Autonomous Military/Corporate Research

•October 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

SCAM, or Students Concerned About Militarism, is an autonomous research group geared to help activists create the literature they need to effectively run grassroots movements against militarism.

Please contact badheartbull (at) riseup (dot) net with research proposals or collaboration inquiries.

SCAM has partnered with the Campus Action Network  at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as the nation’s largest nuclear abolition network Think Outside the Bomb. SCAM has presented at conferences such as Finding Our Roots (Chicago, Feb 2009) and Think Outside the Bomb (Albuquerque, Aug 2009).

SCAM hopes to augment current work-in-progress on “Exelon: Energy & Power” with an extensive oral histories project.

Lucasville Uprising Zine

•March 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This is the content of a zine I wrote for an event we had last night in Columbus, Ohio. Insurgent Theatre debuted its new play AD SEG in Columbus at the Solidarity Showcase, which also featured open performances by myself, Ben B, Mattie, Sam & Connie’s “Legal Q & A.”

The highlight of the night was a transmission from Ohio State Penitentiary by brother Siddique Abdullah Hasan, who told the story of his experience with the uprising in 1993, and subsequently how he was railroaded and placed on death row because of his participation in a negotiations team that peacefully ended the prison riot.

At the end of this text is information on what you can do to support the Lucasville 5, and their mailing addresses on death row so you can write them and send them your support.

LUCASVILLE UPRISING
Redbird Prison Abolition
Columbus, Ohio

DEATH ROW HUNGER STRIKE: OHIO STATE PENITENTIARY

On January 3rd, 2011, three of the Lucasville 5 went on hunger strike. Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders), Bomani Shakur (Keith Lamar), and Jason Robb refused meals to protest the inhuman conditions they have faced since the 1993 Lucasville Uprising. Namir Mateen and George Skatzes, who comprise the rest of the Lucasville 5, could not participate due to health issues. Collectively, the five demanded to be given the same living conditions allowed to other death row prisoners.

Among their demands:
(a) Partial contact visits with their family, where they can touch family through a small opening in a visitation window
(b) Access to legal resources, such as online databases
(c) Access to the media through in-person interviews
(d) Basic items, such as cold weather clothing and food

For 18 years, these men have been living in isolation, with no human contact other than their death row guards. They have only been allowed outside of their cells for one hour a day, during which they are allowed time for shower and “recreation” in an “exercise cage.” Why have they been subject to these deplorable conditions? These five men helped peacefully negotiate the end of the longest prison riot in the United States to date in 1993.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections agreed to accommodate the demands of the hunger strikers on January 14th, 2011. Robb concluded his strike on January 14th, and Hasan and Lamar on the 15th, which coincided with a solidarity protest outside the Ohio State Penitentiary.

LUCASVILLE UPRISING: SOUTHERN OHIO CORRECTIONAL FACILITY

The uprising at Lucasville, like many prison revolts, was a response to the horrible conditions that all prisoners face. Some of these conditions at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) include: guards going unpunished for brutally assaulting and killing inmates; prisoners being denied the right to unionize while being forced to labor for less than a dollar a day; prisoners denied access to rehabilitation or educational opportunities; guards provoking violence among prisoners, intentionally allowing some prisoners to be armed, fitting prisoners with wires and encouraging snitching, intentionally pairing prisoners together to fuel racial tensions; intense overcrowding, double-celling, and denied transfers. Some prisoners at Lucasville were chained to their cells, maced and tear gassed, forced to sleep on the floor, only allowed 5 minutes of phone time a year, extremely limited or altogether excluded visitation, and denied proper medical care.

The arrival of prison warden Arthur Tate precipitated a number of worsening conditions in Lucasville. Since his hiring in 1990, Tate had greatly diminished or altogether cut a number of prison programs, including the music, literary, and college programs. He required prisoners to march to their meals, work, recreation, worship services, and the commissary. High security prisoners were denied participation in vocational programs as they were placed on lockdown in their cells after 6PM. Guards were given the liberty to make up arbitrary rules on the spot, with no requirement to put the rules in writing or provide them to prisoners.

In addition to these ongoing offenses, and just prior to the uprising, the prison warden informed prisoners that there would be mandatory testing for tuberculosis, which involved injecting each prisoner with an alcohol based solution. Muslim prisoners staunchly objected, as the mandatory injections violated their religious abstention from alcohol.

On April 11th, 1993, these conflicts ignited into an 11 day uprising inside the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville that resulted in prisoners occupying the L block. Despite guards’ attempts to fan the flames of racial tensions in SOCF, prisoners in L block united across racial lines and gang divisions. Members of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood were standing in solidarity with Black Muslims and Black Gangster Deciples. During the uprising, eight guards were taken hostage, and eventually one was killed. Nine inmates were killed, and a majority of inmate deaths have suspected relations to warden Tate & SOCF guards encouragement of snitching. Rather than ending with wholesale slaughter and invasion by the national guard, as other prison riots have ended, Lucasville was ended by careful negotiations between five prisoners and state officials.

Deliberate stalling in the negotiations on the part of the state likely resulted in a deterioration of the situation. On April 12th, prison warden Arthur Tate shut off the electricity and water to L block in response to prisoners speaking with the media. The situation escalated, and the prisoners took hostage guard Vallandingham, who was killed two days later when water and electricity were still cut.

The negotiation team, which was comprised of Namir Abdul Mateen (James Were), Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders), Bomani Shakur (Keith Lamar), Jason Robb and George Skatzes, effectively negotiated to win “better conditions” for prisoners in SOCF, which in reality were the bare minimum required by law. Part of the demands they negotiated was to keep themselves free from any retaliation from the state. Following the end of the uprising, Hasan, Robb, Namir and Skatzes were found guilty for the death of officer Vallandingham. Bomani was charged with organizing a death squad that killed five informant prisoners. All were implicated in being leaders of the uprising due to their role in the negotiations.

These allegations were corroborated by other inmates who then received shorter sentences, a telling sign of false testimony. The Lucasville 5 now sit on death row, where they have been further denied what is allowed to other death row inmates — human contact with family, access to legal resources, the media, cold weather clothing.

Using by now familiar language, the Ohio Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation denied any need to “negotiate in good faith” with prisoners who take hostages, and the Ohio Supreme Court has deemed the rebelling prisoners “enemy combatants.” Despite a Court of Appeals decision that eavesdropping by the state on prisoners’ conversations in L block was illegal, and thus evidence from those conversations could not be used in court, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that obeying that law to the aide of rioting prisoners was out of the question. This clearly demonstrates a double standard upheld in our court systems, which has been used in the case of the Lucasville 5 to send a number of men to death row, and perhaps worse, a robbed life behind bars. Add to this false testimony, complete lack of physical or DNA evidence, inadequately funded and prepared defense lawyers, and in the case of Siddique Hasan, moving his case to the county with the highest percentage of death row sentences, and any suggestion that the Lucasville 5 were allowed due process seems laughable.

The state’s response to the uprising has been death sentences for those identifiable as holding “leadership” roles in the riot (or, more realistically, in ending the riot), building a new Supermax Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, and increasing the use of solitary confinement, or administrative segregation, “Ad Seg.” Following their logic, Ad Seg reduces the rates of prisoner on guard violence by isolating prisoners. Ad Seg also causes severe mental and emotional distress for inmates, sensory deprivation, and a convenient veil of secrecy for guard on inmate violence.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

1968: riots in old Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio
1972: Southern Ohio Correctional Facility opened in Lucasville, Ohio
1983: black mentally ill inmate Jimmy Haynes beat to death by guards
1983: black inmates Lincoln Carter and John Ingram, who witnessed Haynes’ death, found dead in their solitary cells the next day
1988 (Dec): prisoner Tim Meachum killed
1989 (Jan): prisoner Billy Murphy killed, prisoner Dino Wallace stabbed
1989: 42 percent of prisoners polled by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee respond with concerns for their personal safety
1990: Warden Arthur Tate appointed to SOCF
1991 (May): Tate sends a memo to all prisoners and visitors, stating he has opened a PO BOX to facilitate prisoners to snitch by mail, the address reads “Operation Shakedown”
1993 (Mar): Tate sends a memo entitled “Request to Construct a Maximum Security Unit at SOCF” to the South Region Director of prisons, where Tate states his desire to increase security at SOCF, essentially turning it into a Supermax with all prisoners on 23 hour lockdown
1993 (Apr): Tate issues a memo stating mandatory TB tests for all prisoners
1993 (Apr 11): Lucasville Uprising begins as prisoners return from recreation, six inmates killed, 8 guards taken hostage
1993 (Apr 13): Tate cuts water and electricity to occupied L block
1993 (Apr 15): Guard Vallandingham killed
1993 (Apr 21): 21 point agreement reached, 407 prisoners surrender, 5 remaining hostages released
1997: Lucasville 5 fast demanding medical treatment for Skatzes, and upgrading their security from Level C to Level B
1997 (Sep): a disturbance breaks out in DR-4, where the Lucasville 5 are housed. many death row inmates, including Skatzes and Robb, were beaten severely when guards in riot gear regained control of the block.
1998: Ohio State Penitentiary Supermax Prison in Youngstown opened, which now houses 4 of the Lucasville 5.
2003: ODRC adopted a policy of blocking media access specifically to Hasan and other riot-related prisoners, effectively cutting off any media reports of conditions inside
2011 (Jan 3-15): three of the Lucasville 5 go on hunger strike for improved conditions, and win all of their demands

TERMS

“OPERATION SHAKEDOWN:” Following the murder of a well respected prison teacher by a prisoner, all of SOCF was placed on lockdown, with each prisoner locked in his cell. Guards entered and ransacked prisoners cells at will, clad in riot gear.
LOCKDOWN: prisoners are locked in their cells, sometimes the lights are cut, and no one is allowed to leave for any reason.
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT or ADMINISTRATIVE SEGREGATION: prisoners are kept in isolation in small cells, some as small as 5 feet by 9 feet. Prisoners are locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, and some are completely denied interaction with other inmates.
SUPERMAX: a Supermax (“maximum security”) prison is perpetually under hightened control, and features solitary confinement cells. Ohio State Penitentiary, which holds 502 inmates in Youngstown, Ohio, is a Supermax prison.

NEO-SLAVERY IN AMERICA

The conditions that precipitated the uprising at Lucasville in 1993 were by no means unique to the experience of prisoners at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. On the contrary, recent accounts by prisoners, such as those made in 2005 by Georgia State Prison inmate James E. Scott in “Neo-Slavery in the Dirty South: A Look at the Racist Georgia Department of Corrections,” show a continuation of deplorable conditions. Scott describes the work conditions overseen by the Georgia Department of Corrections:

“Prisoner-slave laborers are forced to work in sweat shops for longer hours than state paid prison employees. …Georgia’s prisoner-slaves are burdened with the responsibility to keep state prisons fully operative with as little outside influence as possible. …Prisoner-slave laborers are responsible for manufacturing every article of the prison issued clothing worn by prisoners. At Hancock State Prison dozens of prisoner-slaves can be found slaving away at sewing machines for nine hours a day, five days a week and free of charge.”

Prisoners in Georgia make prison boots, mattresses, pillows, linen, and soap. Furthermore, they are responsible for the maintenance of prisons’ interiors and their exterior landscaping. Prisoners also grow the food used in prison on large-scale plantations.

Scott describes the racial discrepancies inside of Reidsville Prison. The general population is majority white, while people of color fill up the prisons’ 9 foot by 5 foot solitary lockdown cells. He describes the lockdown facilities:

“L and M buildings, of the SMU are the most notorious prison structures in the history of the state’s penal system. Many, many murders, suicides and brutal assaults have occurred in these two buildings over the decades. I have witnessed a couple of cowardly prison guards on restrained prisoner assaults, and have heard the stories of many more.

“…The living conditions in these tiny cells are of the most deplorable type. The paint has peeled from the walls, decades of dirt and filth has accumulated in every corner and crack, and insects and rodents are everywhere. With only one clogged up intake vent, ventilation inside the cells is almost non-existent. The heat of summer is horrendous and the winters are always frigid. The windows inside each dormitory are completely painted, preventing sunlight from entering. This causes extreme sensory deprivation, which helps to eventually push a great many men to the brink of insanity.”

James Scott’s account makes for a chilling prelude to a statewide prison strike that upset the balance of power in Georgia’s prisons in December of 2010. Thousands of prisoners non-violently protested their labor and living conditions and refused to work, and much like Lucasville, stood united across racial and gang divisions against their common enemy, the DOC. As the prison depends on their labor to run, the Georgia Department of Corrections was faced with the decision to hire outside labor. Georgia’s prisons were put on lockdown following the strike, and strikers faced brutal retaliation, including shakedowns and beatings, forced drug tests, and solitary confinement. Little or no major media coverage has surfaced on this strike, despite its historic scope. Media reports that have surfaced have simply repeated the Georgia DOC’s press releases or focused on the use of contraband cellphones and the potential for violence.

Prisoners accross the country describe their incarceration as slavery and a denial of their basic human rights. These prisoners have extremely limited options for asserting their rights, demands or geting their voices heard. The Georgia DOC’s response, as with Ohio’s DRC in the case of Lucasville, has clearly focused on punishing inmates and further hampering their ability to organize or speak, rather than taking their demands seriously.

WHAT YOU CAN DO!

Organize public demonstrations and events!
Get the word out about prison conditions!
Humanize prisoners by writing them and sharing their stories and thoughts!
Use your immediate sphere of influence to send less people to prisons and rely less on law enforcement!
Start community accountability groups, neighborhood associations, and restorative justice work!

One of the most influential things you can do to help support the Lucasville 5 is to write letters. You can write personal letters of support to the 5, whose addresses are on the back of this booklet.

We also encourage you to write to the following people, as they have a considerable amount of influence in the lives of the Lucasville 5.

Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, Oh 43215-6117
Phone: 614-466-3555

Gary Mohr, Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
770 West Broad Street
Columbus, Ohio 43222
Phone: 614-752-1164
gary.mohr@odrc

State Representative Ted Celeste: proponent of ending death penalty in Ohio
77 S. High St
10th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215-6111
Phone: 614-644-6005
district24@ohr.state.oh.us

TALKING POINTS:
(1) There is no DNA evidence or physical evidence that implicates any of the Lucasville 5 with any of the ten murders that happened during the 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.
(2) All parties whose testimony benefited the prosecutors resulted in substantial benefits in return for their cooperation, including: no indictment, reduced charges, concurrent sentences, early parole.
(3) As there is no evidence, and testimonies are likely false, amnesty should be granted to those all involved in the Lucasville rebellion, as it was granted in New York following the Attica uprising.
(4) End the death penalty in Ohio.
(5) End the cruel and unusual punishment of Administrative Segregation.
(6) Close all prisons! Free all prisoners!

OTHER RESOURCES

Educate yourself on these issues! This is but a very brief starting point.

Articles, Books & Web Resources
http://racetraitor.org/lucasville1.html
http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=3590
http://georgeskatzes.proboards.com
http://www.justicedenied.org/issue/issue_23/siddique_abdullah_hasan.html
http://www.acluohio.org/docket/HasanBriefAmicusCuriae.pdf
“Freedom Sought for Lucasville Five” article by Sharon Danann in Workers World
“Neo-Slavery in the Dirty South: A Look at the Racist Georgia Department of Corrections” by James E. Scott
“Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising” by Staughton Lynd
“Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Davis
“Resistance Behind Bars” by Victoria Law

A List of Ohio Based Solidarity Groups can be found here:
http://www.prisonersolidarity.org/resources.htm

CONTACT INFO

For more information on the Lucasville 5 or how to get involved with prisoner support, please contact us!
REDBIRD PRISON ABOLITION
http://www.redbirdprisonabolition.org

To write to members of the Lucasville 5 and send them your support, contact them individually:

Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders) #R130-559
Namir Abdul Mateen (James Were) #A173-245
Bomani Shakur (Keith Lamar) #A317-117
Jason Robb #A308-919
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road
Youngstown, OH 44505-4635

George W Skatzes #A173-501
Mansfield Correctional Institution
PO Box 788
Mansfield, Ohio 44901

Sugar Plum Faeries and Child Slavery

•November 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Christmas is everywhere, Black Friday is upon us, and it seems that everywhere you look there is someone or something trying to sell itself to you, despite the fact that the US and global economies are far less than healthy, and most consumers lack the cash flow to go out and binge-spend this holiday season. And along with the holiday season comes sweets: cookies, pies, and sweet, delicious, melty, mouth-watering chocolate.

I, a white woman, college graduate, living the first world, in America where the chocolate industry pulls in about $13 billion annually, I love chocolate. I find it hard to get through the month without eating at least a little nugget of the dark stuff. But I’m starting to rethink that craving that I have, especially after hearing some grueling stories of how our chocolate (and many other sweets, for that matter) is made.

This isn’t new news, but it’s new to me, as I haven’t ever really looked into the reality of the chocolate industry, specifically on the front end. Joe and I were talking recently and he told me about a movie he saw that revealed some of the less-than-appetizing realities of child labor and human trafficking that the chocolate industry necessitates. That said, 70% of the profits from that $13 billion industry go into the hands of merchants and corporations, and only 5% ends up being paid to the farmers, most of which work small, family owned farms in places like West Africa and Central/South America. Given the slow-down of the global economy, and the results of trade agreements made in the last 15 years under the auspice of free-marketeering neo-liberal economics, small farmers in West Africa have been hit particularly hard by the fluctuations in market prices. The deregulation of the West African agriculture and the abolition of commodity boards in the region are concrete results of the rise of the economic regime of neo-liberalism, and have directly impacted the shape of agricultural labor in the region.

When market prices fall on small, family-owned cocoa farms where the annual revenue is between $30-100 per family member, you can imagine why child labor would become a reasonable solution. Many of the children working on these cocoa farms in Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon are children of the farmers themselves. Many of the children who end up becoming enslaved are sent off by their impoverished families in Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo, with the hope that they will send back restitutions to help pay for necessities like food, health care, and education for their families. These families’ hopes are dashed when their children become another symptom of global capital, disgustingly underpaid child laborers.

About 2/3rds of the chocolate industry is controlled by Hershey and M&M/Mars, which has yet to adopt or enforce any strict regulations to better the economic and labor realities of the farmers from which they source their cocoa. In 2001, the US House of Representatives passed legislation (the Harkin-Engel Protocol) that would have become law to require a “slave-free” label on chocolate not produced under slavery conditions.

Somehow, US chocolate industry giants convinced Congress to change that standard and make the label “voluntary,” so consumers remain ignorant to whether or not their chocolate is made by child slaves. The closest indication we have to the ethics of our chocolate is the “fair-trade” certified label we find on our more exorbitantly priced chocolate products. (You can’t be certified “fair-trade” if you use slave-labor, so some of the reason why it is more expensive is because the farmers are actually paid to harvest it. That said, it is likely farmers see very little of the $3 you might shell out for a Black Panther Endangered Species Chocolate Bar.) We also have a pledge by Hershey and M&M/Mars that they would voluntarily certify slave-free chocolate by 2005. Of course, they missed their deadline, didn’t get it done until 2008, and even then only half of their chocolate produced from Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana has been said, by these corporations, to be “slave-free.” That leaves more than 30% of chocolate on the US market a mystery, and likely produced by West African child slave labor. This also leaves the US chocolate market, and West African agriculture, completely un-regulated, and the corporations in control of disclosing the reality of their labor practices. And we all know how committed to transparency giant US corporations are.

Furthermore, in a conversation I had recently with a friend of mine who farms the sugar beet harvest in Minnesota, I became aware to the disgusting source of the majority of all of the beet sugar we consume in America. The sugar beets are genetically modified, the patent to which is owned by none other than Monsanto. They are grown in fields that have been so over-farmed they are deserts, the only way life can thrive there is with the help of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Farmers use diesel machines to mechanically harvest the beets, nearly asphyxiating themselves on the fumes. (Having been nearly asphyxiated by diesel fumes once while hitch-hiking in Arizona, I can attest to how horrifying and sickening it is.) Any health issues farmers have before going up to the harvest are exacerbated by the high levels of diesel fumes and toxic chemicals (Round-up, specifically) farmers are exposed to, notably in the dust that blows like apocalyptic sand-storms across the fields as they are harvested.

About half of the granulated sugar in America comes from sugar beets. In 2009, the majority of the US’s sugar beet farms switched to Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready genetically modified sugar beets. Huge plantation-like sugar beet farms in Minnesota, North Dakota and Idaho now use GMO beets. Monsanto’s beets have been kept out of fields for most of the past decade after candy giants Hershey’s and M&M/Mars said they wouldn’t use the GMO beets, but this statement remains yet another by the candy companies that is unregulated and off the books. And now, with GMO beet sugar flooding the US market, it is a wonder how these companies couldn’t use GMO sugar, given that the most available alternative to beet sugar is corn syrup, and most US corn syrup comes from Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready GMO Corn. More convincingly, American Crystal, the company that supplies beet sugar to Hershey’s, M&M/Mars and Kraft, announced in 2008 that it would begin sourcing its sugar from GMO beets. It is important to note that much like chocolate and slave labor, US food companies are under no regulatory obligation to disclose whether or not their products use GMO foods.

In a world controlled by money hungry corporations, with no regard for the quality of living of anyone, let alone the poor third world farmers that work for them, slaves or not, its no wonder that our delectable chocolate bars are made with genetically modified sugar and cocoa picked by illegally trafficked child slaves. I’m also not totally convinced that buying the “better” or “more ethical” alternative, ie: fair trade, will really solve this problem. Hershey’s and M&M/Mars are huge, they are powerful, they rake in billions of dollars annually in profits. These corporations wield massive amounts of political power, as evidenced by the outcome of the Harkin-Engel Protocol. I don’t personally believe that the free-market is democratic in nature, and I don’t believe that we “vote” with our dollars; I don’t believe that as consumers we shape the nature of the products we buy. These are the lies of green-washing corporations that have realized there is a market in convincing people they are doing-good by buying products, most of which aren’t even necessary in our everyday lives. These are the lies of a society that is controlled by capital, where the free-flow of capital and the artificial borders of nation states force children into slave labor.

While boycotting companies like Hershey’s and M&M/Mars may create public awareness and media hype around the issue of child slavery in West Africa, it probably won’t change their outlook on regulation, and it won’t likely change the percentage of profit that these corporations take from chocolate sales. It isn’t very likely that they will start paying farmers a paltry 10 or 15% of their sales, rather than 5%. This global discrepancy in where profits are allocated is a major part of the problem that causes child slavery. If the industry itself makes in excess of $10 billion annually, you would think that the hundreds of thousands of (child) field workers could be paid a fair wage.

We need to seriously challenge the power structures that govern our lives, from corpora-fascist to neo-liberal free market power, to even the non-profit charity industry that gives hand outs to impoverished people without challenging the nature of their oppression or working for real political empowerment. We need to realize where we are effective, and work to our strengths, rather than banging our heads against insurmountable odds, like these industrial complexes that we can barely conceptualize.

I had a dream the other night where Michael Jackson was singing a song something like “Africa, you didn’t tell us about the child slaves.” Like he had rescinded his whole “heal the world” thing. Food for thought.

http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/cocoa/facts.html
http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/06/27/9926
http://motherearthspeak.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-sugar-now-coming-from-genetically.html
http://aromatherapy4u.wordpress.com/2008/09/14/soy-corn-wheat-cotton-sugar-beets-candy-breakfast-cereal-what-you-need-to-know/

Supplanting Oppressive Infrastructures (For AREA Chicago)

•July 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The organizing work I have been doing this year has been focused on transforming and supplanting dominant infrastructures with different infrastructures that model sustainable and just relationships. I arrived at this work of looking at infrastructures from developing a systemic critique of the nuclear weapons and power industry. In trying to understand this industry, infrastructures are conceived of as physical or ideological conduits for the transport of electricity, capital, death/life, and power.

There are many infrastructures that are woven into the nuclear industry. There are physical infrastructures, such as those that produce nuclear fuel for weapons and power, or the systems of diesel vehicle transportation that move the fuel from mine to power plants or weapons facilities. These infrastructures are driven by profit, and intrinsically linked to the economic infrastructures that assign worth to certain things, like uranium ore, yellowcake, and global hegemony, but not to others, such as quality of life and health, clean water, old growth forests, and so forth.

These economic infrastructures include the complicated bureaucratic networks of patronage from government to private corporation for the construction and operation of weapons and power facilities, all loans and risks of which are underwritten at taxpayer expense. Capitalism is another such infrastructure implicit in this relationship, where wealth is transported as numbers in computers all across the globe. By and large, the economic infrastructure in this country, our industrial jobs and the largest investments of capital, whether private or government, is that of a military economy. This fact illuminates another infrastructure, that of the social infrastructure that exists in order to perpetuate military dominance and empire.

This social infrastructure of labor exploitation, colonialism and genocide provides the foundation for other infrastructures that maintain the nuclear weapons and power industry, and continue to enforce America’s imperial designs militarily, economically and politically. Social infrastructures that reify empire include the ideologies that support white supremacist hetero-patriarchy, these infrastructures that value eugenic sameness and order our access and control of wealth, health, education, culture, power. Without the general population’s maintenance of and compliance with these social infrastructures, the other infrastructures of capitalism, nuclear power plants, or US weapons facilities would cease to exist.

Infrastructures necessitate maintenance. Infrastructures decay. Infrastructures are appropriated, re-appropriated. Infrastructures are constructed, and can be deconstructed, abandoned, reinvented.

The nuclear weapons and power infrastructures are closely reliant upon and interdependent with infrastructures of fossil fuel and imperial militarism. Conceiving of these juggernauts as physical networks or pipelines with points of pressure and vulnerability allows us more freedom in defining our relationship to them, as well as in defining the shape and form of our resistance to them. If these infrastructures exist somewhere, then they may not exist somewhere else. If they are permeable and in flux, they are susceptible to entropy, then we have an entry point.

One system of infrastructures that is becoming increasingly popular in America as an alternative to dominant infrastructures of militarism, capitalism and empire is that of permaculture. Permaculture includes a number of technologies that humans have been using for thousands of years to sustain ourselves, shelter ourselves, and incorporate our wastes back into natural systems. To an industrial society, permaculture forces us to radically change our relationship to the earth. We are challenged to work to sustain her, and to work reciprocally with her to sustain ourselves.

A permaculture farm has a number of infrastructures. Water infrastructures on such a farm, for example, will seek to get as much human use as possible from water before returning it into the natural system. Such an infrastructure may start with rain water catchment, such as a roof that slopes into gutters that drain into rain barrels. This water may then be used for cleaning or drinking, and then used again through a grey-water system. Grey-water may be filtered through rocks, gravel, sand, dirt, or poured into a bucket of mulch, and then used to water a garden.

Food from the garden is eaten, composted, and returned to the soil. Such a food infrastructure may include chickens or pigs, humanure toilets, worms, bees, fungi. This infrastructure may stretch outside of a single farm and network locally or regionally with other farms, supplementing what each is able to produce and diversifying the resources and landscapes to which single farm has access. These infrastructures are easy to comprehend on physical levels, when considering what to do with food, water, and waste.

But what of the social implications of permaculture infrastructures? And where do energy infrastructures fit into this system? Is there an ideological infrastructure built into permaculture that allows this system to move beyond environmental sustainability or “greening” to a just and sustainable social relationship?

The current conception of permaculture in America is shaped from David Holmgren’s twelve “Permaculture Concepts.” When applied, these concepts work to guide one’s relationship to their environment on a principle of permaculture, or permanent sustainable agriculture. These concepts include the observation of patterns and systems of one’s specific location or context, catching and storing energy and resources, reuse of resources, producing no waste, self regulation and the acceptance of feedback or criticism, integration and use of the marginal and edges, valuing diversity, and creative use and response to change. Using nature, ecosystems and biorhythms as analogy, we can observe how these concepts operate in our surroundings and learn to apply them to our social interactions.

As our fragile biosphere reaches its limits for sustaining first world consumption patterns, we will begin to see feedback from our environment that will shape and limit our own behaviors. As we burn more fossil fuels, continue urban development through new construction projects (“green” or otherwise), factory farm and mono-crop our food, and increasingly mine uranium/coal/oil/natural gas in increasingly destructive ways, we will see a rise in global temperatures, changing weather patterns, rise in sea levels, and species extinction. Food scarcity and disease will become major problems, and it is likely that the current infrastructures of social relations and capital will continue to provide access to resources, death/life and power to those who have control and power over those infrastructures.

In this scenario, it is absolutely necessary to recognize how dominant infrastructures privilege a certain few and deny access to others when beginning to conceive of alternative or supplementary infrastructures. We cannot simply change our infrastructures for food acquisition and energy without questioning and transforming the social and economic infrastructures that shape our local, regional, and global exchanges.

Permaculture as it is often applied and practiced allows certain segments of society with access to certain resources an amount of autonomy from dominant infrastructures. There is a movement among sustainably minded peoples to move away from reliance on capitalist markets for their food, and in many ways how and what America eats is a barometer for their politics. The green-washed corporatization of the sustainability movement has lead to the increased success of huge corporations such as Whole Foods, and in a similar vein farmers’ markets have proven very popular among wealthy urban classes who can afford to pay to buy direct from local farmers. Food justice remains a huge issue among poor communities, however, who do not have the luxury of securing access to healthy food with wealth. Permaculture in this sense can offer an immense amount of autonomy for poor populations that are able to grow their own food, or create their own local food production markets. This struggle is closely entwined with environmental justice, however, due to the high incidence of toxic industrial and energy infrastructures being located in, near, or upstream of poor communities and communities of color. In this sense, food justice is more than having access to healthy food, it is also having access to knowledge of permaculture technologies, clean water and soil, time, and the empowerment to initiate and organize such a project.

The issue of sustainably powering one’s household is even more complex. The technologies for installing autonomous and sustainable energy generation units are typically much more complex and resource intensive than growing one’s own food. Depending on the natural resources available to one’s household, such as wind, direct sunlight, or flowing water, and the energy needs of the household, the installation and maintenance of solar panels or micro-hydro power units could be costly. Technologies like solar panels require intense resource extraction, are generally not made locally, and are hard to repair and maintain with local resources and know-how. Again, the issue of who has access to these technologies and the resources to power them remains a social justice issue, one marked by gender, race, class, and status.

While building alternative infrastructures for food and energy allows us autonomy from dominant material infrastructures based on oppression, capitalism and militarism, these infrastructures, while unsustainable, continue to operate. In following the tenant of permaculture that instructs the use and valuing of diversity, and that which instructs the use and value of edges and the marginal, we must keep in mind that dominant infrastructures serve to most oppress those on the edges and the margins. If we are truly to value difference and the marginalized, we must recognize that these intertwining movements for environmental justice, just and renewable energy, gender, racial, and class justice, demilitarization, and nuclear abolition are in fact a global struggle for collective liberation.

When we look to the margins, we see groups working to sustain traditional food-ways and sustainable agricultural relationships to the earth. One such group, La Via Campesina (1), draws the links between globalization and the westernization of dietary and agricultural technologies and infrastructures that serve to oppress peasant and indigenous populations around the world. This group defines itself as “the international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers,” as well as “an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent of any political, economic, or other type of affiliation.” Their group works along the permaculture principle of using locally available resources to defend “family farm based production” that is “in harmony with local culture and traditions.” Through reclaiming indigenous agricultural infrastructures, La Via Campesina reclaims, defines and defends their space on the margins of centralized capitalist corporate agriculture that seeks to colonize indigenous life-ways and labor.

As a system, permaculture seeks to restore our relationship with the earth from one of exploitation to one of stewardship through building new physical infrastructures, likewise it necessitates the building of new social infrastructures in order to supplant the oppressive social infrastructures that foundationally support capitalism, empire and militarism. We need to begin building the social infrastructures that will serve as conduits for material support, solidarity, free exchange of information, non-violent communications, and respect. Having built these, we will be free to tear down those that only allow access to a privileged few and serve to reify the infrastructures and systems of oppression.

My knowledge and understanding of the environmental and social implications of permaculture have been gleaned over the past two months while I have been on a national tour speaking about nuclear abolition and building alternatives to militarism, colonialism, and capitalism. Our tour has visited a number of different community farms and permaculture projects, both urban and rural, and we have been observing and learning from those who practice the building and transformation of sustainable environmental and social infrastructures. This tour is part of a larger campaign, called Disarmament Summer, based around northern New Mexico and working to transform the nuclear infrastructure of Los Alamos National Nuclear Weapons Laboratory.

Through this campaign, we have members of our youth network, Think Outside the Bomb, working with affected communities in the Espanola Valley that surrounds Los Alamos. There, we are building cross-cultural social infrastructures that are laying the groundwork of collaboration. We have identified the goals of our campaign by asking folks in affected communities what their visions of transformation of the weapons labs would look like. Due to the heavy influence that Los Alamos has on communities in the Espanola Valley, as it is the main provider of jobs, financial security, and community investment, folks there have demanded economic transformation of the nuclear weapons infrastructure of Los Alamos. They want to keep their jobs, but they want jobs to be safe, to not harm their bodies or their environment. Think Outside the Bomb and our partner communities are calling for a transformation of the labs’ industrial infrastructure to move it from weapons technologies to the development of technologies that focus on clean up and containment of nuclear waste, as well as renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and hydro-electric.

This work will culminate with a ten day permaculture and non-violent direct action training encampment in Chimayo, New Mexico. There we will bring members of affected communities together with youth from across America to build physical permaculture infrastructures that will remain in the community, as well as to teach permaculture skills to folks so they can bring those technologies home to their communities. The camp will grow solidarity between guests on the land and their hosts by allowing visiting youth to develop a better understanding of what it means to be a community affected by nuclear infrastructures. The horizontal, cross-cultural social infrastructures that are being constructed to help sustain this organizing into the future will provide the framework for this solidarity, understanding and communication. They also serve to supplant and erode the oppressive social infrastructures that perpetuate the colonization and genocide of affected communities.

Think Outside the Bomb’s permaculture encampment and our Disarmament Summer campaign construct and highlight concrete infrastructures that we have at our disposal right now to transform and supplant nuclear weapons and power, fossil fuel energy, colonial and white supremacist social relationships, and the project of American empire. It is important for us to build up these alternative infrastructures while still agitating for social and political change so that we may remain focused and critical of our vision of a more just and sustainable world.

LINKS TO PERMACULTURE & SOCIAL JUSTICE PROJECTS

  1. Proposals of Via Campesina for sustainable, farmer based agricultural production. Published at the occasion of the WSSD summit in Johannesburg, August, 2002. Found at the site http://viacampesina.org
  2. http://www.decolonialfoodforthought.com/2010/04/ecological-food-justice-and-indigenous.html
  3. http://indigenous-permaculture.com/index.html
  4. http://www.tewawomenunited.org/
  5. http://www.thinkoutsidethebomb.org

Rebecca Riley is a puppeteer, musician and independent researcher. She is currently organizing with the Think Outside the Bomb network as the National Tour Coordinator. She is based out of Chicago, although she is living in a Chevy Astro Van somewhere along the west coast until the tour ends in August.

I’ll trade 20 kg of Thorium for $5 million Gelding…

•June 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I was on the phone with a guy at direct loans today to try to put my $17 grand in student loans back into economic hardship deferment when he asked about my employment. I told him I was on a three month tour talking about nuclear abolition (ie: unemployed). He asked if I meant weapons, power or both, and I said both. He said I should look into Thorium as an alternative to uranium for power generation.

Later, I was having a conversation with this dude in a friend’s living room in Asheville, who also mentioned Thorium as some strange solution to nuclear problems. I then did a little internet research, and found that Thorium is a metal used in World of Warcraft, and is generally watched over by the Thorium Brotherhood. After more investigation, I found some totally shady internet pages from “thorium mining industries” that have apparently been buying up all of the US’s Thorium reserves for the last few years just waiting for the price to skyrocket.

Then I thought about trying to find some more reputable websites. So I searched on the Los Alamos Study Group’s website, and found some information on a Thorium Storage Building in Technical Area 3:

http://www.lasg.org/maps/pages/contents/ta3det.htm “The Thorium Storage Building (Building 159, Figure 4-3, Sheet 2), part of the Sigma Complex (Section 4.3.2.1.1.2.2), is a Hazard Category 3 nuclear facility because it is used for storing thorium in both ingot and oxide forms. To ensure material accountability and to limit radiation doses to personnel, Building 159 is surrounded by fencing and has its own controlled access.”

This is part of the Sigma Complex, which apparently deals with the fabrication of DU weapons. From above site: ” Current activities in the Sigma Building focus on test hardware, prototype fabrication, and materials research for the DOE’s Nuclear Weapons Program, but they also include activities related to energy, environment, industrial competitiveness, and strategic research.”

Unknown amounts of Thorium waste is stored in Technical Area 39 at Los Alamos National Labs (http://www.lasg.org/waste/mdab21.htm) along with other weird toxic substances.

from: http://www.lanl.gov/news/index.php/fuseaction/home.story/story_id/1908 “Thorium is an important element for study because it is a constituent of KREEP, the acronym for potassium (symbol “K”), rare Earth elements and phosphorous. KREEP is the last material to solidify from a geologic melt.

“The moon once was hot and molten and as it cooled minerals crystallized and sank to form the core, if they were heavy, or floated upward to form the crust, if they were light. The elements in KREEP do not readily incorporate into minerals and so the mixture remains molten the longest. These elements, then, are signatures of the original material under the moon’s crust, and their presence on the surface indicates some process — volcanic events or impacts strong enough to punch through the crust — must have dredged them up from the interior.

“Thorium emits gamma rays — a high-energy form of light — of a distinct energy.” Does this mean that we are going to try to mine Thorium on the moon? You know LANL scientists are that crazy.

Some other LANL historic archive from Manhattan Project Era mentions Thorium as a material that can create uranium isotope 23 (233 U) (http://www.lanl.gov/history/people/pdf/oppenheimer1.pdf) but I couldn’t really figure out what the fuck they were talking about.

Resorting to wikipedia, I am convinced that Thorium does exist, as wikipedia is my general barometer of reality. Quoth the wiki: “Advocates of the use of thorium as the fuel source for nuclear reactors state that they can be built to operate significantly cleaner than uranium-based power plants as the waste products are much easier to handle.” The “advocates of the use of thorium” refers to the World Nuclear Association, whose by-line is ‘Promoting the peaceful worldwide use of nuclear power as a sustainable energy resource,’ and who has a fucking Westinghouse advertisement on their website. Remind me which part of nuclear power is sustainable? http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf62.html

Summary: some people are starting to hear about some miraculous mineral whose lucrative mining prospects are untapped, a mineral that the Department of Energy has been studying since the Manhattan Project and that is currently stored in waste form in the canyons of the Los Alamos National Lab (environmental justice activists can talk further about the benevolent research that often goes on at THAT lab), and a mineral described by nuclear industry sycophants as “tanatalising” (yes, the World Nuclear Association article on Thorium has a typo in its opening sentence).

Health effects anyone?

from: http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/th.htm

“Breathing in thorium in the workplace may increase the chances of development of lung diseases and lung and pancreas cancer many years after people have been exposed. Thorium has the ability to change genetic materials. People that are injected with thorium for special X-rays may develop liver disease.

“Thorium is radioactive and can be stored in bones. Because of these facts it has the ability to cause bone cancer many years after the exposure has taken place.

“Breathing in massive amounts of thorium may be lethal. People will often die of metal poisoning when massive exposure take place.”

And this is what the Center for Disease Control has to say: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp147-c2.pdf

“Both large and small amounts of radiation are damaging to health. Current scientific consensus is radiation can also increase the probability of cancer, and a conservative assumption is no threshold level exists below which there is no additional risk of cancer. There is considerable debate about how great the cancer risks are when people are chronically exposed to very low levels of radiation. Since everyone is environmentally exposed to a small amount of radiation, the minimum amount of additional radiation that may constitute a health hazard is not well known. ”

“The following sections summarize the health effects associated with thorium. Evidence exists that most, if not all, effects of thorium may be due to its radiological, and not chemical, effects. The mechanism of toxicity for all effects are not well understood.”

“Respiratory Effects. Although the SMR for respiratory diseases was 1.31 among workers at a thorium refinery (Polednak et al. 1983), the increase may have been attributable in part to smoking.” I seem to remember hearing a similar story about Dine uranium miners who were afflicted with lung cancer from breathing in radon gas. I mean cigarettes.

“Progressive cirrhosis of the lungs was found in a subchronic inhalation study in rats (Likhachev et al. 1973a).” That study also had to be thrown out because the rats were smoking on the job. “The severity of the lung cirrhosis was directly related to the radiation dose and the amount of thorium dioxide.” ….oh.

“Because the workers were exposed to other toxic compounds (silica, yttrium, acid and alkali fumes) as well as other sources of radioactivity, toxic effects cannot necessarily be attributed to thorium. Therefore,study do not appear in Table 2-l or Figure 2-l.” It must suck to work at that plant, they dont even know whats making you sick!

“No studies were located regarding the musculoskeletal effects in humans after inhalation exposure to thorium…No studies were located regarding renal effects in humans after inhalation exposure to thorium….No studies were located regarding immunological effects in humans after inhalation exposure to thorium….No studies were located regarding the following health effects in humans or animals after inhalation exposure to thorium. 2.2.1.4 Neurological Effects 2.2.1.5 Developmental Effects 2.2.1.6 Reproductive Effects ”

I detect a gender bias in their research.

“A statistically significant excess of deaths from pancreatic cancer was seen in a cohort of 3039 former thorium workers employed for 1 year or more (6 observed vs. 1.3 expected) but not in workers employed for a shorter time.”

So we know what we know: Thorium will give you cancer, and its radioactive.

We know what we dont know: We dont know about how it affects future generations or women’s bodies.

We dont know what we dont know: How to deal with all the fucking nuclear waste in the world.

And we dont know what we know: mining other radioactive minerals that give workers cancer is not a sustainable, safe, or ethical solution for energy generation.

I dont trust industry solutions to nuclear power, just like I dont trust industry solutions to giant fucking oil spills.

Barack Obama’s Disarming Nuclear Rhetoric

•April 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

by Rebecca Riley

“So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”[1] US President Barack Obama, April 5th, 2009.

Barack Obama was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 in part for stating that America was committed to seeking a world without nuclear weapons. In his acceptance speech, he noted that one can, indeed, “bend history in the direction of justice.”[2] This prestigious award placed President Barack Obama among some of the most influential and world renowned freedom fighters; Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), Nelson Mandela (1993), Mother Teresa (1979). The peace prize has also been awarded to some of the most insidious war criminals and architects of war, colonial oppression, and human suffering; Henry Kissinger (1973),[3] and Menachem Begin (1978).[4] The question here that begs to be asked is not whether Obama resides within the former or later categories, but rather what political reality this award obscures.

Obama himself knew that this award was contentious. He stated in his acceptance speech that he is Commander-In-Chief of two immensely destructive wars in the Middle East,[5] a reality that does not marry well with a Peace Prize. He also stated that he wishes to make disarmament of the US’s nuclear arsenal his foreign policy centerpiece.[6] These statements, however, stand in contradiction to the political realities that Barack Obama has and is creating throughout his political career.

Take for example the recent announcement of the budget for the Department of Energy (DOE)’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for the fiscal year of 2011. Early in 2010, Obama submitted to Congress his administration’s first comprehensive budget. This budget included a marked increase of government funding for the NNSA. The NNSA will get a total of 13% more money in 2011 than it got in 2010, including a 14% increase of funding for Nuclear Weapons Activities. This includes the increased funding of “research and development in nuclear weapons science and technology and to build new infrastructure for the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium parts for nuclear weapons.”[7] This brings the total amount of money that the United States will spend on new nuclear weapons in 2011 to over $7 billion dollars. This is the most money ever requested by a presidential administration to be spent on nuclear weapons, including those during the arms race of the Cold War.[8]

These facts stand in direct contradiction to the comments Obama has made regarding his position on the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal. This contradiction is complicated by several other important political realities: the increase in permit and license requests for new uranium mines and nuclear power plants; the expansion of existing nuclear weapons facilities; and Barack Obama’s history of weakening nuclear regulatory legislation during his time as senator in the state of Illinois.

Despite its costly nature, in terms of financial,[9] health and environmental costs,[10] the nuclear power industry is experiencing what might be deemed a “redux” today. Following the melt-down at Three Mile Island in 1979, as well as public dissent and organizing around nuclear power plants, nuclear power generation lost a lot of popularity among the general public. For the last several decades, the United States has seen absolutely no activity in the way of the construction of new nuclear power plants. When uranium prices dropped drastically in 1992, uranium mining activity in the US also slowed. Interest in mining has been rising of late, however, alongside the price of uranium. In 2003, the price of a pound of yellowcake uranium was $7. In 2008, it was $138.[11] Currently there are 17 new nuclear power plants in the licensing process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).[12] There are 13 new uranium mines in the process of opening, along with 10 project expansions and one project restart.[13]

Nuclear weapons and energy are intrinsically linked. Both are direct consequences of the Manhattan Project of the 1940s, and neither would exist without the front-end of the uranium fuel cycle, from the mine through the enrichment process. The difference between weapons grade and energy grade uranium is only one more enrichment cycle. Thus, the influx of uranium production and enrichment fuels not only the nuclear power sector but also the United States’ nuclear weapons capabilities. It is most likely not a coincidence that at the time we see the United States uranium mining industry resurging we also see a notable proposed expansion of the United States’ weapons production capacity.
With the increase in the NNSA’s budget in 2011 comes “critical infrastructural improvements” at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Y-12 in Tennessee. Los Alamos National Laboratory is planning to build a new building deemed the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement nuclear facility, which operates as a plutonium pit factory. Y-12 will be graced with a new Uranium Processing Facility to enrich uranium for the US nuclear weapons stockpile. The weapon facility in Kansas City, Missouri, also expects an expansion in weapons production capabilities in the near future. These multi-billion dollar investments in new nuclear weapons infrastructures stand in direct opposition to all of the claims Obama has made for disarmament.[14]

A number of news articles have covered the links between Obama’s presidential campaign finances and the nuclear industry. Over $150,000 were given to President Barack Obama by employees of Exelon during his 2008 presidential campaign.[15] Exelon is the nation’s largest nuclear energy utility, and is based in the state with the largest number of nuclear power generating stations, Illinois. Illinois, coincidentally, is also Barack Obama’s home state. Obama’s history with Exelon philanthropy goes back before his presidential campaign. Since 2003, it has been reported that Obama has received over $227,000 total in campaign contributions from Exelon employees.[16]

Obama’s legislative history toes the line of his corporate sponsorship. In 2005, Obama helped to defeat an amendment to Bush’s energy bill[17] that would have eliminated loan guarantees for investment in new energy projects by corporations such as Exelon. The result was that the financial burden for these energy projects has been shifted to US taxpayers.[18]

2006 saw the introduction of nuclear legislation by then Illinois Senator Barack Obama. The Nuclear Release Notice Act of 2006, S. 2348, initially mandated that state and local officials be notified within 24 hours of unplanned radioactive discharge from a nuclear facility. This legislation came about because of an Exelon power plant in Braidwood, Illinois, a town in Obama’s congressional district, that was leaking tritium into the groundwater.[19] Public outcry prompted Obama to put the bill into motion; however, Obama made significant changes to the bill that took out much of the regulatory power. These changes were largely influenced by Exelon and the nuclear industry’s strong opposition to the bill, including dissenting voices from the Nuclear Energy Institute, a pro-nuclear think tank. In the end, Obama removed the language requiring disclosure of leaks by the nuclear industry, and the bill never got out of Congress.[20]

Just recently, the Illinois Senate voted successfully to lift a 23-year ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants in Illinois. The decision is now put to the House, and if it is passed it will allow companies like Exelon access to the billions of dollars already ear-marked by Obama’s Administration for expansion of the nuclear sector. The ban was originally initiated in 1987, the year after the melt-down at Chernobyl.[21]

The lull in nuclear industrial activity over the past thirty years has allowed frightening reminders of the toxicity of nuclear power and weapons to slowly recede from the public eye. A generation has passed since large-scale nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, meanwhile nuclear weapons issues are kept largely under wraps. There are communities, however, that can never forget the deadly legacy of the uranium fuel cycle, or of the horrors of even the “smallest” nuclear power leaks and spillages. Nuclear waste and contamination is forever. Now that the government is opening the legislative door and the taxpayers pocketbook for new nuclear endeavors at a time when energy issues such as mountaintop removal and foreign fossil fuel dependency are high-profile, nuclear is again entering the public discourse as an “alternative.” So far, that discourse has been largely framed by nuclear corporations set to profit enormously from the expansion of the industry, and politicians who have made their careers on pandering to corporate interests over that of their constituencies.

When Obama speaks of nuclear disarmament, we must remember how he turned his back on the people of Braidwood. We must remember where he is allocating taxpayer dollars. We must keep in mind the difference between political rhetoric and political reality. Finally, we must again add a human voice to the discourse on nuclear weapons and energy; one that speaks to the horrific human and environmental costs that don’t fit so neatly onto corporate ledgers.


[1] A transcript of Obama’s Prague Speech can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/05/obama-prague-speech-on-nu_n_183219.html

[2] Transcript of Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/10/obama-nobel-peace-prize-a_n_386837.html

[3]  1973, the same year he orchestrated the fascist regime of Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power in Chile, overthrowing Salvador Allende.

[4] In 1982, Begin oversaw the invasion of Lebanon by the Israeli Defense Force. Three months into the invasion, the IDF committed a heinous massacre in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian Refugee camps in Beirut under the watchful eye of then Defense Minister Arial Sharon. Sharon was forced to resign (although he later became Prime Minister of Israel 2001-2006).

[5] He then went on to justify the US’s war in Afghanistan as one of self-defense. I’m still fact checking news archives to see when the Afghani Army’s first aggressive act against the US was.

[6] Evidently wishing to push his escalation of the Afghanistan War out of the annals of history.

[7] Dr. Robert Civiak, Tri-Valley CAREs. “Enhancing Nuclear Weapons Research and Production to Support Disarmament?: An analysis of the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request for Nuclear Weapons Activities.” 22 Feb 2010. http://www.trivalleycares.org/new/reports/FY2011BUDGETRPT.pdf

[8] Ibid. Civiak’s article helps to illuminate a lot of the details of where money will be allocated in the NNSA’s budget; details I won’t be examining further in this article, but are worth knowing to understand the direction in which Obama is taking America’s nuclear industry.

[9] Many arguments have been made on the economic infeasibility of nuclear power, despite industry claims that it is affordable. This site provides one such argument: http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/kyotonuc.htm. Without massive government subsidies (ie: taxpayer dollars), nuclear power would be completely unfeasible as an energy source.

[10] Another imperative of this discussion, which I don’t have space to elaborate on in this piece, is the environmental and human costs of the nuclear fuel cycle. Much good literature has been written on this topic. Here is a very short introductory article I wrote on uranium mining and its affects on local communities: http://thinkoutsidethebomb.org/nuclear.html#titletop. See also: http://www.indypendent.org/2008/02/27/1504/

[11] It is speculated that the price of uranium has been raised in part by hedge funds: http://www.indypendent.org/2008/02/27/1504/.

[12] http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/new-licensing-files/expected-new-rx-applications.pdf

[13] http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/materials/uranium/ur-projects-list-public.pdf; see also http://www.wise-uranium.org/upusa.html or more information on specific sites and projects.

[14] Another look at the NNSA’s FY2011 budget by Darwin BondGraham: http://reachingcriticalwill.blogspot.com/2010/02/president-obamas-nuclear-surge.html.

[15] http://watchdog.net/empl/exelon

[16] http://www.counterpunch.org/gonzalez02292008.html

[17] This bill has served to simplify the process for applying to build new nuclear plants, as well as to provide government incentives to nuclear utility corporations. See: Matthew Cardinale. “Democratic President-elect Barack Obama faces a hungry nuclear industry.” IPS Latin America. 15 Jan 2009.

[18] http://www.counterpunch.org/stclair07042007.html

[19] Steven Dolley. “NRC approves resumption of tritium discharges at Braidwood station.” Inside NRC. 18 Sept 2006.

[20] Matthew Cardinale. “Democratic President-elect Barack Obama faces a hungry nuclear industry.” IPS Latin America. 15 Jan 2009.

[21] Dave McKinney and Steve Contorno. “Senate votes to lift ban on building new nuclear plants.” Chicago Sun Times. 15 Mar 2010.

Uranium Mining & Local Communities

•March 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“Uranium mines and mills have operated on or near our communities for over 50 years.  Located in the heart of the Grants Mineral Belt the experience of uranium mining and milling created devastating impacts to the environment, human health, which will last for generations to come.  The history of uranium mining has also created social and economic change that has impacted our tradition, culture and spirituality.” – A Statement by the Southwest Indigenous Uranium Forum (1)

The nuclear fuel cycle in the US, from mining, to milling, to enrichment, creates not only an immense amount of radioactive waste, but also poses a significant health threat to those working and living in and near nuclear industrial sites. Lack of awareness or refusal to tell employees of the health risks of uranium mining has led to increased and pervasive health problems for certain populations. Indigenous peoples of the Southwest who have been forced into economic hardship due to the disruption of their traditional life-ways and encroachment on their land base by centuries of Spanish, Mexican and American colonialism, were the primary labor force to work in the Uranium mines. When the mining industry first came to New Mexico in the first half of the 20th century, it promised jobs to populations who were hard hit by poverty, but did not inform any of the workers of the potential risks of uranium mining.

Before uranium mining boomed in the Southwest, lung cancer was very rare among Native Americans there. A paper from 1982 entitled “Lung Cancer among Navajo uranium miners” (2) looks at the concurrence of Diné (Navajo) males who sought medical attention for lung cancer between February 1965 and May 1979, and those who worked in uranium mines. Of 17 patients, 16 worked in uranium mines, and one did not. Over half of these men suffered from small cell undifferentiated lung cancer. Furthermore, this report finds that a statistically significant number of early miners developed this type of cancer after exposure to uranium ore. Uranium ore naturally decays into Radon-222, which has been identified as a cancer causing agent. (3) Other studies report increased likelihood of kidney disease, diabetes, lung and renal cancers, deformities, birth defects, chromosome aberrations, and leukemia for populations living near uranium mines and mills. (4)

In addition to the health effects described above by western scientists, uranium mining, as well as other mining and resource extraction, serves to harm the people native to the Southwest in deeper and more resonating ways. Uranium mining necessitates the development of the earth that goes against the fundamental belief systems of the First Nations of the Southwest, one which is, speaking in generalizations, predicated upon maintaining balance and harmony with the earth. This abrogation of belief systems is intensified when the mines are built over or into sacred sites. Development on sacred sites disrupts the Pueblo people’s ability to continue practicing the rites and ceremonies that are essential to preserving the balance of the universe, according to their beliefs. By dislocating a people from their land base, these peoples are also dislocated from their cultural and spiritual practices. This disruption serves to continue the long process of cultural genocide against the indigenous peoples of the Southwest; a colonial and genocidal history that also includes (but is not limited to): forced sterilization, medical testing, children forced into foster homes and boarding schools, relocation to urban areas under the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which was part of the Indian Termination Policy, among others. When stated and overt national legislation and policy actively pursues the extinguishment of a people’s family structure, language, culture, and spirituality, this is called genocide by the Geneva Conventions.(5)

Take for example the Chevron mine, which was the world’s deepest uranium mining shaft. This mine was built into Mount Taylor, which is a sacred site for the Navajo, Acoma, Laguna and Zuni peoples. Manuel Pino speaks more on this subject in his address at the World Uranium Hearing in Salzburg. (6) Another prime example would be Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, which was built upon an area, now restricted from public use, that encompasses thousands of shrines and sacred sites for the neighboring San Ildefonso and other Pueblo peoples. By destroying, polluting, and keeping people from sacred sites, the existence of Los Alamos National Laboratory is in itself an ongoing act of genocide, a crime against humanity.

“For nations who ground their identity on an intimate connection to the earth, and utilize plant metaphors to describe their origin and engagement with the universe, the effects of the plutonium economy are not only quantifiable health risks, but also the unique cosmological repercussions of a material and symbolic colonization, of discovering a radioactive plant, a vanished shrine, a polluted spring, or a toxic honeybee on ancestral lands.” — From Joseph Masco’s “The Nuclear Borderlands.” (7)

(1) From: http://www.siuf.net/about.html; accessed 13 Mar 2010.

 (2) Gottlieb, LS; LA Husen (1982-04-01). “Lung cancer among Navajo uranium miners”. Chest 81 (4): 449–452. doi:10.1378/chest.81.4.449. http://www.chestjournal.org/cgi/content/abstract/81/4/449. Retrieved 13 Mar 2010.

(3) Harley, Naomi; Ernest Foulkes, Lee H. Hilborne, Arlene Hudson, C. Ross Anthony (1999). “Chapter 2: Health Effects”. A Review of the Scientific Literature As It Pertains to Gulf War Illnesses. RAND Corporation. pp. Volume 7: Depleted Uranium. http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1018.7/mr1018.7.chap2.html. Retrieved 13 Mar 2010.

(4) Reports can be found at: http://www.wise-uranium.org/uhr.html; accessed 13 Mar 2010.

(5) The Geneva Conventions define genocide, in part, as: “inflicting on members of the group conditions of life intended to destroy themimposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and taking group members’ children away from them and giving them to members of another group.” Genocide is a crime against humanity. From: <a href=”http://www.hrweb.org/legal/undocs.html#CAG
“>http://www.hrweb.org/legal/undocs.html#CAG</a&gt;; accessed 15 Mar 2010.

(6) Pino, Manuel. Address at the World Uranium Hearing. Featured in “Poison Fire, Sacred Earth: TESTIMONIES, LECTURES, CONCLUSIONS.” THE WORLD URANIUM HEARING; SALZBURG (1992). http://www.ratical.com/radiation/WorldUraniumHearing/ManuelPino.html, accessed 13 Mar 2010.

(7) Masco, Joseph (2006). “The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post Cold-War New Mexico.” Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Battelle & the Nuclear Complex in Columbus, Ohio

•March 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This piece was written for a friend of mine who is putting on a work shop at a radical space in Columbus, Ohio. Her presentation comes at the same time as the peace walkers making their way through Ohio to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York City, May 1st-3rd 2010.

BRINGING NUCLEAR ABOLITION HOME

When we talk about Nuclear Abolition, we often think of very lofty principles. We think of the peace and anti-war movements, we think about global politics, the cold war, we think of mutually assured destruction and deterrence. Nuclear Abolition is about much more than this, however, and to keep Nuclear Abolition in such a lofty theoretical position actually serves to benefit those who hold power over us.

The human and environmental costs of nuclear weapons and nuclear power affects people every day all over the country, as well as the world. Wastes generated from uranium milling, mining, and processing pose direct catastrophic health concerns to the communities that host them. Uranium mining, milling and enrichment happen at different locations all over the country, generally in poor communities of color, or on occupied indigenous lands. This means that uranium must continually be shipped across the country in order to meet the current demand for nuclear energy.

While nuclear power generation itself does not produce CO2 emissions at the nuclear reactor, and thus is being touted as “clean” or “green,” it does leave behind a massive trail of nuclear waste. We can see this in the form of uranium tailings (left over at the mine), irradiated and contaminated water (used extensively in the mining, milling, enrichment, and power generation processes), and spent fuel rods (which generally stay put at the reactor site, the most visible on-site manifestation of nuclear waste). Furthermore, every other step of the uranium fuel cycle requires the use of fossil fuels, such as that used for transportation.

Given this information, Nuclear Abolition is much more about environmental justice for the communities it directly affects than it is about global politics and relations between nations, or the threat of nuclear war. While the threat of nuclear war is a real, the ongoing destruction of people’s bodies and lives within the United States and its occupied territories is an ongoing reality, a war that has been waged every day since the conception of the Manhattan Project and the opening of the first uranium mine in New Mexico in the 1950s. This also means that our ability to act is not restricted to begging our elected federal government officials for abstract notions of peace. We can act strategically in our own communities to demand an end to the oppression brought by nuclear weapons and energy.

THE NUCLEAR COMPLEX IN COLUMBUS, OHIO

Ohio is the site of a few different nuclear projects, situated along the Ohio River, Lake Erie and other bodies of water. The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant[1] is found near Lake Erie on Locust Point outside of Toledo, and the Perry Nuclear Power Plant[2] is about 35 miles outside of Cleveland on Lake Erie. Piketon, Ohio hosts a few different Uranium Enrichment facilities, including two sites licensed by U.S. Enrichment Corporation that enrich using Gaseous Diffusion and Gas Centrifuge technologies.[3] Other nuclear projects, including the Piqua Nuclear Generating Station[4], have opened and closed in the past 60 years, and leave behind nearly permanent contamination. The Dayton Daily News released an article called “Ohio’s Nuclear Legacy” that offers more detailed information.[5] Columbus, Ohio, hosts its own nuclear sites.

425 West Town Street once hosted B & T Metals Company, which fabricated uranium metal rods for the Manhattan Project in 1943.[6] The site contaminated nearby “building surfaces, drains, equipment, exterior soils and manholes in nearby streets.” The DOE certified cleanup of the site in 2001.

On West Jefferson and King Avenue (see Figure 1), [7] the Columbus Environmental Management Project is engaging in the decommissioning and clean up of 15 buildings left over from over 40 years of atomic energy research and development performed by Battelle. Battelle (which now goes by the name Battelle Memorial Institute and is registered as a non-profit) engaged in “fabrication of uranium and fuel elements; reactor development; submarine propulsion, fuel reprocessing; and safety studies of reactor vessels and piping.” Clean up of both of these projects were scheduled to be completed by 2005, and the buildings then returned to Battelle “without radiological restrictions.” Waste, which includes uranium and thorium, should have been shipped off site for “disposal.”[8]

The Case School of Applied Science at Ohio State University did research and development with uranium for the Atomic Energy Commission. It was removed for consideration of decommissioning in 1990 because the DOE did not have the authority to proceed with decommissioning.[9]

The Ohio State University operates a 500 kW Nuclear Research Reactor that was built in 1961.[10] The reactor is located at 1298 Kinnear Road.[11] In 1997 the Ohio State University was fined $13,000 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for “failure to conduct physical inventories of brachytherapy and other sealed and unsealed sources and failure to dispose of accumulated radioactive waste.”[12]

MORE ON BATTELLE

As noted above, Battelle Memorial Institute began in 1929 as a private company owned by Gordon Battelle. In the 1930s, Battelle owned machine shops in the Columbus area that soon began doing materials research for domestic iron and steel industries. Battelle provided armor plating for US Army Tanks in 1939 during the First World War, and developed fuel for the Nautilus nuclear powered submarine in 1949. Other Battelle designs include: the Xerox machine (1959); the Universal Product Code, or UPC (1964); cruise control (1970); compact disks, photovoltaic cells for solar energy (1974); and fiber optics, along with Mitsubishi & NTT (1987).[13] Today Battelle Memorial Institute, which is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with tax exempt filing status, sees over $5 billion in contracts for research and development every year. Much of that money comes from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Homeland Security.[14]

Battelle conducts oversight and management of a number of national laboratories across the United States:

  • Battelle is partnered with Bechtel National, the University of California, BWX Technologies, Washington Group International and Texas A&M University in what is called Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC. In 2007, Battelle and their cohorts formed this Limited Liability Corporation to conduct oversight and management of the Lawrence Livermore National Nuclear Laboratory. Research and development at LLNL focuses on high-performance computers, advanced lasers, and nuclear weaponry.[15]
  • Battelle signed onto a team with SUNY-Stony Brook to operate the Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1997. Brookhaven is home to the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and the Synchrotron Light Source.[16]
  • Battelle Energy Alliance began management and operation of the Idaho National Laboratory in 2005, which claims to be the leader of the “national renaissance in nuclear energy.”[17]
  • The Battelle National Biodefense Institute currently manages the National Biodefense Analysis & Countermeasures Center, a research and development institute funded by the federal government. This contract through the US Department of Homeland Security began in 2006 with the creation of the NBACC.[18]
  • Since 1998, Battelle has helped to manage the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where it works to develop solar cells, nanostrctures, hyrdrogen energy, and fuel cells.[19]
  • Battelle manages the $1.4 billion DOE research project called the Spallation Neutron Source, which is a part of Oak Ridge National Nuclear Laboratory. This project is touted as “the largest civilian science project in the world.”[20]
  • Battelle has managed the Hanford National Nuclear Laboratory in Washington State, now called the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, since 1965.[21]

In addition to conducting management and oversight of nuclear laboratories that continue to advance nuclear weapons technology and proliferation, Battelle employees also often graduate from the ranks of the think tank to hold high paying positions in the nuclear industry. Take for example Steve Porter, who was hired to the position of Laboratory General at Los Alamos National Nuclear Laboratory after serving as legal counsel for the laboratory operations sector at Battelle.[22]

Through their experience with the management of nuclear weapons laboratories, Battelle is conveniently poised to take advantage of the nuclear energy market as well. The company continues its nuclear research and development through its work in the nuclear fuel cycle, including: “nuclear science and engineering; detection, processing and reactor system development; high level waste management; nuclear site and carbon offset assessment; nuclear system performance and safety assessment.”[23] Given its stake in the self-proclaimed “nuclear renaissance,” Battelle stands to gain from the nuclear industry’s claim that nuclear energy is “clean, safe, and green.” Battelle also has its hands in a number of other energy markets, including coal, alternative energies, infrastructures and “grids,” and fuel cells.

A visit to Battelle’s website would provide a more accurate picture of all of the areas they cover as far as research and development are concerned; the following is a quick overview of Battelle’s militaristic ventures:

  • armor and protective systems
  • avionics
  • explosives and energetics
    • munitions and weapons
    • lightweight advanced armor
    • airborn magnetic and electromagnetic sensor systems
    • field support for lethality and missile testing
  • High Energy Research Laboratory Area
    • largest privately owned blast containment facility in the US
    • small caliber testing facility
    • explosives preparation facility
    • hypervelocity impact and altitude facility
  • information and knowledge management
  • strategy and organization consulting
  • undersea technology
    • special operations forces support
    • improving fleet combat readiness
    • submersible navigation, sensor systems and environmental control systems
    • undersea warfare: mines, underwater vehicles & robotics, sensors

For more information on the Nuclear Industrial Complex in the United States, visit:

http://totbtour.wordpress.com/mapping-the-nuclear-industrial-complex/

http://ucnuclearfree.org/

Queeries, comments, and concerns: totbchicago@gmail.com


[1] http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/davi.html

[2] http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/perr1.html

[3] From the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/materials/fuel-cycle/

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piqua_Nuclear_Generating_Station

[5] “Ohio’s Nuclear Legacy: Troubled Past, Uncerain Future.” Offers articles, maps, and diagrams. Found at: http://www.daytondailynews.com/n/content/oh/index/news/special-reports/piketon/index.html

[6] http://www.lm.doe.gov

/Columbus_East/Sites.aspx?view=2

[7] http://www.iasmirt.org/SMiRT12/N02-1.pdf

[8] Information from the Ohio Field Office Summary, http://www.em.doe.gov/PDFs/PubPDFs/accpath_94-97ape.pdf.

[9] http://www.lm.doe.gov/Considered_Sites/Case_School_of_Applied_Science_Ohio_State_University_-_OH_0-01.aspx

[10] http://www-nrl.eng.ohio-state.edu/facilities/reactor.html

[11] http://www-nrl.eng.ohio-state.edu/

[12] More specific information on violations and penalties: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/enforcement/actions/materials/ea97258.html.

[13] http://www.battelle.org/timeline/index.html

[14] http://www.battelle.org/ABOUTUS/history.aspx

[15] http://www.battelle.org/LABMANAGEMENT/lawrencel.aspx

[16] http://www.battelle.org/LABMANAGEMENT/brookhaven.aspx

[17] http://www.battelle.org/LABMANAGEMENT/idaho.aspx

[18] http://www.battelle.org/LABMANAGEMENT/nbacc.aspx

[19] http://www.battelle.org/LABMANAGEMENT/nrel.aspx

[20] http://www.battelle.org/LABMANAGEMENT/oakridge.aspx

[21] http://www.battelle.org/LABMANAGEMENT/pnnl.aspx

[22] http://www.lanl.gov/news/index.php/fuseaction/home.story/story_id/9589

[23] http://www.battelle.org/solutions/default.aspx?Nav_Area=Solution&Nav_SectionID=5&Nav_CatID=5_Nuclear%20Fuel%20Cycle

 
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