Australian and New Zealand activists from the Walkatjurra Walkabout visit France in support of the French Anti-nuclear movement.
La Marche Internationale 2013 (The International Walk 2013), is a 4 week walk through one of Europe’s most nuclear intensive regions – The Rhone valley in Frances South East. The Australian wakers have come to witness first hand the effects of the nuclear industry in France which Australia supplies uranium too.
Mitch an Aranda Woman from Alice Springs and the Co-chair of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA) joined the walk for the beginning and spoke at the press launch in Paris before the walk, which was organised by the largest anti nuclear group in France, Reseau Sortie du Nucleare. Mitch and Marcus Atkinson from the Anti Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia (ANAWA) spoke about the impacts of uranium mining and the pending nuclear waste dump at Muckaty in the Northern Territory, on Aboriginal communities and the radioactive racism of the industry.
The contingent also had the opportunity to visit the resistance house at Bure about 200km east of Paris, where the French government are planning a huge high level underground nuclear waste dump to store waste from the French nuclear industry. The proposal is still in its investigation stage with a test mine and facility on site but no waste has yet to be buried. If it becomes operational it will consist of a 500-meter shaft with a 10km tunnel and many side tunnels to store the waste. Once full it will be back filled and all traces of the project (accept for some warning signs) will be removed.
In a meeting with French activists at the Bure resistance house Mitch spoke about the Muckaty nuclear waste dump in the northern territory and the Australian nuclear industry. Both the French and Australian Governments are using the same tactics of divide and conquer by throwing millions and in the French case, billions of dollars at poor communities in order to win them over.
In a statement after the visit to Bure, Mitch released a statement saying:
“ I came to see for myself what we are told is worlds best practice, but what I have seen, heard and witnessed in France is that governments and the nuclear industry Lie.
We request that the French people and their government, demand that the reprocessed nuclear waste from Lucas Heights, remain in France until the Australian Government guarantees not to dump it on Aboriginal land and store it at Lucas Heights, where there is ample storage and can be safely monitored.”
The walk started officially on the 1st of July with a walk to the town of Narbonne where we held a press conference and heard from local man Michel Leclerc, who developed Leukaemia after working at the AREVA owned Comurhex Facility, 10km from Narbonne, in the early eighties. He has been in an eighteen-year legal battle with the French nuclear giant, finally wining this year.
AREVA has appealed the decision, however, there is not much chance they can win, as the specific type of Leukaemia Michel developed can only be contracted through exposure to radiation. He explained that the company tried to stop him from obtaining his medical records in order to derail the legal action, so he had to resort to stealing them in order to reveal the truth. Even after he released the medical records AREVA lawyers tried to discredit them by saying the results where flawed, claiming that his blood and urine samples where fine and that the containers they where collected in where contaminated by radiation.
The Comurhex facility, receives 100% of all yellow cake that enters France. It processes the Uranium into UF4, the first step in the nuclear fuel chain to nuclear fuel rods. We walked to the plant the day after Narbonne to hold a community rally and I was surprised to hear that even today the plant isn’t considered a nuclear facility, which is why there are no radiation signs anywhere on the fences or the plant.
About 100 meters from the fence line there are yellow 44-gallon drums, stacked three high and two deep and filled with sand. They disguise the thousands of drums of yellowcake that are stored on site and are supposed to stop gamma radiation from escaping, which according to CRIIRAD (a scientific NGO) don’t work. Comurhex has been plagued with breaches of safety with one of the worst being a Tailings dam breach, spewing thousand of tonnes of radioactive water and mud into the surrounding area. Local people unaware of the radioactivity due to the secrecy surrounding the plant operation used the mud in their garden to grow food.
This is just one of the many stories, backed up by independent studies, of the many and frequent breaches of safety from the secretive nuclear industry in France, lead by the French nuclear giant AREVA.
Public Meetings where held in the Towns of Beziers and Montpellier (from where I write) which where well attended, with 50 and over 100 people respectively. Bilbo Taylor from the Western Australian based, Ban Uranium Mining Permanently collective (BUMP) and Marcus Atkinson from ANAWA spoke to French people about Uranium mining and the proposed nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory. Both speeches where well received with many people asking questions about the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance and the impacts of the nuclear industry on Aboriginal peoples. They where astounded to here about the 3rd world conditions forced upon Aboriginal people and the many impacts they face from the nuclear industry.
The walk will continue tomorrow and on Saturday we will arrive at another nuclear facility in Marcoule.