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Movement ignores damage caused by nuclear cycle

Ken Hancock — July 1984

One of the issues which I have always seen inherent in nuclear power is that it signifies (often, but not always) the fact that the nuclear cycle is actually invading the daily lives of the white, middle-class North American. In many ways, the Darlington nuclear power plant actually presents a more daily and omnipresent nuclear threat to the lives of the people of Ontario than that presented by cruise missiles.

Of the many serious political weaknesses of the peace movement, this fact is surely one of the most glaring. That is to say, we have been unable (or unwilling) to articulate how the nuclear cycle, including nuclear weapons deployment, is a fact of life for people which now – today – is destroying people’s lives and land. Our obsession with a futuristic moment of holocaust has blinded even our best efforts to resist the nuclear age.

Nuclear refugees

Perhaps no issue reflects this reality better than that of cruise missile testing in Canada. For in all of the rallies, public statements, petitions and protests about cruise missile testing, hardly an audible whisper has really addressed the fact that the Primrose Testing Range (where the cruise is tested) is the land of the native peoples of Canada. The fact that they cannot return to their land is, of course, not only a result of cruise testing. However, it is another clear (but oft-forgotten and unmentioned) example of how the nuclear cycle turns people into refugees from their own lands.

Any detailed examination of nuclear refugees around the world would reveal that, in the large majority, they are Third World, non-white peoples. They are displaced from their land and homes because of the strategic military interests of the powers who maintain and expand global nuclearism. To these peoples of the world, nuclearism is not an issue of weapons systems only. Nor is it an abstract debate of first strike/ second strike. And it is surely not a question of future possibilities of war and death, but rather a daily immediate threat to the lives of its victims.

And indeed, it is global. From Namibia (where huge transnational corporate interests such as Rio Tinto mine uranium) to Australia to Canada, indigenous peoples are experiencing oppression and violence to maintain that which threatens all our lives. In Namibia, the apartheid South African government is, by international law, maintaining a racist grip over the majority black population. Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining conglomerates (which also holds substantial interests in uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan) has important economic interests in the region, and uranium is a key to those interests. Rio Tinto is so large that, when several nations in the I 970s (Canada included) gathered to form an international uranium cartel, Rio Tinto, as a company, was invited to join.

Racism and nuclearism link together in other parts of the world. The testing of nuclear weapons (by the French as well as the Americans) in the Pacific has, and still does, leave a deadly legacy upon the lives of the Pacific peoples. The Bikini Islands were used as testing. sites after the Second World War. The people had to be evacuated from their lands. When the people of the Bikini Islands were “allowed” to return to their homes, it was found that radiation levels were still far too high for human habitation. The people developed cancers and other diseases from the radiation still present from the bomb testing era..

The French government, after it “lost” its nuclear testing ranges in the Sahara, moved its experiments to French Polynesia, where tests were carried out from 1966 to 1974. Information about the effects of these tests was suppressed from the local people. Also suppressed were any democratic movements which would have removed the French from the area. In fact, Poovanaa a Ooopa, a Tahitian political leader, was jailed by the French on trumped-up charges.

The island of Belau is another example of nuclearism and the suppre5Sion of democratic self-determination. Here, the United States wants to build a Trident submarine base. The US government is pouring millions of dollars into the island to try to defeat the independence movement that is now underway.

Islands evaporated

Since the 1950s, the US government has fired nuclear weapons from Vandeburg Air Force Base in California at the atoll of Kwajalein. The atoll, a string of 90 islands, is not, it seems, to be considered the actual home of the people who originally inhabited them. They have been removed to another island, where they live in inhumane conditions. In fact, many believe that the testing of these nuclear weapons, the forcible removal of the people and the extreme poverty in which they live have created a Pacific apartheid system. The local people are, for example, not allowed on the nearby US military bases. Many, as in the Philippines, live off the garbage of these bases. Four of the islands of the atoll have been evaporated from the face of the Earth. The people are confmed to a life of being eternal refugees. Once again the rights of Third World peoples to their homelands and the fact of nuclearism are in direct conflict with one another, and the people will not be allowed to win.

The United States military is constantly upgrading its plans to intervene in the Middle East. These interventions will include the use of tactical nuclear weapons. In order to “facilitate” these invasions, new massive airfields have been or are now being constructed in the region. One such airfield is on the (formerly..”“. matriarchal) island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The people have been evacuated to Mauritius, where they live in slum dwellings. Their land was taken from them to build the large airfields necessary to accomodate the nuclear-equipped F-Ills and 8-52s necessary for invasion support purposes. A whole society has been dismantled, removed and impoverished to complete the nuclear combat readiness of the U.S. miIi tary .

Too high a price

The list, unfortunately, could go on and on. Rio Tinto also owns mines in Australia where the dislocation, killing and pacification of the aboriginal peoples reaches levels paralleled only by war crimes. By contrast, the only “crime” perpetrated by the aboriginal peoples is to live on land that contains uranium. The same can be said of the native peoples of Northern Saskatchewan, and of the peoples in the Great Plains and northwest regions of the US.

Since the “birth” of the atomic era the mining of uranium and the testing and deployment of nuclear weapons systems has consistently meant the evacuation and oppression of Third World peoples. Nuclearism and racism are two interchangeable realities of their personal and political lives. The maintaining of the nuclear systems will require even more oppression and violence. The ending of it will require the linking of the termination of a racist, expansionist political and economic system with the termination of the nuclear era. This era has made millions of people refugees from their own homes and lands. Any peace movement which. does not understand or addreSs the fact that today the bomb (and all of its interlocking components) is killing people, is doomed to irrelevancy and political failure. For most peoples of the world, this failure, this irrelevancy, is too high a. price to pay.

And, of course, it is too high a price to pay for ourselves as well. For in many countless ways (moral as well as political), the continuation of the nuclear cycle makes< all of us refugees from our own earth.