Uranium: Got 47 minutes?

** Later additions to this post: 3-minute YouTube on uranium mining & its risks here ** & a very recent news item here

** & another here

** & years after this post was originally posted: a great quote harvested at the Camera Atomica show at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2015)  “Uranium is the mineral of the apocalypse.” – Donald Weber from the ‘Into the Half-Life’ exhibit

So, I was in Toronto the other day & went to the NFB (National Film Board) building at the corner of Richmond & John Streets to watch the short 1990 documentary film “Uranium” [cutbacks later led to the closing of this wonderful facility :(  ]

But you can watch it on-line here


This is a very very powerful film about uranium mining in Canada.

  • Its environmental impacts
  • Human health impacts
  • How it destroys communities
  • Its centrality in the nuclear industry & the global war machine it supports.

A number of very eloquent speakers from several aboriginal communities explain how the mining (& refining) of uranium have destroyed their bodies, their children, their environment, their livelihood, their communities, their future.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell points out how the insidious, ongoing impacts of the front end of the nuclear fuel chain – which consists of wresting uranium from the ground – damages DNA, causing birth defects in children whose resulting disabilities are guaranteed to leave them less capable of understanding & dealing with this monstrous substance & its far-reaching impacts on human beings, ecosystems, & the planet, in the future. Basically, it is destroying their (& our) future.

Uranium mining is dirty-dirty-dirty business. It leaves behind poisons (mine “tailings”) that will go right on poisoning people & the environment for generations. Forever, actually.

I recall once seeing a placard that said “We are all downstream.”

This is quite literally true.

Because we all share the air & water that are essential elements of our planet’s lifeblood.

You pull uranium from the ground & allow the tailings to sit beside & migrate into nearby rivers & lakes, & the water (& the added acids, chemical & heavy metal poisons that also result) inevitably flow downstream.

In the case of the mines in Elliot Lake, near Lake Huron, it flows into (has killed, actually – I learned this from Lorraine Rekmans’ excellent book This is My Homeland) the Serpent River, which flows into Lake Huron, where water makes its way into Lakes Erie & Ontario & on into the St. Lawrence River.

The particles in the air from the mine tailings make their way hither & yon. We may not be able to see them, but in this case what we don’t know (& can’t see) is definitely hurting us.

Uranium, unfortunately for the human race, is an evil that does not know how to stop poisoning.

It's not just about Canada, of course. Winona LaDuke, a very articulate aboriginal woman from the southwestern U.S., explains how uranium mining also disproportionately affects native communities there. The information about birth defects among children is very disturbing.

I'm always struck by the calm dignity of aboriginal spokespeople who have always been on the front lines of the global war machine, whose children & whose communities have always been the very first ones to be hit.

Outrage is the only real response to such a sick & evil business, it seems to me.

In the “Uranium” film, family physician Dr. Robert Woollard from Clearwater, British Columbia, describes how a community united in its opposition to uranium mining can stop a new one in its tracks. That piece of the film is very empowering & inspiring!

Mining industry spokespersons in the film reveal themselves as the slick, amoral snake oil salesmen they really are.

Money as god, as Cree trapper Janet Fietz points out.

Dr. Bertell says “We don’t have to commit suicide. We don’t have to kill the Earth. But that’s the road we’re on. So it’s going to take some turning if the next generation is going to have an option.”

Manitoulin Island farmer Ed Burt says “You can regulate it to a point. But you can’t keep it from moving up the food chain.” He also points out that the agencies that “regulate” nuclear operations are generally dominated by individuals who formerly worked for the nuclear industry, in one capacity or another, & concludes by saying that all the people involved (politicians included) are playing “dangerous games with people’s lives.”

Uranium = pollution/poisons that will last forever. Spills. Leaking barrels of waste. Radioactive vegetation & wildlife. Ruined waterways. Birth defects.

Where is your outrage, Reader?

Take 47 minutes & watch this film. Please.

Then, get up off your rear end & DO SOMETHING!!!!! Pretty please.


p.s. Another blog posting about uranium mining (‘Uranium Mining: Nukes’s Little Secret’) can be found here. You’ll find a # of useful links in it.

p.p.s. Another good (if sobering) film to watch is the one called “Poison DUst.”

p.p.p.s. Lots & lots of great nuke-related quotes & then also, maps/films/books/resources in this posting.

p.s. # 4:  On January 17/18/19 [2012] the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (to many of us, having the words nuclear & safety in the same phrase  is oxymoronic; did I just make up a new word??) holding a public hearing in Port Hope on the ongoing operations of Cameco Corporation’s Port Hope & Blind River holdings. You can watch a live Webcast here (a later posting about the hearing is here).

‘Quote of the day with this post: “You can guarantee that mining uranium will lead to nuclear waste. You can’t guarantee that mining uranium will not lead to nuclear weapons.” – Anthony Albanese, Australian Labour Party, quoted in New York Times, Aug. 2, 2006


Uranium Mining: Nukes' Little Secret

The nuclear industry has all sorts of secrets (& lies). One of the big ones is the nastiness of uranium mining: the environmental damage it causes, the human health impacts, & the messes it leaves behind.

I'm not particularly knowledgeable about it, so I'm not going to say much. Just going to point readers to a few sites where they can learn more.

The U.S.-based Earthworks group has a 2-pager called "Uranium Mining 101." You can find it here.

Earthworks also has a longer report on uranium mining, called "Nuclear Power's Other Tragedy - Communities Living with Uranium Mining."

There is a very powerful & disturbing 12-minute YouTube about uranium mining in Australia here. I want to praise this tiny film for its hard-hitting lessons & world-renowned experts (Dr. Rosalie Bertell & Dr. Helen Caldicott). I also want to warn potential viewers about its very disturbing images of babies born with severe birth defects caused by in-utero exposure to depleted uranium (a man-made substance that personifies evil, in my view). Well worth seeing & sharing around.

The book "This is My Homeland" (edited by Lorraine Rekmans) is about the impacts of uranium mining on the Anishinabe people of the Serpent River watershed, near Elliot Lake, Ontario (Canada). It's a moving story, well told, in a diversity of voices.

You can also find plenty of information about uranium (& lots of other nuke-related topics) at the Web site of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.


p.s. the 47-minute NFB (National Film Board) documentary "Uranium" is a fabulous resource & introduction to this topic!!! Watch it on-line here

'Quote of the day' w. this post: “You can guarantee that mining uranium will lead to nuclear waste. You can’t guarantee that mining uranium will not lead to nuclear weapons.” Anthony Albanese, Australian Labour Party, quoted in New York Times, Aug. 2, 2006

Placards for Nuclear Hearings

I’ve attended too many hearings of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (an oxymoron of a title if ever there was one; geez, I guess even Homer Simpson would know better than to put the words nuclear & safety in the same phrase!) & now most recently the opening sessions of the “Darlington New Nuclear Plant Project” being presided over by the Joint Review Panel (JRP).

** Note: if you go here, you can find hearing info such as the public hearing schedule, transcripts, Webcasts, etc.

The setting is always very formal &, frankly, more than a little intimidating for the average human being (I’d hazard a guess that this is deliberate, btw).

The bigshots are seated “up high” at the front of the room, with all their supporting staff to their right & left, while we mere “peasants” sit obediently down lower, in front of their greatnesses.

I invariably wind up wishing things would get a little rowdier. People in kangaroo suits. Maybe a Mad Hatter or two walking around, uttering nonsensical things. (Attending one of these gatherings is very much like going down a rabbit hole, à la Alice In Wonderland; hence my rabbit hole reference & my frequent internal “Off with their heads!!” thoughts…)

Here are just a few placards I’d love to see the “peasants” hold up when the bullshit quotient goes right over the top (which is most of the time, anytime the current nuclear “proponent” has the floor):

  • Bafflegab!
  • (or, less politely, Bullshit!! Not to mention WTF???????)
  • Obfuscation Alert!!
  • I can’t believe you just said that!!!!!!
  • How's about turning off the lie machine?
  • Let’s not forget the uranium, eh??
  • It’s the WASTE, Stooooopid!!


P.S. I say, all future such gatherings should be conducted with everyone sitting around in a circle. No fancy suits allowed. Attire? Jeans & T-shirts. It would very soon become apparent who the real “experts” are, hmmm?


*** Before I could get these 2 postings up, I heard about the Greenpeace protesters who stopped the hearing this morning. Good onya, dudes!! Wish I was there with you. Extraordinary nonsense like nuclear energy & its phoney hearing process absolutely require extraordinary means to get public attention!!!


Lives & Half-Lives

I’ve been divorced for 11 years now. My 20-year marriage broke up 15 years ago, at which time I’d spent 14 ½ as a full-time homemaker – wife, mother, active community volunteer, & doing occasional contract jobs. My children were then 14 & 12, & since I’d spent 14 years “at home” with them, with my energies focused primarily on family life, losing not just their father & the marriage but also their full-time presence in my life (due to the new week-on, week-off joint custody arrangement), I came to think of my life as a “half-life.” That’s the way it felt to me then. This wasn’t terribly funny, at the time (I was gobsmacked, as they say), but it was the slightly ironic way I came to view my life, & to describe it to myself, inside my head. I guess it somehow helped me cope with things, thinking of it that way & sort of chuckling about it. (“I know all about half-lives!” I’d say ironically to myself, inside my head…)

Long since “recovered” from those painful, gutwrenching months & years, into my goodness- knows-how manyth re-incarnation (as it were), & with a life now that can fairly be described as full to bursting, the term half-life has taken on an entirely different meaning for me.

I’ve been drawn into nuclear issues of late (quite without really intending to), & as numerous recent blog posts attest(1), I’ve been working recently to help ensure that the plan of Bruce Power (another BP(2),eh?) to ship 16 retired & highly radioactive steam generators from Ontario – across the Great Lakes (source of drinking water for 40 million people) through the St. Lawrence Seaway(source of drinking water for another several million in the Province of Quebec) – & the Atlantic Ocean (source of life & home to a zillion creatures, upon whose life & health we humans rely to a degree that the average person may very well not comprehend), to Sweden for so-called “recycling” is gobsmacked (the way all of our lives are, occasionally, hmmmm??).

Apply the brakes, pulleese!!

Nuclear issues are complex. I myself don’t understand even a small fraction of the guts & internal workings of nuclear technology the way many of my so-awesome fellow activists do.(3)

The nuclear industry, btw, totally counts on all this complexity & all of its obfuscation-inducing fancy terms & jargon to intimidate the “average person” into shutting up & shutting down & (metaphorically) crawling into a corner & saying “Okay, okay, okay – I’m too damn dumb to understand this stuff, so I’ll just let you “experts” be in charge & do what you will.”

I don’t want to get sidetracked here by going into the utter moral bankruptcy of the various agencies involved in the nuclear industry. That would require a whole essay of its own – & maybe it’s been done, & if so, & if I can lay my hands on it, I will return here & provide a link to it. It’s tempting, even, to “go there” – but…not right now, OK? [much later posting called 'How the Nuclear Industry F**ks Us' here]

We all know in our guts that nuclear waste that will remain toxic & dangerous & life-threatening (did I mention DNA-damaging?) for 1000s, 10’s of 1000s & even 100s of 1000s of years isn’t good for us. Right?

Well, duh.

Those retired, radioactive steam generators, for example, contain a very scary list of radioactive contaminants. These include cobalt & cesium & strontium – & also 5 plutonium isotopes & 4 uranium isotopes. (If you go here, you can see the whole list. On that same Web site you can find all kinds of other very interesting information about the steam generators, & about nuclear matters in general.)

The half-lives of these isotopes is a deeply, deeply sobering thing to contemplate.

As Wikipedia explains it, “Half-life is the period of time it takes for a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. The name was originally used to describe a characteristic of unstable atoms (radioactive decay), but may apply to any quantity which follows a set-rate decay.The original term, dating to 1907, was “half-life period,” which was later shortened to “half-life” in the early 1950s.”

The half-life of Plutonium-239 is 24,000 years; of Plutonium-240, 6,500 years; of Plutonium-242, 380,000 years.

The half-lives of the uranium isotopes found in the steam generators are as follows: Uranium-234, 250,000 years; Uranium-235, 700,000,000 years; Uranium-236, 23,000,000 years; Uranium-238 (wait for it!), 4,500,000,000 (yes, 4.5 billion) years.


Or rather, YIKES!?!?!?!?!

So BP (Bruce Power) head honcho Duncan Hawthorne (who has stated he feels opponents of his grand plan should be “rebuked”) bandies about the image of a tennis ball. The weight of the nuclear isotopes contained in the steam generators, he says, is 64 grams.

He does not explain that these nuclear contaminants have scary half-lives. (Did I just say scary?? I mean terrifying…)

He does not explain that 32-40 grams of the material is Plutonium-239 (1/2 life: 24,000 years) – an amount that could overdose a million people.

Now do you – or anyone you know – including the average 6 or 8 or 10-year old – think we should be messing around with substances this dangerous??

Shipping them around, risking a sinking? (I hate to tell you this, but there have already been lots of dangerous nuclear cargoes sunk in our no-longer-pristine or even vaguely clean oceans. You can look this up – although you may not want to, & I can’t really say I blame you for not wanting to know. I don’t really want to know either…) But since Duncan Hawthorne’s cavalier attitude toward having a 16-radioactive-steam-generator-filled-ship sink on the journey he is proposing for them seems to be more or less “Let ‘em sink!” it seems to me those of more sober mind ought to put the brakes on his plan…

Should we be adding to the already-serious global problem of radioactively-contaminated metal entering consumer goods? (See ‘Radioactive Cutlery, Anyone?’ for more on this.) Does any one of us really want to discover the toaster we have just bought has nuclear waste in it? Does any of us really want to discover that the metal in our child’s braces has a lot more in it than we’d bargained for? Do we all want to have to start carrying a Geiger counter around with us every time we go out shopping???

Or do we think we ought to leave the steam generators where they are? (& where they have been for quite a few years already, btw.) Store them as safely as humanly possible; watch over them very, very, very carefully. Don’t mess with them any more than we absolutely have to, & for sure, Don’t risk the drinking water of 10s of millions of people with some cockamamie plan to ship them all over the darn place.


p.s. Why are we even talking about this?????

p.p.s. 'Quote of the day' with this post:  ”Once you know the difference between right and wrong, you have lots fewer decisions to make.” - Joseph Campbell, quoted in the biography “A Fire in the Mind - The Life of Joseph Campbell” by Stephen & Robin Larsen

p.p.p.s. For a thorough understanding of the growing problem of radioactively-contaminated consumer products, please check out the report ‘Out of Control’ on the NIRS Web site.

p.s. # 4. The half-life of Uranium-238 (4.5 billion years) kinda puts my little whine about my “half-life” into perspective, doesn’t it? Gheesh…

(2) The other BP assured the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2009 that an oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon site was “unlikely.” An environmental impact study was therefore waived. Oops. As in, OOPS! As in, more like massive criminal negligence, since "oops" is a word that totally fails to convey the appropriate seriousness of what we are talking about...

(3) I do however understand that the half-life of depleted uranium (4.5 billion years) means that, given its, shall we say, extreme toxicity to all forms of life, we ought not to be playing around with it so cavalierly, the way militaries now so routinely do. We ought not be playing around with it AT ALL. I do also understand that nuclear waste is also not something we should be treating lightly. Duh…


Nuke Quotes. Just because...

Just becos' I can... And because I feel like it! I've done a bunch of blog posts recently about the steam generator issue (those darn radioactive steam generators that Bruce Power & the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission - oxymoron alert!! [the words 'nuclear' & 'safety' do NOT belong in the same phrase!!] - want to send thru the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, & all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden. Gag...

I stay in touch with a fair number of people (it's that incurable information-spreader disease of mine).  Also, being a quotation "freak," each week I sling together a collection to include at the bottom of my e-mail messages. People seem to enjoy this little habit of mine...

Here is last week's collection. They are in fact not all nuclear-related, blog post title notwithstanding. But there are some awesome humdingers here, aren't there?

** Note!! The day after posting this item, I created a new heading at the top of this blog - "Quotation Central." The quotations I use seem to be very popular - now they will all be under this one new heading. I've also added some quotes on gratitude & my favourite Joseph Campbell quotes. Nuke quotes are here.

Quotations for Today/This Week…whatever[Oct. 4/10.]

“Government is the Entertainment Division of the military-industrial complex.” - Frank Zappa

“No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make “safe” and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime ever perpetrated by man. The idea that a civilisation could sustain itself on the basis of such a transgression is an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity. It means conducting the economic affairs of man as if people really did not matter at all.” – E.F. Schumacher

“On top of the perennial challenges of global poverty and injustice, the two biggest threats facing human civilization in the 21st century are climate change and nuclear war. It would be absurd to respond to one by increasing the risks of the other.” - Dr Mark Diesendorf, author of Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men.” Abraham Lincoln

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I awake in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world, and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” – E.B. White [love this…so true!!]

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

It dawns on me that war is easy. Peace is harder. This sophisticated striving to build bridges is harder.” Jane Fonda in her autobiography My Life So Far

“Liberty can not be preserved without general knowledge among people.” John Adams

“You can guarantee that mining uranium will lead to nuclear waste. You can’t guarantee that mining uranium will not lead to nuclear weapons.” Anthony Albanese, Australian Labour Party, quoted in New York Times, Aug. 2, 2006

“Nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered.” - Scientific American

“What we’re seeing is a well-orchestrated international public relations campaign by a very desperate nuclear industry… I think it is really important to realize that there is an element of stampeding the herd in the direction of nuclear power, when in fact it may be a cliff we are heading to, not a bridge to the future.” ~ Dr. Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

“Authorizing construction of new nuclear reactors without first constructing a radioactive waste disposal facility is like authorizing construction of a new Sears Tower without bathrooms.” ~ Dave Kraft, director of Nuclear Energy Information Service

“Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water!” ~ Albert Einstein

“Uranium is the raw material of a power-elite who has taken Mother Earth’s every living creature hostage.” ~ The late Petra Kelly, German Green Party

Nobody Can Undo the Doo Doo from a Candu, let alone contain it. “Tritium, the radioactive sibling of hydrogen, is created by fissioning inside a CANDU reactor. They use heavy water. Heavy water then becomes radioactive water. Chemically there is no way to separate radioactive water from stable water. Because Lake Ontario water provides the coolant water, it becomes populated with radioactive water before it is released back into the Lake. Lake Ontario is now a tritium dump.” ~ Tim Seitz

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ‘til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” ~ Thomas Edison (1847–1931)

“Independent researchers have calculated that, in terms of carbon emissions avoided per dollar spent, nuclear is among the most expensive options, taking lifetime costs into account, not the cheapest. And of course the nuclear waste issue has not yet been resolved.” ~ Trevor Findlay, author of “The Future of Nuclear Energy to 2030 and its Implications for Safety, Security and Non-Proliferation”

“Increasing the risk of nuclear war brings us back to climate change. Recent scientific research details the climatic impacts of nuclear warfare. The use of 100 weapons in nuclear warfare — just 0.03 per cent of the explosive power of the world's nuclear arsenal — would result directly in catastrophic climate change with many millions of tonnes of black, sooty smoke lofted high into the stratosphere. Needless to say the social and environmental impacts would be horrendous.” – Scott Ludlam

“Whether we like it or not, we all live near nuclear power plants. The mining of uranium and its processing and usage raises the background levels of radioactivity and this causes genetic damage worldwide. The good news is that nuclear is too expensive and too slow and the P.R fiction of the so-called “nuclear renaissance” put out by the industry will never happen. Real clean renewable energy will bypass the reactors, Obama’s political decision notwithstanding.” ~ Wolfe Erlichman

“Nuclear power grew out of the nuclear weapons program, and the nuclear fuel cycle still produces the elements — uranium and plutonium — which can be used to make nuclear weapons or radioactive “dirty bombs.” The nuclear industry argues that any nation or terrorist does not need a nuclear power plant to make a bomb, they just need uranium enrichment. This is true. However, the only “legitimate” reason to enrich uranium is to use it in a nuclear power plant. The continued promotion and sale worldwide of “civilian” nuclear reactors thus gives nations the excuse to operate uranium enrichment programs, as we have seen in Iran.” ~ Craig Severance

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”Upton Sinclair

“While most world leaders are seeking an exit strategy from the atomic arms race, Canada is underwriting an encore. It is still selling essentially unsafeguardable reactors, increasing global flows of uranium, and even undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty by courting countries like India which flaunt non-proliferation efforts.” ~ Paul McKay, author of “Atomic Accomplice: How Canada Deals in Deadly Deceit.” Read Paul’s latest piece entitled "Nuclear Power: the Proliferation Problem," published online here

“Facts don’t cease to exist just because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” – Albert Einstein

“The world shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin

“Never give up!” Winston Churchill

“Hoard each joyous moment that comes to you. No one knows how it will all end.” – Háfiz