Unhappy Anniversary for the Atomic Bomb

Anti-nuclear activists want it to retire

By Jeremy Flannery

Rebecca Riley of Think Outside the Bomb informs and entertains a gathering at Off The Avenue. Jon Hughes/Photopresse.

This summer is the 65th anniversary of the first and only use of atomic bombs in wartime. In 1945 the United States used atomic bombs to destroy the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Think Outside the Bomb is an organization commemorating the anniversaries through a national tour advocating the abolition of nuclear energy.

“The bomb is turning 65 – it’s time to retire,” the group’s national tour organizer, Rebecca Riley, said during a June 2 meeting in Northside.

Riley is traveling across the United States with a fellow member of Think Outside the Bomb and two Australian members of Footprints for Peace to campaign for the end of nuclear energy. Speaking at Off the Avenue, the four activists discussed the dangers of uranium mining and nuclear energy production in the United States and Australia.

A graduate of the University of California, Riley said her alma mater has a direct relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration, a division of the Department of Energy that oversees the nuclear arsenal. The university receives funding from both government departments, conducting research for the production of nuclear energy, she said.

“I learned I was a war profiteer, and I was enraged, so I decided to do something about it,” Riley said.

President Obama signed a nuclear-reduction treaty with Russia on April 8, agreeing to cut both nations’ nuclear arsenals by about one-third. However, the Obama administration has allocated $180 billion over a 10-year period to expand nuclear-energy production. The funds will be used to expand nuclear-energy and weapons-production facilities in Kansas City, Mo.; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and Los Alamos, N.M., according to Riley.

The Obama administration is saying it will reduce nuclear weapons but preparing to expand the capacity to develop more, she said. The facilities should be recalibrated toward cleaning existing nuclear waste and developing reusable sources of energy, she said. Because governments might not abide by the treaties to reduce nuclear weapons, it is up to people opposed to such weapons to demand they do so, Riley said.

“We’re continuing with our grassroots disarmament because that’s the only thing that works,” she said.

Riley said insurance companies should be required to cover illnesses such as lung cancer contracted by people working around radioactive material at the three production facilities and at uranium mines.

Rhianna Bahee, a member of the Navajo and Inuit tribes, joined Think Outside the Bomb when she visited New York City for a May 2 rally calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. She participated in a walk from the Y12 Nuclear Facility in Oak Ridge to Times Square in New York City (see “Walking to End the Nuclear Peril,” issue of Feb. 15-28). Along the way she witnessed mountaintop-removal coal mining in Eastern Kentucky. The devastation to the region’s environment is similar to the loss of Humphreys Peak, north of Flagstaff, Ariz. Humphreys Peak – part of a mountain range considered sacred by 13 indigenous tribes – is now home to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, Bahee said.

Kerrieann Garlick, a member of Footprints for Peace from Perth, Australia, is traversing the United States again after participating in the walk from Oak Ridge to New York. Garlick said water from the Great Artesian Basin in Central Australia is being depleted to keep residual radioactive dust from uranium mining wet in order to keep it from blowing across the continent. Seven million gallons of water is being extracted from the basin per day to keep the radioactive dust in place, she said.

“If we are going to stop the weapons, then we need to stop the mining of uranium altogether,” Garlick said.

Marcus Atkinson, who is also a member of Footprints for Peace from Australia, said 200 tons of yellow-cake uranium is required to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant. Mining uranium in Australia requires destroying 135,000 tons of ore, he said. Radioactive dust that escaped dampening has stretched as far as New Zealand, according to Atkinson. Australia now allows the injection of sulfuric acid to burn away soil and suck out uranium ore – a method banned by most industrialized nations, he said. Australia contains 35 percent of the world’s uranium reserves.

“So Australia is like the Saudi Arabia of uranium,” Atkinson said.

The nuclear abolition tour ends July 30 at San Ildefonso Pueblo just outside Los Alamos, – the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Think Outside the Bomb and other groups are planning nonviolent civil disobedience there Aug. 1-9, Riley said.