Saturday, 7 October 2017

Nuclear disarmament: credit where credit is due

In December 2014 I attended two international nuclear disarmament conferences, held back to back, in Austria’s capital city, Vienna. The second conference was hosted by the Austrian Foreign ministry, and had many diplomats attending and constibuting, including from the UK and US (

The former was organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Atomic Weapons (ICAN, and involved many international nuclear experts from several continents, many politicians and a large number of knowledgeable, dedicated and active young people in their late teens and early 20s. The UK ICAN delegation was led by Rebecca Sharkey, a fantastic, dedicated and effective nuclear disarmament campaigner for ICAN, and to whom much gratitude should be expressed by many.

Yesterday ICAN were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the the work they have done across the last decade with civil society and governments to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. (



Here is the introduction to my 93,000 word  personal expert statement to this key conference that led to the Nuclear Weapons Ban treaty being agreed in July and ratified last month in New York:


 Uranium Exploitation and Environmental racism:

Why environmental despoliation and the ignorance of radiological risks of uranium mining cannot be justified by the nuclear weapons states for the procurement of the raw stock material for their nuclear explosives

Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons

8-9 December 2014, Hofburg Palace Vienna, Austria

Dr David Lowry, United Kingdom

Environmental policy and research consultant, member, Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates (NWAA), senior research fellow, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), former director European Proliferation Information Centre (EPIC), former research fellow, Energy and Environment Research Unit, Open University , United Kingdom


I want make this submission following on the presentation by Dr Arjun Makijani of the US-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in the US in session 1b, who highlighted the often overlooked environmental degradation, lack of remediation and health hazards posed by uranium mining for the raw materials to make nuclear explosives for the nuclear arsenals of the nuclear weapons states (NWS). I note that this joint human health and environmental concern is the focus of an excellent and disturbing poster exhibition outside the main door to the stage of this Conference Hall.

I also note the conclusions of the interpretation of existing environmental law to military nuclear activities discussed in depth and breadth by the excellent panel in Session IV.

Both this conference and the predecessor Civil Society Conference in Vienna over the weekend have heard the moving testimony of radiation victims from the testing and belligerent us eof nuclear weapons: the Japanese “Hibakusha”, direct victims of nuclear wepons deliberately used upon on their communities, and the US, Marshallese Islanders, Australian indigenous peoples, and Kazakh “Downwinders, who have sufferd from nuclear testing.

But there are hundreds of thousands of radiation victims worldwide from the production of nuclear weapons, even if we remain lucky enough that they are never used by deliberate decision, or detonated by accident.

I raised this matter of concern with the United Kingdom delegation, representing the country of which I am a citizen, in the margins of this conference, to be told the exposure to radiation from uranium procurement was a long time ago. That is true, but the impact of exposure lives on through genetic transfer across generations, as the compensation agreements in the United States ( surprising not mentioned by the US

Ambassador to this conference in either contribution he made from the floor) have demonstrated recognise the responsibility of current political administrations for past administration’ actions.

Therefore, as my own Government has declined to take moral responsibility for the significant deleterious impact of the production process for the procurement of the raw uranium that, in its converted form, now makes up the nuclear explosives in each of the UK ‘s 180 nuclear warheads, I will set out below some examples of the impacts, especially to inform my own Government why they have a duty to wider humanity to take responsibility for the desecration of sacred land and for damaging the heath of exposed indigenous peoples and their successor generations, especially as indigenous people’s land in former colonies were used as the sources of the UK’s uranium used in nuclear warheads.

Governments have accepted the importance of recognizing and mitigating the carbon footprint of the production process of commercially tradable goods; they also need to accept the radiological footprint of past nuclear explosive materials production needs to be mitigated, and act accordingly in a moral fashion.

Nuclear warheads, even if never detonated, have not only an extraordinary financial cost, but even more importantly , an ecological, environmental, and enduring health cost – both radiological and toxicological - to the people whose communities have been exploited for the procurement of the uranium, which in processed and manufactured form, currently sits in the global nuclear arsenals of over 16,000 warheads, to no positive benefit a huge detriments for the human communities from which it was expropriated.

This submission includes as illustration primary materials ( and associated references) covering problems encountered in the major uranium production countries (Australia, United States, Canada, Kazakhstan, & Namibia, and some more minor ones such as the Czech Republic, France and eastern Germany).


In March 2009 , an American Civil Society non governmental organization, Beyond Nuclear, published in its regular information bulletin, Thunderbird, a review and summary of a conference held in Washington DC in February 2009, addressing the issue of the impact on indigenous people of uranium mining, milling and its waste streams. I reproduce the summary immediately below:

Beyond Nuclear Bulletin

March 5, 2009

Standing Room Only as Indigenous Speakers Describe Atomic Genocide

It was standing room only at the huge PowerShift 2009 youth conference on climate change in Washington, DC, February 27, when Beyond Nuclear hosted a panel that included three indigenous activists, a scientist and a prominent actor. The panel - Human Rights, Uranium Mining and Unfolding Genocide - featured actor, James

Cromwell; French nuclear scientist, Bruno Chareyron, Manuel Pino of the Acoma Pueblo; Sidi-Amar Taoua, a Touareg from Niger; and Mitch, an Australian Aboriginal. The panel held a press conference, briefed legislators on Capitol Hill and spoke at PowerShift to more than 500 students.

The activists described how uranium mining has disproportionately targeted indigenous communities across the world and represents a deliberate genocide. Mine workers were poorly protected and informed and suffered from often deadly diseases without proper treatment. Most disused mine sites have never been cleaned up while water supplies remain contaminated. "Poison Wind," a documentary by Jenny Pond, was also shown to a packed room at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC at an event hosted by Cromwell.

The three days of events represent the beginning of a new Beyond Nuclear campaign to draw attention to the consistent violation of fundamental human rights caused by uranium mining.

The Beyond Nuclear tour of indigenous speakers on human rights and uranium mining received a variety of press coverage, including an article by Agence France Presse that appeared in the Melbourne Age, the Melbourne Sun and the Economic Times (of India) among other publications. View the articles here. In addition, James Cromwell was interviewed live on CleanSkies TV.


The history of neglect

Uranium mining legacies remediation and

renaissance development: an international


In an overview paper, Peter Waggitt

Today’s legacy problems arose because due to the lack of legislation in earlier

times. With no obligation to plan for, or undertake remediation and with no funds

having been put aside to carry out the work, remediation did not happen. This last

point is a major issue when legacy remediation programmes are discussed or efforts

are made to plan work. Mining legacy remediation is a very expensive business,

more so when uranium is involved…. few of the countries most affected by the uranium mine

legacy issue have adequate finance or resources and infrastructure in their regulatory

networks to plan, develop and manage such programmes. Neither do many of

the countries most affected have sufficiently well developed environmental protection

laws and resources.

So the diagnosis is one of neglect and lack of resources. The prognosis is not

very good at first glance due to the vast amounts of financial support required at a

time when there are many other priorities for Governments expenditure in many of

the most affected nations. Public health, education and re-building economies are

all activities competing for the money available. But all may not be lost if legacy

remediation can be incorporated with other development plans.

In today’s market this has increased interest in the possibility of re-treating tailings,

and perhaps other residues from legacy sites, to extract uranium. A number

of proposals are being considered by mining companies and governments in former

uranium mining centres around the world. Such plans should only be considered

if they are a component of a comprehensive remediation programme. Any

new processing scheme should be designed to ensure that the end state of the project



Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons


The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was the result of a decisive development within the nuclear disarmament regime. Since the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the international community has refocused its attention to the humanitarian dimension of and the risks associated with nuclear weapons. This evolution was reflected trough cross-regional humanitarian statements in UN fora and culminated in the organisation of three Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo (March 2013), Nayarit (February 2014) and Vienna (December 2014).

The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was attended by 158 States, a broad spectrum of international organisations from the UN system, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, many academics and experts and several hundred representatives of civil society. The Conference was opened by Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz; the UN Secretary General, the President of the ICRC and Pope Francis addressed the Conference though important statements and messages. Victims of nuclear explosions gave testimonies of their harrowing experiences. In four sessions, experts from various fields addressed the short and long-term consequences of nuclear weapons, the impact of nuclear testing, the risk drivers for deliberate or inadvertent nuclear weapons use, scenarios of nuclear weapons use and the associated challenges as well as an overview of the norms under existing international law pertaining to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons explosions.  

The scientific results and the discussions which emerged in the Vienna Conference underscored that the humanitarian consequences and risks associated with nuclear weapons are far higher and graver than previously assumed, and that they should thus be at the center of global efforts related to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Austria attempted to reflect the breadth of views that exist in the international community on the way forward in the Chair’s Summary, which was presented in her sole responsibility. The Chair’s Summary contains eight key substantive conclusions that have emerged in the humanitarian initiative of the past three years and the international conferences in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna. In addition, Austria issued a national pledge that goes beyond the Chair’s Summary that contains the conclusions that Austria drew from the humanitarian arguments.

The Vienna Conference, thus, consolidated the substantive discussions that had taken place in the three Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons into a set of substantive and strong conclusions with respect to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the risks associated with the existence of these weapons, as well as the legal and moral dimension of this weaponry. This was intended to provide key input for future work on nuclear disarmament, including at the 2015 Review Conference of NPT. Moreover, the Vienna Conference presented – through the line of argument contained in the “Austrian Pledge” – a set of conclusions that States could draw as a result of the humanitarian initiative and the new evidence that has emerged in this context.

Conference Report

Conference Information

Conference proceedings

Media Advisory

·          PDF: HINW Media Information(170 kB )

·          PDF: HINW Press Kit(223 kB )

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