Uranium: The Stuff of Deterrence is Not Called by its Name

On the presentation of the Nuclear-Free Future Award 2023 in New York City

By Claus Biegert

Yesterday I went to the theater. A staged reading of Daniil Charms. Russian Dadaist from St. Petersburg, starved to death in prison in 1942. Sometimes it’s good to hear the absurd, see the absurd. It takes its own course in your mind. You take it with you in your backpack when you go back to normal life after the performance.

What does it mean back to normal life? No Dada, no absurdities ! But what does reality offer me? Our ex-foreign minister, the former Green Joschka Fischer, is calling for nuclear weapons for the EU. Is that the world outside the theater? Yes, the call for the bomb is as real as the plastic in the sea and the nano-plastic that overcomes the blood barrier of our brains. Perhaps this is the earth’s revenge: human beings are all becoming unpredictable, absurd creatures calling for the bomb. Our Defense Minister Boris Pistorius wants the Germans to “become fit for war again”. He is calling for a “change of mentality”. War is once again a means of politics.

Where am I? Where are we?

We must not prevent Israel’s government from committing war crimes against the Palestinians, because the genocide we committed against the Jews in the recent past demands unrestricted solidarity with Israel in the future.

Who do I belong to? Who are we?

I am relieved when I find an appeal in the post from Dr. Till Bastian. Bastian was on the board of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in 1985 when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He wrote to our minister of defense: “We do not want to become fit for war and not capable of war!”

I actually want to report something else, but these days I find it difficult not to think of the children of Gaza or Darfur who will never be allowed to live.

I want to report from New York. At the end of November, the 122 states that voted in favor of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons met at the UN for the second time; 68 have since ratified it. The treaty has been on the table at the UN since 2017 and has been in force since January 22, 2021. Germany is not signing it. We have US nuclear missiles on our soil; we must not sign it. Our sovereignty has its limits.

In the context of this meeting, the Nuclear-Free Future Awards 2023 were presented in the Blue Gallery, a short walk from the UN. A brief look back: The Nuclear-Free Future Award was presented for the first time 1998 in Salzburg, Austria. For two reasons: In 1992, Salzburg was the venue for the World Uranium Hearing, from which the Nuclear-Free Future Award emerged. And: In 1998, Salzburg wanted to kick off a nuclear-free Europe and invite all non-nuclear cities; the award ceremony was to be the crowning glory. How wrong you can be: Only three members of the Manchester City Council showed up. Since then, the award has traveled around the world. There have been award ceremonies in Ireland, India, Russia, the USA, South Africa, Norway, Germany and Switzerland.

Most of the awards focused on uranium mining, because it destroys habitats and human lives for generations to come. There is no such thing as safe uranium mining. But while we talk about wind power in terms of wind, solar power in terms of sun, hydropower in terms of water, coal in terms of coal, but when it comes to uranium we experience a censorship that we have apparently all internalized. Nuclear power is the trivializing disguise. “Uranium – is it a country?” is the title of a film by Kerstin Schnatz, Stephanie Auth and Isabel Huber. People, waiting at a bus station in Australia are asked for their opinion on uranium. Instead of an answer, they ask back: “Uranium – is it a country?” Even the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons does not mention uranium. Uranium does not exist.

This time the NFFAward had its focus on the bombs that the USA, the Soviet Union, England and France detonated on the land of indigenous peoples after the Second World War. The jury had to limit itself, as the three awards were not enough for all test sites of the world. The following personalities were honored: Tina Cordova (USA), Benetick Kabua Maddison (Marshall Islands) and Hinamoeura Morgant-Cross (French Polynesia); all three draw attention to the plight of the innocent and unwilling victims of the decades of atomic testing that followed Trinity and the dropping of atomic bombs on the citizens of Japan, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at the end of World War II.

Eighteen years ago, Tina Cordova founded an advocacy group for the victims of Oppenheimer’s bomb on July 16, 1945. The Trinity Downwinders have been denied recognition as radiation victims to this day, and thus excluded from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. Perhaps for this reason, Hollywood ensured that the hit movie “Oppenheimer” concealed the effects of the first atomic bomb. In the film, the land of the Apaches was considered to be deserted, with 14,000 people living within a radius of 50 kilometers. The first success of Tina’s initiative came in the summer of 2023, when the US Senate passed an amendment to this effect. Now Tina and her organization, the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, are working with other allies to get the bill passed by the US House of Representatives.

Benetick Kabua Maddison is a young activist from the Marshall Islands who now lives in the US state of Arkansas and works to raise awareness about the 67 US nuclear tests carried out in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, which continue to have devastating health, environmental and cultural consequences to this day. As executive director of the Marshallese Educational Initiative, based in Springdale, Arkansas, and as an advisor to the NGO Reverse the Trend, Benetick is tirelessly lobbying the UN for just compensation for the radiation victims.

Hinamoeura Morgant-Cross is a French Polynesian whose leukemia – a legacy of the 193 French nuclear tests in the South Pacific – has motivated her to advocate for the victims and force the French government to take responsibility to provide medical and financial assistance. As an elected deputy, Hinamoeura successfully led a vote in the Assembly of French Polynesia (a department of France) in September 2023 to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

In addition to the three activist awards (which come with a cash prize of 5,000 dollars) Daniel Ellsberg was posthumously awarded an honorary prize for his life’s work. Ellsberg is best known for exposing the US government’s decision making in the Vietnam War with the Pentagon Papers, because long before the US defeat was apparent, the public was presented with a picture of the need to persevere. He was the senior whistleblower. As an advisor to the President, he also had insight into Washington’s nuclear policy and revealed the inhumane plans of the US nuclear weapons complex of the 1960s, most recently in his sensational book “The Doomsday Machine. Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner” (Bloomsbury 2017) an account of the most dangerous arms build-up in the history of civilisation, the legacy of which threatens the very survival of humanity. From the late 1970s until his death earlier this year, Daniel Ellsberg dedicated his life to peace and a world without nuclear weapons. His son Robert accepted the award.

From the very beginning, the award has been supported by music, with local and international artists paying tribute to the laureaties: from Pete Seeger to Liam O’Maonlai, from Buffy Sainte-Marie to Marie Boine, from Arlo Guthrie to Mitch Walking Elk, from Patty Smith to Peter Gordon. The latter, who has been associated with the award since the ceremony in Los Alamos in 1999, gave the evening a spirit of hope together with his son Max (saxophone, piano, hunting horn) and the a capella quartet MARK Harmony. “Hope for a Better Tomorrow” was also the title of the exhibition of young artists from Micronesia, which was presented in the Blue Gallery at the same time. The following week, Amy Goodman brought two of the NFFA award winners onto her daily program “DemocracyNow!”. Hinamoeura Morgant-Cross and Benetick Kabua Maddison can be heard in detail here: https://www.democracynow.org/2023/12/15/meet_survivors_of_nuclear_testing_calling


This story and others on the fatal impact of nuclear technology can be found on the NFFAward website:nuclearfreefutureaward.org

Daniel Ellsberg, USA

Robert Ellsberg accepting award on behalf of his father at Nuclear Free Future Awards – New York City. November 28, 2023

Daniel Ellsberg receives a posthumous lifetime achievement award. The world knows him as the senior of whistleblowers, when in 1971 (Nixon was U.S. president) he disclosed secret papers showing that the American public had been lied to about the Vietnam War. But before that, Ellsberg was among the White House strategists who discussed the question of nuclear first strike. In his last book , The Doomsday Machine, we witness the story of a man who started out as a peace lover and advanced to become a nuclear war planner before becoming a peace activist.

Ellsberg died in June of this year. His son Robert will accept the award.

Benetick Kabua Maddison, USA

Benetick Kabua Maddison of the Marshall Islands, Laureate. Nuclear Free Future Awards – New York City. November 28, 2023

Benetick Kabua Maddison, born in the Marshall Islands, now lives in the USA. Since 2022, he is the Executive director  the Arkansas-based Marshallese Educational Initiative.The initiative sees its task in educating the US public, as well as the rest of the world, about the fatal effects of the 67 nuclear weapons tests conducted by the USA on the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958. The history of the islands is a story of stillbirths, abortions, natural destruction and cultural decay. Benetick as a human rights activist, is a vocal supporter of the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons, heard at many international conferences.

Tina Cordova, USA

In 2005, she and the late Fred Tyler founded the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC) to recognize those residents who experienced the fallout of the first atomic bomb, Oppenheimer’s Trinity, in southern New Mexico in 1945, but were not warned. As a sixth-generation indigenous/Hispanic resident who grew up in Tularosa, some 75 kilometers from the blast, she herself has conquered thyroid cancer. To date, the approximately 40,000 people, primarily Hispanics and Apaches, and their descendants have not been recognized as downwinders and thus exempt from compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA, a 1990 law). After years of advocating by activists, the US Senate amended in July 2023 RECA to include downwinders from Tularosa Basin and area; the amendment still needs to pass the House of Representatives. Tina, a biology and chemistry major, and her team will not give up until TBDC’s mission is accomplished.

read more about her engagement:

July 30, 2023 – What ‘Oppenheimer’ Doesn’t Tell You About the Trinity Test

December 8, 2023 – Senators call removal of RECA from NDAA as ‘major betrayal’ and ‘injustice’

December 11, 2023 – STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF TRINITY TEST DOWNWINDERS by Most Reverend John C. Wester Archbishop of Santa Fe

Tina Cordova of the United States, Laureate. Nuclear Free Future Awards – New York City. November 28, 2023

Hinamoeura Morgant-Cross, French Polynesia

Hinamoeura Morgant-Cross is from French Polynesia. In her mid-thirties, she became an activist when she realized that her leukemia was a legacy of the 193 French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. She conquered her blood cancer and became a collector of unheard stories of suffering and ignored medical records.  In doing so, she put pressure on the French government, which to this day lacks accountability. Hinamoera fights for recognition, medical care and financial compensation for victims. In May 2023, she was elected to the Polynesian Assembly of Representatives.

Hinamoeura Morgant-Cross of French Polynesia, Laureate. Nuclear Free Future Awards – New York City. November 28, 2023

Inverhuron and District Ratepayers Association (IDRA), Canada

Category Resistance – 2001

In 1985, Canadian sheep farmer Eugene Bourgeois fell into a hydrogen sulphide cloud from an Ontario Hydro reactor. In the citizens’ organization “Inverhuron and District Ratepayers Association (IDRA)” he found comrade-in-arms  and trained them as experts in hydrogen sulphide. Among other things, he found that 750,000 fuel rods should be stored above ground for at least 90 years.

Maisie Shiell, Canada

Categories: Lifetime Achievement and Special Recognition – 1998

In English it sounds like the well-chosen title of a comedy: “Nobody likes to mess with Maisie”. This is how Priscilla Settee, a Cree, from the “Indigenous Women’s Network” described the effect of what is probably the strongest single woman army in Canada. Born in England, she was and still is the terror of all Canadian prospectors and uranium mine operators. She received the NFFA for her life’s work.

Stewart Udall, USA

Categories: Lifetime Achievement and Special Recognition – 1999

The lawyer Steward Udall was appointed the 37th Secretary of the Interior of the USA by John F. Kennedy after four terms in Congress. Afterwards he supported the victims of the nuclear industry in their fight for compensation. The turning point came in 1978, when he learned how the radioactive fallout from the bomb tests at the Nevada test site caused people in the surrounding area to fall ill and die. He received the NFFA for his life’s work.

Klaus Traube, Germany

Categories: Lifetime Achievement and Special Recognition – 2000

After 16 years as a reactor expert and managing director of Interatom, Professor Klaus Traube outlined new energy paths beyond the atom and fossil fuels. He worked as a publicist and director of the Institute for Municipal Energy Economics at the University of Bremen until his retirement. He was the author of calculations for CO2 reduction and exit scenarios. He got the NFFA for his life’s work.

David Lowry, Great Britain

Categories: Lifetime Achievement and Special Recognition – 2001

After radioactive sludge contaminated the Rio Puerco at Churchrock in 1979 and damaged the nuclear power plant “Three Mile Island”, David Lowry started to build up a network of informants and an archive of information about the nuclear industry. His speciality: carefully prepared parliamentary questions for members of the British House of Commons, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.