(January 30, 2004) Following a request from AGHIR IN'MAN, an NGO based in Arlit, Niger, the CRIIRAD laboratory set up a ten-day mission to undertake preliminary environmental checks on the Arlit and Akouta mining sites at the Sahara desert border. Both uranium mines and mills have been operated for 20 to 30 years by Cogema's subsidiaries SOMAÏR (63 %) and COMINAK (34 %) with present output at about 3,000 tU / year.
(602.5570) CRIIRAD - The main goal for AGHIR IN'MAN was to get preliminary radiological data in order to understand possible links between the radiological impact of uranium extraction and the worsening of the health status of the inhabitants. Another objective was to train interested parties in radiological inspections and in radioprotection. The team included two CRIIRAD scientists, two members of SHERPA, and an independent journalist.
Although the Niger authorities approved our Visas and the Arlit local authorities signed our travel document to go from Niamey to Arlit, four days before our departure from France, the AGHIR IN'MAN president in Arlit, Mr. Almoustapha Alhacen was asked by the local directors of the companies to postpone our mission. Nevertheless, CRIIRAD and SHERPA decided to go on and immediately upon arrival at Niamey airport, at 3 am on 2 December 2003 all CRIIRAD professional monitoring equipment was confiscated.
We spent 3 days in Niamey and met different authorities (Police, Members of the Niger Parliament, Members of the Mining Ministry, French ambassador, etc.) in order to try to get our equipment back. At least 5 different reasons were given to us by the various authorities to justify our problems. A member of the Niger government finally told us "You are here in France, the origin of your problems has to be looked for in France".
We finally decided to go to Arlit, even without monitoring equipment, in order to get a preliminary feel for the situation and at least provide inhabitants with information about ionising radiation (CRIIRAD has been studying the radioecological impact of French uranium mines since 1992).
During the 3 days spent in Niamey, we had the opportunity to meet some Niger experts from the Ministry of Mines and the National Radioprotection Centre. These governmental bodies have in fact no adequate equipment to properly monitor the radiological impact of SOMAIR and COMINAK activities on workers, local population and the environment and are limited to doing nothing more than reading reports written by the operators themselves.
CRIIRAD team could spend only 2 days in the Arlit area (1,200 km from Niamey) but noted the near total absence of any form of waste management: no sign or fence along kilometres of SOMAÏR waste rock deposits, SOMAÏR and COMINAK uranium mill tailings dumps are exposed in open air. COMINAK official figures are 10.5 million tons of waste with typical activity of 49,000 Bq/kg (thorium 230) and 57,000 Bq/kg (radium 226) etc. Nothing seems to prevent the release of radioactive gases and dust into the environment. This exposure pathway will have to be studied more deeply because of the high radiotoxicity of some of the natural nuclides included in the waste (when inhaled, the thorium 230 radiotoxicity is close to the one of plutonium 238), their very dispersible form (fine grained material) and long half-life (75,000 years for thorium 230), the companies do collect domestic waste from the parts of the city where their workers live, but the waste is then spread on the ground, in the suburbs of the cities of Arlit and Akokan. Women, children and animals commonly come there looking for food or scrap material. Due to the lack of time and equipment, the evaluation of exposure pathways to ionising radiation must be postponed until a next mission. Obviously it will be necessary to study transfers through inhalation of dust, dispersion of radon gas from the mine vents, possible contamination of underground waters and food.
The only investigations possible were performed with a very simple Geiger Muller counter that the CRIIRAD laboratory had previously sent to the AGHIR IN'MAN president. It enabled us to discover contaminated scrap metal in the Arlit streets (doserate 10 times as high as the natural background level). This seems to be a serious problem, taking into account the lack of rigorous monitoring policy and the fact that the population is used to recycling scrap material from uranium mills for domestic use including cooking or building. CRIIRAD will send several Geiger Muller counters to the members of the NGO, so that they can organise campaigns to detect the presence of such radioactive material in cities.
A preliminary report has been released in French (see Error! Bookmark not defined.) and CRIIRAD now seeks to improve national and international awareness on this matter. France imports a lot of uranium from Niger, therefore French citizens should help the citizens of Niger defend their rights: the right to proper radiological monitoring by their own government, the right to independent monitoring, the right to an adequate waste management policy based on long term analysis of impacts, the right to receive proper information about the actual contamination of their environment and the adverse effects of ionising radiation, and the right to protect their environment and health.
Fund raising efforts need to be organised in order to help AGHIR IN'MAN pursue its tasks locally and to prepare an independent scientific evaluation of human exposure to ionising radiation from the mines and mills activities.
AGHIR IN'MAN was created in January 2001 and works to improve living conditions (health, education, women's rights) and environmental protection. CRIIRAD is a French NGO specialising in protection against and monitoring of radioactivity. The association was created in 1986, immediately following the accident at Chernobyl. It is registered with the local authorities and has been certified by the French Ministry of Ecology for environmental protection. The CRIIRAD Laboratory is certified by the French Ministry of Health for radioactivity measurements in the environment and the food chain. SHERPA is a French NGO whose members are lawyers. Its goals are to protect human and workers' rights (of all nationalities) against multinationals. During the mission, the SHERPA team interviewed local doctors, citizens and workers. Their mission preliminary report is also available on CRIIRAD website: www.criirad.org.
Source and Contact: Bruno CHAREYRON, nuclear engineer and laboratory Manager at CRIIRAD, 471 av. Victor Hugo, 2600 Valence, France
Tel: +33 4 75 41 82 50
Fax: +33 4 75 81 26 48
Native rights and anti-uranium activist arrested
John Graham was arrested in Vancouver, Canada on 1 December 2003, and now faces extradition to the U.S charged on 30 March 2003, along with Arlo Looking Cloud, with the first-degree murder of Anna Mae Aquash in 1975. On 16 January, he was released on bail, under strict conditions including house arrest. The date for his extradition hearing is expected to be set on 1 March.
Native of the Yukon, Canada and father of eight, John Graham made a European speaking tour in May and June 1984, organized by European anti-nuclear, native rights and environmental groups, focusing on native rights and the problems of uranium mining in Canada.
Considering the well known misinformation and harassment campaigns by U.S. authorities surrounding the tragic death of Anna Mae Aquash, it is doubtful that John Graham will get a fair trial if extradited to the U.S. There is evidence that the FBI is guilty of the murder, though U.S. authorities refuse to investigate this.
The John Graham Defense Committee has been formed by family and friends to promote truth and justice while advocating his release. The Committee requests that letters demanding John be treated fairly be send, with copy to the Committee, to:
Hon. Irwin Cotler, Minister of Justice
House of Commons
900 Justice Building
K1A 0A6 Canada
For sample letters, background and current information, please see the Committee Website, www.grahamdefense.org.
ACTION ALERT WASTE RECYCLING
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a proposal that would allow certain nuclear wastes to go to places that are not licensed for radioactive materials. Some nuclear material would be treated as non-radioactive, exempt from radioactive control if below certain levels of radioactivity.
First, EPA would allow mixed radioactive and hazardous wastes to go to facilities permitted for hazardous waste only. Second, radioactive waste (not mixed with hazardous) could be permitted to go to places that do not have radioactive licenses or regulations, such as regular garbage dumps or incinerators or hazardous sites. EPA justifies this by claiming they will provide an acceptable level of protection from radiation risk. It seems obvious this would be a problem for communities around the waste sites, many already leaking. Third, EPA suggests that a "non-regulatory approach" to management of radioactive waste is an option and requests creative ideas for "partnering" with waste generators or other schemes to relieve the regulatory burden. EPA's proposal would help legalize releases of nuclear weapons wastes, now generally required to be regulated and controlled, to be released to waste sites never designed to take radioactive materials and either deliberately or unintentionally to the marketplace.
The planned EPA rule is in line with earlier proposals made by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on waste recycling (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 585.5505: "U.S.: NRC seeks further input in waste recycling plans"). The NRC is considering several options for nuclear waste deregulation including continuing the current case-by-case release procedures, starting new release procedures that are based on estimated risks, sending the waste to sites that are not licensed for nuclear materials.
Suggested ACTIONS on EPA notice:
Alert your state and county landfill boards, unions of landfill and transport workers, recycling companies, organizations, town councils. Get on their agendas and ask them to comment at a-and-r-Docket@epa.gov by 17 March 2004. Request the proposal be withdrawn but if it is not, request a 6 months extension for public comment. The notice in the US Federal Register was under EPA on 18 November 2003 and can be found online at www.regulations.gov/fredpdfs/03-28651.pdf or www.regulations.gov/freddocs/03-28651.htm. Send a letter to the new EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt telling him what you think of the EPA's proposed action, encouraging him withdraw it. Administrator Mike Leavitt, US Environmental Protection Agency, 1101A, Ariel Rios Building, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. Washington, DC 20460; Email: email@example.com. Let your elected officials know how you feel about these dangers by sending them a copy of your letters, comments and resolutions. More information: firstname.lastname@example.org.