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Reactors in Russian Pacific fleet threaten lives

Soldiers relax in Vladivostock, where the equivalent of 50 Chernobyls is waiting to happen.

People die young in Bolshoi Kamen, a city facing Vladivostock on Russia’s Pacific coast. At the local cemetery overlooking the sea, gravestones show that most people died in their thirties and forties.

Bolshoi Kamen is a company town. Its business is cleaning the reactors of nuclear submarines – a life-threatening occupation. The workers at the Svezda factory, who were once responsible for maintaining submarines, deactivate them. They remain present during reactor clean-ups, whereas they used to be evacuated when the radioactive fuel tanks were emptied. In the past they were exposed to seven minutes of x-rays a day – now they receive a dose of 12 hours.

‘We are heading straight toward an ecological disaster,’ says Professor Boris Preobrazhensky, laboratory director at the Institute of Geology of the Pacific in Vladivostock, about the decaying Russian Pacific fleet. Twenty per cent of warships are already beyond repair. Around 50 vessels have been retired in recent years – a third were deactivated and their nuclear reactors stored ‘temporarily’ in the ocean. The rest are waiting in ports with radioactive fluid still on board. If enough money can be scraped together they should be deactivated by 2010. Admiral Valery Danelin says: ‘For the time being, we can still consider them safe, but rust is eating away at them. Nuclear particles may infiltrate the water and disseminate. The problem must be resolved and soon.’

Most experts consider every one of these submarines a Chernobyl waiting to happen. The Pacific Fleet has already been involved in 11 serious accidents: six reactor explosions, four shipwrecks and one major collision.

At Vladivostock Bay young soldiers throw thousands of tons of bombs, projectiles and munitions off their dilapidated warships and into the sea. The weapons’ detonators have supposedly been removed, but not the explosives.

Around 800 tons of waste is known to have been dumped into the sea. Tokyo has protested to the Russian Government, who say the waste is handled safely, but many believe offloading radioactive waste from nuclear submarines continues. In Bolshoi Kamen all requests for investigation into the cause of the town’s mysterious deaths have gone unanswered. The submarines provide scarce salaries for locals, but Olga Skripko, leader of the factory’s union, is angry at their treatment: ‘The workers are hungry. All year long they live on crumbs of bread and bits of potato... Our children are nothing but skin and bones. We haven’t seen anything like this since the camps.’

Manon Loizeau/Le Nouvel Observateur.

Species sell-out
Medicines containing body parts from endangered tigers, rhinos and leopards are widely available across North America. A survey of 110 stores in New York, Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto, San Francisco, Atlanta and Los Angeles found that half of them sold medicines containing or claiming to contain ingredients from illegally-traded species. Almost all the medicines were made in China.

US customs must prove that products contain endangered species, even if they are labelled as such, before impounding them. Forensic techniques cannot detect derivatives such as ground tiger bone, so there have been few prosecutions. Campaigners demand the US and Canada make it illegal to claim that a product contains parts of endangered species. This is already the law in Britain and China.

New Scientist No 2119

Resisting ‘the Globalizers of Misery’
As the top 1,000 transnational corporations met at Davos in Switzerland to set priorities for the next century, campaigners released the ‘Declaration Against the Globalizers of Misery’. The statement denounces the international corporate meeting and ‘the accelerating centralization of political and economic power caused by globalization, and its gradual shift to unaccountable and undemocratic institutions, such as the World Trade Organization’. Academics, authors, journalists and a

coalition of 192 organizations from 54 countries have supported the Declaration, which

states that globalization ‘only benefits multinational business élites, while increasing numbers of people are going hungry, unable to afford basic healthcare and education, and

[image, unknown]

forced to cope with environmental destruction.’

For more information about ‘Peoples’ Global Action Against “Free” Trade and the World Trade Organisation’ (PGA):
e-mail: [email protected] Fax: +34 8 524 1121.

Safe at last
Antarctica will be safe from mining and oil exploration for 50 years after an environmental pact has finally become international law. All 26 member nations of the Antarctic Treaty have ratified the Madrid Protocol. The signing was delayed for five years due to opposition to the mining ban by the US and Japan. The pact also sets strict environmental standards for researchers, who must take all their waste with them when they leave the continent.

New Scientist No 2118


Stamping it out
Asian youth kick off global protest

Children from all over South East Asia have raised their voices and their feet to demand action to stop exploitative labour. The first leg of the Global March Against Child Labour began in January in Manila with youth marching, dancing and simulating what it was like to work in areas such as domestic work, mining and agriculture. They soon attracted local attention. Taxi drivers gave marchers free rides into town and after the march through Manila, police rescued 14 girls from prostitution in a local night club. One of the officers who helped the girls said: ‘We are highly motivated by the Global March and wanted to express our solidarity in action.’ Some politicians raised the issue in parliament and a conference of marchers, academics and politicians discussed the conditions of child labour in South East Asia.

Over six months youth and adults from 80 countries will march across Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the US to converge on the Geneva office of the International Labour Organization (ILO). When they arrive on 1 June they will call for national and international action as the ILO discusses a convention to stamp out child exploitation. ‘There could be thousands of children linking hands around the ILO building – it will be a very powerful thing,’ says British trade-union representative Des Farrell.

Labour unions, activist organizations and the children themselves have supported the march to draw attention to labour and poverty. Organizer Eileen Maybin from Christian Aid says: ‘Adult unemployment and child labour make a vicious circle. Often children who work end up unskilled and in poor health in adulthood. So they are unemployed and have to send their own kids to work.’

The marchers will also urge governments and international organizations to put more resources into education and promoting positive action by employers and consumers. International Co-ordinator of the Global March, Kailash Salyarthi, says: ‘When I see the tremendous support the Global March has received, it becomes certain that the twenty-first century is not going to flourish at the cost of the sweat and blood of children.’

The young marchers in Manila expressed excitement at meeting other child labourers. Ex-domestic worker, Joan, says: ‘We have been silent for so long, neglected by society. I am joining the march because I want to help in making our voices finally heard.’

Andrew Bibby The Observer/Global March Against Child Labour
For more information and contacts: www.globalmarch.org/

Big Bad World
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If ordinary people behaved like: Arms Dealers! [image, unknown]
POLYP Cartoon POLYP Cartoon POLYP Cartoon [image, unknown]

Bad to worse
Islanders of St Helena demand British citizenship

St. Helena

The islanders of St Helena, a British island territory off the coast of Africa, have a phrase for the string of British Governors who have ruled them: ‘The bad go, worse come.’ And now they seek a change for the better.

The key issue for the 5,800 islanders is British citizenship, which they claim was given to them in a royal charter dating from 1673. The British Government until now has preferred to classify them as ‘subjects’denying them the right to employment or residence in Britain.

Councillor Dale Bowers recently took his first trip off the island to ask the British Parliament for citizenship rights. ‘There’s a fear of being left to be prisoners on our own island,’ he says.

One of the furthest outposts of Britain’s empire, St Helena is nearly 2,000 kilometres – a five-day sail – from the African mainland. The island has no airport and is dependent on the few ships that call there for its food supply. Unemployment is high and the budget allows for only two students per year to go abroad to university.

Councillors hope the island will be made a Crown Dependency giving them greater control over local affairs and the annual aid budget. This would also allow islanders to study and work in Britain and bring skills and remittances to the island. Locals also want to introduce an Internet lottery to compensate for the 40-per-cent drop in British aid to the island over the last decade. Councillor Terry Richards says: ‘We need the lottery money so we can say to Britain: “We don’t need your aid anymore.” The island will be self-sufficient.’

The calls for change are amplified by dissatisfaction with Governor Smallman after unemployment benefits were cut and a mob rioted in the capital of Jamestown last year. The Governor has been nicknamed ‘His Absency’ and locals feel he has little concern for the island’s future.

Recently the British Government gave 30 St Helenians three-year work permits. The rest of the islanders await the outcome of a Government debate about its policy towards Britain’s 14 dependent territories to determine their status and rights. The British need to change their governance from poor to better, according to Councillor Eric George: ‘We just want a greater say in our destiny.’

Alan Martin/Gemini News Service

Bingo losses
A bingo hall has come under fire for changing its name to ‘Mecca’ in Luton, UK. ‘Linking the heart of Islam with gambling and alcohol is blasphemy,’ said Akbar Dad Khan, the secretary of Luton Islamic Society. The hall is owned by a chain of Mecca Bingo Clubs. If it agrees to drop the name in Luton it may come under pressure to do so for its 134 other bingo halls. This local controversy follows international criticism of shoe companies Nike and Clarks for using Islamic and Hindu symbols and names on footwear.

Murali Krishnan/Gemini News Service

Thai monks save their forest.

Award for work with holy trees
Prachak Pethsing, a former Buddhist monk from Thailand who ordained trees to save them from the axe, has been honoured for his environmental work. Prachak worked with locals to preserve the Dong Yai forest which was threatened by plans to introduce eucalyptus mono-cropping. He set up community forest patrols and ordained trees. This angered local officials and Prachak was forced to leave the monkhood when he was charged with trespassing, forest encroachment and disruption of the public peace. He has now received an annual award from Sarvodaya, one of the world’s biggest Buddhist organizations.

The Ecologist Vol 28 No 1

Sins of the parents
In Chinese towns, criminals are rarely forgiven and their children are not allowed to forget the crimes of their parents. ‘People believe that crime is in the blood, and that the children will turn out like their parents,’ explains Zhang Shuquin of the Shaanxi Province Social Reintegration Society.

Sometimes the children’s parents have been convicted for domestic murders or denounced then executed. The children of the marriage are disgraced and drift to the cities to live on the streets. As a former journalist, Zhang is keen to use publicity to break down social barriers. ‘They are innocent,’ says Zhang. ‘We just want people to understand that.’

Nick Young/Gemini News Service


‘Self-censorship is like celibacy: nobody can tell whether you actually practice it.’

Tsang Tak-sing, Chief Editor of Ta Kung Pao on claims that local papers are
playing down negative news about the Chinese Government.

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New Internationalist issue 300 magazine cover This article is from the April 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
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