Recent climate action announcements might give the impression that we are on track to turn things around. This is an illusion, though, according to the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. We face a stark choice: either we stop it, or it stops us. It’s time to say, ‘Enough … Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves,’” Guterres said this week at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, that runs through Nov. 12.
Speaking of “treating nature like a toilet” and “mining our way deeper,” what about the whole idea of nuclear weapons and/or nuclear power that rely on uranium mining?
British composer Peter Maxwell Davies composed “The Yellow Cake Revue” in 1980 after he and other activists opposed uranium mining on the Orkney islands in Scotland. “Yellow cake” is the form of uranium that was discovered on the island. The Orkneys were being surveyed for a potentially valuable deposit of uranium ore, according to Linda Pentz Gunther, the editor of BeyondNuclearInternational.org.
According to Orkney resident Archie Bevan, who died in 2015, the entire local population was opposed to uranium exploitation.
“Not only from the fear of pollution itself … but also from the point of view of the psychological damage and disastrous social and economic implications of uranium extraction on Orkadian fishing, dairy farming and tourism,” Bevan said.
Bevan went on to write about Davies’ “Yellow Cake Review,” saying that it symbolized the active position of vigilance inside Orkney. Imagining the island, post-uranium mining, he called the lyrics grim, set to a rollicking tune, for example:
“Oh, the beach that we played on, Is fanned by the breath of radon.”
Uranium mining began in the U.S. Southwest in 1944, when the United States no longer wanted to depend on foreign sourcing of the uranium that was needed for nuclear research and weapons development as part of the Manhattan Project — the secret World War II effort to develop the atomic bomb.
According to a 2002 study published in Inside Climate News, Navajo miners were not informed about the potential risks of their work even though it was already known that uranium caused cancer. Journalists Cheyanne M. Daniels and Amanda Rooker wrote in an article for Inside Climate News that the U.S. nuclear weapons program left a horrible legacy of environmental destruction and death across the Navajo Nation.
The reporters found that the study was performed without the consent of the workers. In both white and non-white subjects, strong evidence was found for an increased incidence of lung cancer. In the study of 757 non-white miners, 10 deaths were expected, but 34 were documented, meaning researchers found more than three times the number of lung cancer deaths than they expected.
Tommy Reed, 64, a member of the Navajo Radiation Victims Committee who began working in a uranium mine when he was in high school, told journalist Daniels that his father was one of the Navajo miners studied.
“They studied my father and a lot of the men … and ladies that were in the mines there,” Reed told Daniels. “My dad, like many other men that were (miners), spent nine months on a ventilator. How much more of our story can cut deep, where one can comprehend the struggle that we have?”
Reed also told Inside Climate News that extending the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was to ensure that all miners and uranium workers are compensated for exposure illnesses. Reed told the journalists that if he were to point fingers, he would point to the federal agencies that allowed the mining to happen in the first place.
“We’re just a five-finger people,” he told journalist Cheyanne M. Daniel in the article (using a Navajo word for human beings). “But these five-finger people are the ones that they relied on, the people that are most expendable.”