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Leave uranium in the ground via Beyond Nuclear

By Günter Wippel

Just over 30 years ago — on April 10, 1988 — seven indigenous activists from different parts of the world set out on a three-week public awareness tour through Germany. They called their tour “Leave Uranium in the Ground.” Its purpose was to bring the detrimental impacts of uranium mining and nuclear weapons tests on health, environment and indigenous peoples, to the awareness of German people and decision-makers in provincial and federal parliaments.

Why Germany? Because West German companies were directly involved in uranium extraction in countries around the world. And often, these operations were carried out on indigenous lands. (In the former East Germany, the Wismut uranium mines that supplied the Soviet Union operated until after reunification, closing in 1991.)
The tour had been organized by Friends for the Earth (FoE) Germany and the Regional Chapter of Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker), Freiburg.

For many, it became a wake-up call to the often ignored first stage in the nuclear fuel chain — uranium mining — and the detrimental impacts of the nuclear fuel chain on indigenous peoples, another often ignored fact.

The tour triggered inquiries in the German Federal Parliament in regard to the responsibility of German (indirectly government-owned and supported) uranium mining companies in other parts of the world. It also inspired other NGO activities for many years to come.

In 1992, the World Uranium Hearings were held in Salzburg, Austria. Garrett and Wingfield from the German tour spoke there. Excerpts from those speeches can be viewed in the video below (transcripts are in the link above).
Germany’s involvement in uranium mining, conducted on its behalf and for its benefit around the world, is a direct legacy of colonialism, something that is true also of other countries. For example, France operated uranium mines in former colonies Madagascar and Gabon and continues to mine in Niger. The US and Australia have inflicted uranium mines on their own indigenous peoples — Native Americans and Aborigines.

Today, 30 years later, we still see the impacts of former German uranium-related activities. Some examples:

Inspired by these efforts, a global movement called U-Ban was created to press for a worldwide ban on uranium mining. It’s slogan is “Leave it in the ground!”

Unfortunately, but not accidentally, some of our partners from 1988 have passed away prematurely. The difficult conditions of their life, often a consequence of hundreds of years of colonization, have taken their toll mainly, but not only, on our indigenous colleagues and friends, Richard Brooks, Adele Ratt and Joan Wingfield.

In 2011, after Joan Wingfield passed away, fellow Australian activist, and uranium network colleague, Dave Sweeney, wrote a tribute. Read it here.

Those who survive continue to spread the word about the importance of caring for the land and all life upon it. Last year, we learned that Pauline Esteves, of the Timbisha Shoshone, was still going strong at the age of 93.

A new 60-minute documentary features sisters-in-law Pauline and Maddy Esteves — The Women in the Sand, The Story of Death Valley’s Original People — directed by Steve Jarvis and narrated by Edward James Olmos.

You say Silver burns a hole in your pocket

and Gold burns a hole in your soul

Well, Uranium burns a hole in forever

It just gets out of control”

(from: “Priests of the Golden Bull” Buffy St Marie)

Read more.

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