Sixty years ago, Maralinga went up in a mushroom cloud. The British government had been given permission to test atomic weaponry in South Australia.
That is to say, they had been given permission by the right wing Menzies government. The local Maralinga Tjarutja people had no say in it at all. Many of them were not even forewarned of the first blast. Thunderous black clouds condemned them to radiation exposure, illness and death, the survivors being driven from their homeland during the long years of British testing and fallout.
South Australia has a dark history with the nuclear industry. Maralinga remains contaminated, despite cheap clean-up efforts. Uranium tailings have leaked from BHP’s Olympic Dam mine at Roxby Downs. Fukushima’s reactors held South Australian uranium when catastrophe struck in 2011.
Today, Jay Weatherill’s state Labor government is trying to open a new radioactive chapter. He wants South Australia to construct the world’s first international high-level nuclear waste dump. This would mean no fewer than 138,000 tonnes of waste (one-third of the world’s total) being shipped from the world’s reactors into South Australian ports, to be permanently buried in Aboriginal land.
This would be history’s largest nuclear dumping operation, and make South Australia the hazardous waste capital of the world.
Weatherill, aware of most people’s instinctive and rightful mistrust of anything nuclear, has launched a meticulous, expensive PR campaign. He is trying to fit a Hello Kitty mask onto Mr Burns.
The propaganda machine was put into motion by the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, at a cost of $7.2 million. Headed by Kevin Scarce, a former naval officer and South Australian governor, the commission imagines a lip-licking profit to be made by importing and burying the waste. It also recommends expanding uranium mining and laying the groundwork for nuclear power generation.
To soothe concerns, the government is periodically erecting “Know Nuclear” stalls across the state. These stalls spread misinformation. For instance, the government pamphlet “What is Radiation?” boasts that bananas contain potassium-40, a low-level radionuclide found in nature. But they make no comparison to human-made fission products such as strontium-90, which releases almost 20 million times more radiation than your friendly fruity isotope.
In August, more than 150 high school students were whisked to a secretly organised forum about the future of nuclear industry in the state. Secrecy was justified by the suggestion that violent anti-nuclear protesters might endanger the pupils.
Why does the state need to pour such big bucks into this festival of confusing roadshows, misleading science, TV ads and youth re-education sessions? Because most people who know anything about nuclear waste will recognise the danger posed by the proposed dump.
We live in a country in which black lung disease has re-emerged. Mining companies, in a world of competition, refuse to pay for basic safety measures to prevent excessive coal dust inhalation. This logic of cutting costs infuses all business under capitalism; nuclear waste dumps are no exception. As the MUA correctly stated: “Maritime workers – seafarers and wharfies – will be the first exposed to this toxic waste … Nowhere on this planet has a country designed a safe repository for nuclear waste”.
Indeed, the most technologically advanced repositories in the world, no matter how deep underground, have failed. Over many years, German radioactive waste had been disposed of in a deep facility in Lower Saxony. In 2008, it was discovered that some of the 126,000 barrels of waste had been leaking into ground water for decades. In 2014, New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant suffered a burst drum, contaminating the whole facility, including ventilation and surrounding air. Soon after, workers at the plant tested positive for radiation exposure.
This is the most hazardous waste ever produced by industry or the military. The royal commission explains that this stuff “requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years”. That makes the Roman Empire seem like yesterday; it is longer than the human race has existed.
Moreover, previous projects have involved only national waste storage; to transport waste by sea to an international dump has never been attempted and involves multiple dangers of accidental spillage.
Ultimately, this dump is about helping the global nuclear industry. The current build-up of site-by-site waste acts as a brake on investment. They want somewhere to dump it forever so they can go on producing more of it.
There has been a vigorous argument over the direction of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) industrial campaign at Sydney University this year. Most recently, those who have been reluctant to argue and organise seriously for frequent enough and long enough strikes are now leading the charge for a “smarter” strategy of administration bans.
In late August, around 50 union members at Knauf plasterboard held a meeting in their Melbourne factory to discuss recent EBA negotiations, which had begun a few months earlier. A new HR manager insisted on attending the meeting and wasted people’s time explaining the wonderful job that company management had done taking care of the workers, in particular their recent and significant safety concerns. As he spoke, one after another the workers turned their backs on him. Soon, they began challenging the manager about a worker who had just been sacked.
Minoo Jalali was among those who resisted Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran. In the early months of 1979, she joined a mass women’s protest against the compulsory wearing of the hijab in public. “That revolution was inevitable”, Jalali recounted 40 years later in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Nobody could have really stopped the force of it. We hoped that we could steer it [but] we were wrong. And the clergy hijacked it ... and deceived many people.”
Protests and riots have spread across Iran after a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, was murdered by the morality police. Amini was visiting the capital, Tehran, on 13 September when she was arrested for allegedly breaking mandatory veiling laws. Police beat her into a coma and she died three days later. Amini was buried in her hometown of Saqqez.
The international working-class movement has long been divided between two strategies to win socialism: the reformist and the revolutionary.
Revolutionary Marxists argue that socialism is possible only if the working class leads a revolution. So why organise among students?