Nuclear weapons and waste back, thanks to Russian threats and Japan's dumping plan

The nuclear weapons and waste issue has been pushed back into the forefront of people's minds once again with the war in Ukraine and climate change causing new need for discussions.

A group of activists, artists and researchers is meeting in a conference this week, Nuclear Connections Across Oceania, which has been organised by Otago University.

Two of the speakers, Dr Karly Burch, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Sustainability at Otago University, and Marshall Islander and nuclear justice advocate Bedi Racule talked to

Burch said she grew up not knowing anything about nuclear power and its problems until the 2011 Japanese earthquake and the Tokyo Electric Power company's Fukushima Daiichi power plant disaster.

“2011 was the last time nuclear was talked about, so you can see how nuclear imperialism and nuclear colonialism can be really active under the surface.”

True dangers 

Burch said she had been looking at the issue for the past 11 years and, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the nuclear subject had become a popular topic again given President Vladimir Putin's threat about using nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations becoming targets of opportunity during the conflict.

Burch said climate justice and nuclear justice discussions were happening in the Pacific and Racule said Pacific peoples have been dealing with the impact of nuclear weapons and their humanitarian impact.

“We can speak to the true dangers that they have caused, for example, the testing in the Marshall Islands, Tahiti, Australia, Kiribati but also the veterans who had to clean up the contaminated waste.”

Pacific affected

Racule said the Pacific had been feeling the effects through cancers and environmental contamination.

And she said if true justice was to be had through disarmament, then the survivors, islands and the ocean needed to be recognised. She said she liked to emphasise that “we are one ocean and everything that happens in the ocean affects us all”.

Burch said that one of the keynote speakers is Hilda Halkyard-Harawira who chaired the Pacific People's Anti-nuclear Action Committee and was the first co-organiser of the first Te huioranga o Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa in 1982 so they feel honoured to have her speaking.

Racule will be speaking on the panel about trying to stop the wastewater discharge at Tepco's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan (wrecked by a major earthquake and tsunami) where the company has been building pipelines to dump radioactive waste into the Pacific, which she says countries affected by nuclear testing are very concerned about.

“There has been a lot of solidarity from all over the Pacific; all of us strongly oppose this dumping but there is still talk that it's still going to go forward.”