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Issue #1880      August 7, 2019

Living under the nuclear shadow

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought. But World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”.

I sometimes wonder whether wisdom does come with old age. It seems that we are incapable of looking back and learning from our errors. Of course everyone’s experience of life differs and that, in turn, affects our attitudes and belief systems. My own life has witnessed many catastrophic historical events since being brought into this world during World War II.

Though too young to comprehend the daily presence of fear from the danger of living in a city nightly bombed by the Germans, post-war I was beginning to register the horrific aftermath. My mother had survived the war by almost living at the cinema, lost in other people’s lives, and when old enough I accompanied her. Pathé Newsreels showed graphic images of the concentration camps being discovered and, though shocked that humans could do such things, it was the realisation of the terrible carnage which resulted from the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing thousands of innocent civilians so nonchalantly that preyed on my mind for many years: in fact to this day.

I still remember the arguments in my family about the justification – or otherwise – for such a demonic act. Some thought it was the only way to end the war in the Pacific, while others cynically remarked it was because the US wanted to test their bomb.

Now that I’m older and, hopefully wiser, I realise how little we were told of the true effect of those bombs.

These truths have only recently been revealed, with elderly survivors of this Asian holocaust bravely travelling to our shores and telling their horrific stories. I wonder how our attitude to nuclear warfare might have been affected had there been people brave enough to “leak” that information at the time?

History might have looked completely different without the Cold War and the on-going knee-jerk reaction by the United States. There would have been no Vietnam War, Korea would have stayed one country, Bikini Atoll would now be free of radiation, and the unholy mess that was Maralinga never taken place – to name a few.

Instead, we have seen a headlong madness to build nuclear weapons which now threatens life on earth. We are conditioned to believe that in order to prevent another nation using nuclear bombs on us, we also must have nuclear bombs – as a deterrent against the threat. It’s the same thinking as when President Trump commented – on yet another mass school shooting – that, had the teacher had a gun it would not have happened. Perhaps the thinking should be that if nobody had guns (or bombs) there would be no conceivable way people could be murdered en masse.

Going back to the time of the Cold War, I remember taking part in the first Aldermaston Rally in 1958 and listening to Bertrand Russell and Tony Benn – two great English philosophers – address the crowd about the lunacy of nuclear weaponry. The logic of “Mutually Assured Destruction” – or MAD – was lost on no-one at the time.

Nuclear power as a source of energy was, in fact, an afterthought and came about after the first US nuclear reactor had been built for the sole purpose of producing the plutonium required in the manufacture of atomic bombs. The discovery that electricity could be developed from fission led to a nuclear power industry, which after the disasters at Three Mile, Chernobyl and Fukushima, is still being spruiked as a “safe” form of energy, despite the fact that a ban on nuclear power has been in place in Australia for many years now.

There haven’t been many statistics coming out of Japan since the tsunami destroyed their nuclear reactor, although I believe the seas around the site are highly radio-active. A 2006 Chernobyl report by Greenpeace based on data collected by scientists concerning cancer statistics from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia indicates that deaths related to this disaster will most likely be in the 100,000s.

Not long after we had come out to Australia in the late 1960s, Len and I spent a few months in Andamooka with friends who were mining opal there and, on retirement in the nineties we returned. This second visit brought us up close with BHP’s Olympic Dam uranium mine site – the largest single uranium deposit in the world – which BHP now wants to expand.

At the time, I commented on the lack of guttering under the roofs to someone living there, only to be told that on the few occasions that it rained, it was allowed to run away because it would be radiated. We didn’t stay at Andamooka very long after that piece of information.

Am I alone in noticing the sudden interest of our government in the push for nuclear power to supply energy? Personally I do not see this as our lords and masters attempting to provide us with cheaper energy but see it in the context of the increasing tensions being created by our US “allies” in their attempt to curb China’s development in the region. The excuse to mine more uranium (May 2019 the Morrison government approved a new uranium mine in WA) for nuclear power production will soon morph into the need for a nuclear “deterrent” against the “yellow peril” from the north.

When analysing the cost of producing nuclear energy – without factoring in all the other negatives like the enormous use of water needed and the huge cost to construct new reactors – the whole exercise is pointless. What it would cost to build a nuclear reactor could build 7,000MW of wind energy, the same amount of tracking solar, 10,000MW of rooftop solar, 5,000MW of pumped hydro and 5,000MW of battery power. All this renewable energy without the 4,000-year problem of nuclear waste disposal.

Another report estimates that nuclear energy costs are double that of coal, 5 times that of wind and four times that of solar. But, of course, it’s not possible to reprocess the latter into weapons of mass destruction, is it?

What I’m trying to resurrect with my reminiscences is the memory of the aversion to nuclear weapons that people had immediately after WW2 when the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in our minds. I remember in the early seventies, the concern of Australian workers over the issue of mining uranium and shipping it overseas.

In 1974 Friends of the Earth, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the ACTU discussed banning uranium mining altogether. The ACTU adopted anti-uranium policies, but only “in principle” which was deliberately vague. Interesting then that in late 1979 when Bob Hawke as president of the ACTU wanted to pass a motion weakening the ACTU’s policy on uranium mining, union delegates voted an overwhelming “no”.

It is also interesting that when waterside and transport workers along with seamen were refusing to load uranium onto ships and Malcolm Fraser (then PM) threatened to bring in the troops, the ACTU capitulated and ended the bans. Seeing the result of the last federal election in which the ACTU championed the ALP, perhaps there are others, like myself, with long memories?

So, I can only hope that articles about the horrors of nuclear weapons or the use of nuclear power in any shape or form help to alert those younger and more innocent about the way we can be manipulated by those in power. Uranium? Leave it in the ground.

Next article – The Great Patriotic War – Part 2 – The anti-fascist alliance

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