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