Blood for Uranium Is the Sequel to Blood for Oil

People are already dying over Niger's uranium mines.

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May 31 2013, 2:05pm


The author speaking to Acoma Pueblo Councillor David Vallo about uranium mining contamination. (Photo by ZD Roberts for the Palast Investigative Fund)

Greg Palast is a New York Times bestselling author and fearless investigative journalist whose reports appear on BBC Newsnight and in The Guardian. Palast eats the rich and spits them out. Catch his reports and films at www.GregPalast.com, where you can also securely send him your documents marked, "confidential".

Put these three things together:

1 – Despite President Barack Obama’s public announcement that he’s swearing off his addiction to drone strikes, The Drone Ranger has authorised a new drone base in the African nation of Niger. 

2 – In May 2010, Obama sent Congress a bill to purchase body armour and landmine-proof vehicles for our troops in Afghanistan. Hidden in the quickly-passed emergency measure: a $9 billion (£5.9 billion) loan guarantee for constructing nuclear power plants in Texas, Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina.

3 – Last week, two suicide attacks killed at least 30 at mine sites in Niger. The attacks were claimed by the Islamist group Those Who Sign with Blood, joined by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Niger doesn’t seem much like a place worth fighting over. Its people are so poor they can’t afford a coastline, just desert surrounded by more desert. They survive on 2,300 calories a day, though not for very long – most don’t live to 55.

From the air (I’ve only flown over it), it looks like Death Valley on a bad day – a sand-blasted wasteland, fried and desertified.  

But it’s what’s beneath the desert, invisible from the sky, that makes Niger the nation – if not its people – very rich indeed. Niger is the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium, the irradiating mineral at the heart of every nuclear power plant.

Last week’s attacks on the French-owned uranium mines were portrayed in the New York Times as spillover from the conflicts in Mali and Libya.

Merde de taureau! If anything, it is the war over Niger’s uranium that spilled over to Mali. In September 2010, long before the Islamist attacks in Mali and a year before Libya blew up, al-Qaeda attacked the mines, kidnapping a French engineer and his wife. The hunt for their captors and France’s need to protect its mines and resource reserves is what set off the Franco-Qaeda war in the Sahel. 


The Areva offices in Germany. (Photo via)

Obama is backing the French resource occupation army. Note that his decision to base US drones in Niger – there are many base options in the giant region – came before this last attack.

Obama knows: if the US wants hot rocks, he has to send in the hot rockets.

Get used to it. If you liked blood-for-oil wars, you won’t have to wait long for the sequel: blood for uranium.

The Niger mines’ principal owner, Areva, may have a French accent, but the Obama administration would know Areva as the US nuclear power industry’s number one supplier. Moreover, Areva obtained one of the four coveted loan guarantees from Obama’s “emergency” Afghan war chest. While Areva’s license for that reactor, sited in Maryland, is on hold until it finds a US-based partner, Areva remains a crucial source of the uranium fuel rods needed by the operators of all US plants. The US government also relies on Areva to fabricate MOX fuel. Areva’s MOX is made from uranium ore products mixed with plutonium from Soviet warheads purchased by the US.

Obama knows, but will never say, what I’m telling you now: Without a US military force in Niger, there will be no nuclear plant in Maryland, no MOX mix to burn up those old Russkie nukes.

The nuclear industry’s frontmen tell us that nuclear power will end our dependence on Mideast oil. If John McCain, the Senator from Arizona, gets his way, the US will build 200 new nuclear reactors at a cost of ten trillion dollars. The result would replace our dependence on OPEC… with dependence on Russia, Kazakhstan and Niger. 

What’s wrong with that? After all, President George W Bush said he “looked [Vladimir Putin] in the eye [and] found him to be very … trustworthy”.

I admit, I’ve never looked into Putin’s eyes – I wouldn’t dare. But to make the lights of Baltimore dependent on Vlad the Impaler of Chechens seems, well, ill-advised. 


Vladimir Putin and George W Bush, not looking each other in the eye. (Photo via)

And Kazakhstan? That’s worth a story by itself. (Watch this space.)

That leaves Areva’s Niger supply, if we’re willing to kill for it. 

Niger’s capital, by the way, is Niamey. I thought I’d give you a head start on most Americans and Britons who don’t learn the names of a nation’s capital until the arrival of the 101st Airborne and the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. (Think Saigon, Mogadishu, Kabul.)

But war for uranium might well be worth the blood if you listen to ersatz environmentalists, such as James Lovelock, who tell us nuclear energy is “green”, unlike, say, natural gas.

I would invite Dr Lovelock or any other greenie lovesick for radioactive energy to the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico this coming week when these Native Americans who once supplied our uranium will be tested for the cancers and other illnesses that mining the ore brought them. 

In 2008, for BBC Newsnight, I went to the pueblo following the indictment of local white politicians charged with stealing hundreds of Native ballots. Tribal Councillor David Vallo explained that the pueblo was attempting to vote down the reopening of the nearby uranium mine. The mine, he asserted, did as good a job as Custer in wiping out Indians. “We lost a lot of good people on account of their health.” He then added, “You know, that's irradiation – uranium is irradiation.”

Yes, I do know that uranium means irradiation – but it’s green irradiation.

Vallo noted that uranium contaminated their water supply and the mine run-off killed their crops. And that’s good, because if something grew, you wouldn’t want to eat it.

To white environmentalists, those sculpted nuclear cooling towers do look quite clean. But to the black, Asian and Indigenous peoples who dig the ore, nuclear power’s low carbon footprint comes from heavy jackboots. For one example: France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy has backed Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja, despite desolving the nation’s constitution, after the de facto dictator agreed to open a new mine site to Areva. France’s Canal 24 reports that Tuareg tribesmen – the group that would form the backbone of the insurgency in Niger and Mali – were cleansed from the mining area.


A uranium mine in Niger. (Photo by Yann Arthus-Bertrand)

Here’s a photo of Areva’s mine in Niger. Not a lot of green there. Greenpeace has reported abysmal working conditions at the mines, as well as contamination of the surrounding towns.

The chorus of Peggy Seeger’s song "Springfield Mine Disaster" goes, "Bone and blood is the price of coal."

The theme song of “green” nuclear energy should be, "Drones and blood is the price of uranium."

Greg Palast was the principal investigator and lead witness for the US Department of Justice in the civil racketeering prosecution of US nuclear plant builders in the 1980s. 

Follow Greg on Twitter: @Greg_Palast

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