Legacy of US Nuclear Weapons Still Killing Uranium Miners Decades Later: Study

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Common Dreams

Legacy of US Nuclear Weapons Still Killing Uranium Miners Decades Later: Study

Study obtained exclusively by The Guardian exposes deaths of workers who mined uranium for nuclear weapons and power generation

Researchers say the Rössing uranium mine's 1,500 workers are still exposed to dangerous dust (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons / Ikiwaner)

Researchers say the Rössing uranium mine's 1,500 workers are still exposed to dangerous dust (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons / Ikiwaner)

The race by the U.S. and British governments to build nuclear arms and power plants in the 1970s has left behind a deadly—and largely ignored—legacy for those who worked at the world's oldest open-pit uranium mine in Namibia.

Workers who mined uranium ore in Namibia for the British and U.S. military in the Rössing uranium mine during the 1970s are dying of cancers and unexplained illnesses, according to The Guardian, which obtained exclusive access to a study by Earthlife Namibia and the Labor Resource and Research Institute that is slated for release later this week.

The workers dug materials for U.S. and UK nuclear weapons and power plants at the mine, which is located in the Namib desert and still produces 7 percent of the world's uranium. 

Workers faced dangerous conditions, poor regulations, and high levels of dust, according to the study. According to The Guardian,

During the first years of operation, Rössing operated with a migrant labor system which the International Commission of Jurists declared illegal and said was similar to slavery. Black workers lived on the mine premises and were exposed to dust and radiation 24 hours a day and the mine became the focus for protests by anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear groups.

Based on a survey of current and former workers at the mine, the study found that every respondent knew people suffering lung infections and other illnesses they believe are linked to conditions at the mine.

"People get sick. We are seeing it in people that have worked for Rössing for a long time. They just go back and die after working at Rössing," one man told researchers.

While the study's authors say conditions at the mine have marginally improved, they find its 1,500 workers are still exposed to high levels of dust.

Yet, the study states, "Uranium companies generally deny that workers get sick because of exposure to radiation. They blame the bad health conditions to unhealthy lifestyles such as eating habits, tobacco smoking and alcohol."

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