, Sidi-Amar Taoua, a Tuareg nomad from Niger and Manuel Pinto, an Acoma Pueblo person from New Mexico who won the 2008 nuclear free futures award. Dr Bruno Chareyron, director of the French organization CRIIRAD (Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity) also participated in the tour to present his research of uranium contamination in Niger.

The ‘Indigenous Voices Speak out‘ tour was timed to coincide with the Power Shift Youth Climate Action Conference in Washington, which was attended by around 12 000 people from across the USA. There was a strong focus on ‘carbon free, nuclear free’ campaigning, with the panel discussions on nuclear issues attracting over 500 people.

Over the three days of speaking tour events, which included a press conference, film screening of Poison Wind (directed by Jenny Pond), and lobbying on Capitol Hill, the Indigenous speakers shared many personal experiences and insights about the devastating effects of the nuclear industry on land, culture and communities.

Mitch, who has spent years fighting a radioactive dump proposed on her traditional land said; “we have companies coming into Australia and we are told that uranium is clean and green and it is renewable energy. We know that this is lies and this is a disgusting form of control over a population that is made to rely on the government for all their resources, their energy, their consumption.”

“It is policies of genocide so that other people can have power.”

“We are told that the next generation will have the education and the smarts to fix up our problems… but I don’t think we have the moral rights as your elders to leave the mess for you to fix up.”

“We do not want the next generation to try and get water out of rock, to get air out of sludge, to get food out of the bottom of the sea that is full of algae.”

Sidi-Amar Taoua explained the impact of the uranium mining industry on Tuareg people and their traditions;

 “The Tuareg remain one of the last people who live in the Saharan desert. Their way of life revolves around finding grazing for flocks of livestock in one of the planet’s hardest landscapes.”

“Uranium continues to be a critical French national interest since the country produces more than 80 per cent of energy from power plants that are fuelled by Niger uranium. One French light bulb in three is lit by uranium from Tuareg land.”

“People have many kind of diseases. Many are worried about the spread of radioactive dust from the mining companies bulldozers and machines. People are forced to pick through the company garbage for scrap metal to build and furnish their houses. Meanwhile French mining executives and other expatriates live nearby in luxurious villas with land and swimming pools.”

“Tuareg believe uranium mining and its attendant operations pose a critical threat for the environment and especially for the Tuareg existence. The Tuareg have inhabited this part of northern Niger since the 19th century. They understand that the world is changing but they are asking that their rights as indigenous people, their land and their way of life to be respected.”

With the nuclear industry still insisting a ‘nuclear renaissance’ is around the corner, Manuel Pino from the Acoma Pueblo tribe succinctly pointed out;

…how can we put the cart before the horse and say that nuclear power is the answer when we cant even dispose of the waste or clean up the existing legacy mines or mills that exist, in a majority of times, on indigenous peoples lands.


Source and contact:
Natalie Wasley, Beyond Nuclear Initiative -uranium project coordinator, Australia.
Tel: +61 8 8952 2011

Beyond Nuclear