Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Alpha and Omega of Nuclear Radiation Injury: the Human Nexus

At the World Nuclear Victims Forum, Ashish Birulee exhibited
photographs documenting the impact of nuclear radiation on the
uranium workers of Jadugoda, India. "Deformities and mutations
like these are endemic. It is a heavy price that the people of
Jadugoda are paying for living close to a toxic mining facility."
(See Jadugoda, Drowning in Nuclear Greed)
During my time at the World Nuclear Victims Forum in Hiroshima, I recognized that what makes advocacy on behalf of victims of nuclear radiation, and effective activism, so difficult is that it involves at least six challenging dimensions. Most of these stem from the invisibility of the nuclear radiation, and from the way nuclear radiation has come to be used with people with disproportionate amounts of power. In the end, I think, our biggest challenge is to keep the focus of our advocacy and activism on the human nexus of harm done by nuclear radiation. Hence the focus on the notion of #GlobalHibakusha.

Today is recognized as Human Rights Day around the world. It is a particularly important day for people worldwide to recognize the harm that nuclear radiation does to people, and to lift up the newly-proposed "Charter of World Nuclear Victims' Rights."

The linchpin of the Charter is a simple sentence:

[A]ll persons living in the nuclear age have the right . . . [n]ot to be exposed to ionizing radiation other than that which occurs in nature or is for medical purposes [. . .] ."

(Charter: "Draft Elements of a World Charter of the Rights of Nuclear Victims" [II] Rights Section 1.1)

The subsequent list of rights raise powerful questions about who must bear the cost of reversing the harm done by nuclear radiation.  That's why it's so important that this initial sentence defines an ironclad, fundamental right: people have the right to not be exposed to ionizing radiation . . . and so those responsible must -- at a minimum -- bear complete responsibility for remediating any damage done.

At the forum, Mary Dickson shared this map showing the
extent of nuclear radiation from the 1,000+ nuclear bomb
tests conducted in the US, and described the illnesses
suffered by herself, her family, and her neighbors as a result.
(Image: Richard Miller, “Areas crossed by two or more
radioactive clouds during the era of nuclear testing
in the American Southwest, 1951-62” in Under the Cloud:
The Decades of Nuclear Testing (Two-Sixty Press, 1999))
(From: "Terry Tempest Williams on living with radiation
from the 1,000+ nuclear bomb explosions in North America")
This is especially important because those who cause harm by exposing people to nuclear radiation often hide behind the excuse, "Well, you can't prove that your specific illness was caused by the radiation that I released." The Charter erases that excuse.

"To receive free of charge the best possible medical care and regular examinations for effects related to past, present and future exposure; this right to extend to the 2nd, 3rd and future generations." (II.2.2) -- Yes, the effects of nuclear radiation impact generation after generation. The costs continue to mount. The implication: nuclear radiation release should never be allowed.

"The remediation of radiation contaminated land and domicile, and the renewal of community and local culture." (II.2.4) -- In fact, releases of radiation are practically irreversible. Since true remediation can't be achieved, nuclear radiation release should never be allowed.

I had a powerful reminder of the need to stay focused on the human nexus of nuclear radiation injury when I attended the Peace and Planet conference in New York last April. I was particularly impressed with the example of Taniguchi Sumiteru, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki who has, for the past 70 years, used his body to remind people of the injury caused by nuclear radiation.

"When will the world heed the testimony of Taniguchi Sumiteru?"

At the forum in Hiroshima, I heard testimony from people about the nuclear radiation injuries experienced in Australia, the Marshall Islands, India, Ukraine and Belarus, Iraq, the US, China . . . the hibakusha phenomenon truly is happening everywhere. The Declaration recognizes this:

"We define the nuclear victims in the narrow sense of not distinguishing between victims of military and industrial nuclear use, including victims of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of nuclear testing, as well as victims of exposure to radiation and radioactive contamination created by the entire process including uranium mining and milling, and nuclear development, use and waste. In the broad sense, we confirm that until we end the nuclear age, any person anywhere could at any time become a victim=a potential Hibakusha, and that nuclear weapons, nuclear power and humanity cannot coexist." (Declaration, 2)

Svetlana Alexievich,
Voices From Chernobyl:
The Oral History of a
Nuclear Disaster
I can think of several corollaries of the focusing on the human nexus of nuclear radiation injury:

* the importance of testimony -- including those who have actually suffered injury themselves, and those who are witnesses. Narratives, photographs, art, data . . . .

* the challenge of epidemiology -- the science of analyzing harm nuclear radiation does at the level of communities (epidemiology - "the study of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations") is essential.

* trauma and fear -- we should not for a moment discount the massive psychic injury done by nuclear radiation.

A truly human rights-based approach to nuclear issues can point in only one direction: eliminating all possibility of exposing anyone to excess nuclear radiation.

Related posts

Hibakusha is a word that has traditionally been used to refer to people affected by the nuclear blasts in Hiroshima and Nagaski.  It is now being broadened to recognize the many additional victims of acute affects of nuclear radiation (including fallout from tests and radioactivity from mining and processing). In fact, we are all subject to the impact and threat of nuclear radiation spread indiscriminately by nations and corporations.

(See HIROSHIMA: What does it mean to say, "We are ALL 'hibakusha'?")

For each week from March through July, you can see the month and day, followed by the count for "white," "red," and "blood." If you follow closely, as I did, you see the counts rise and fall. You wonder, "What did Sadako think as she read each new set of numbers? Is this week's result good? Or bad?"

(See "May the odds be ever in your favor!" ("Live in fear . . . . ") )

Hundreds gathered in Chicago on Good Friday 2015 to say to the victims of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "We can hear you are in pain. We can smell your injuries. We don't have the power to restore your health. But we will NOT forget you."

(See "People Will Find the Way to Eliminate Nuclear Injury")

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