The Nuclear Beast

Edited excerpt from a presentation by Eileen Shaughnessy & the Nuclear Issue Study Group (NISG) as part of the event “Earth Day Every Day.”

Photo Credits: Jim Holbrook

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My name is Eileen Shaughnessy and I helped found the Nuclear Issue Study Group (NISG). The pronouns that I use for myself, that I prefer, are she/her/they/them, which are gender neutral.

In our group we really try to be intersectional as far as acknowledging that we all have multiple identities that we are made up and that we have a choice in terms of what gender pronouns we are using for ourselves. That’s how we begin our meetings, we go around and we share our pronouns.

The first thing that we do when we travel with my music band or with this group [NISG] is that we acknowledge and we educate ourselves about who’s land we are on, because we know on Turtle Island we are on stolen land. My ancestors are not from this area. My ancestors are predominantly from Ireland and I am very aware of that in doing this work. Nuclearism is a very persistent form of colonialism. It’s very important that we begin with this very intentional act of acknowledging who’s land we are on.

Recently we traveled as a group to Las Vegas [Nevada]. Just outside of Las Vegas there are 2 very large military installations. All along the way we were trying to be aware and acknowledge who’s land we were on along our road trip. There is a really good web source to know who’s land you are on, especially when you are traveling, it’s called: A group out of Canada put this together as an interactive map. You can punch in the name of the colonial [city] name of where you are on and learn about it.

I want to acknowledge here [University of New Mexico], we are on Pueblo land.

We founded in 2016 officially [NISG] and we are entirely volunteer based. Which means we are making millions of dollars doing this work. It is very lucrative to fight the nuclear industry [laughter]. If you need a reason to join us, right there is your reason. Our membership comes from local New Mexico communities including organizers, young people, Indigenous peoples, people of color, queer communities, students, artists, etc.

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When we are talking about this issue [nuclearism] in the context of New Mexico, I like to call it “The Nuclear Beast.” As being in “the belly of the nuclear beast.”

The Trinity site happened in 1945… first of all, that site is opened twice a year because it is on an active missile range. It’s still radioactive some 70 plus years later. But it’s open to tourists. Tourists come, thousands and thousands of people from around the world actually on those two days. What the official version of that site will not share with you if you are on the site, it’s the fact that when that explosion happened there were 40,000 people in the surrounding areas that were impacted by that explosion and by the fall out. 70 plus years we are seeing immense cases of cancer clusters, birth defects, and auto immune disorders in these communities, which are mostly historically communities of color, Chicana and Chicano communities, Mexican communities, and also Indigenous communities.

There is a really awesome group called the Tula Rosa Down Winders, who have put together the very first ever health impact assessment study, where they were compiling data, they did surveys, it was very laborious work to gather that information to give us a full picture of the impact of that one test was. For context, that was just one test that was done in New Mexico in 1945, there have been thousands of tests worldwide that have spewed actual radioactive materials into the atmosphere. However, it is important to note that currently in the trillion dollar boost of the nuclear infrastructure there is talk of resuming testing.

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We [NISG] were really concerned that in the anti-nuclear movement it didn’t seem to be a very welcoming space for young people and people of color and queer people. We wanted to create a space that was intergenerational and was foreground some of those things.We also wanted a space to address the entire nuclear field chain; beginning with uranium mining, moving to testing and development, and waste.

As far as New Mexico [goes], we have the designation of having almost every step of the nuclear field chain represented in our state.You will see this theme over and over again when we are talking about nuclear issues in New Mexico, that we are the over represented and over burdened by these horrific industries, by the negative results. And we have to ask questions about why? We have come to conclusions that it has to do with environmental racism and environmental injustice.

The other thing that we try to do in our group [NISG] is that we try to make this information as accessible as possible. When we are talking about nuclear issues it can get very technical, overwhelming, there is a lot of jargon, and so we are both educating ourselves and we are trying very hard to offer this information in a way that people can understand it.

One of the other components that we also try to incorporate is art, music, creativity into what we are doing [NISG]. As long as I have been doing this work, I have found it’s very important to really ground it in something dare I say hopeful or positive. I myself, I’m an artist and a musician, and that’s one way that I process the apocalypse [laughter] or some of the darker aspects of nuclear war.

We as a group [NISG] have 4 areas of focus: uranium mining, weapons, mixed waste land fill is a local dump that impacts all of us, and consolidated storage.

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In Los Alamos, over 70% of their budget is dedicated to weapons. Even though you will often hear messages about green research or medical research, if you actually look at the budget by in large it’s all about weapons. With this trillion dollar boost in terms of the weapons program nationwide over the next 30 years that’s just going to expand.

I use this term nuclear colonialism and I am going to quote someone I admire very much – Leona Morgan – who said that “New Mexico is the birth place of nuclear colonialism.” The academic definition is: modern technology, U.S. empire, environmental racism, working in tandem to continue the historical displacement and genocide of Indigenous peoples. The fact that worldwide 70% of the uranium that these industries take and use is on Indigenous lands. We know over-and-over again that the peoples who are most impacted who are on the frontlines of this industry are Indigenous peoples and people of color. This bares out over and over again. That’s why we have to understand this as a form of colonialism.

When you are looking at a system like nuclearism and the ways in which nuclear weapons are created and nuclear energy is created… it all begins the same. It all starts with uranium. It ends with very dangerous and radioactive waste that we don’t have an answer for. When you are talking about energy, you are talking about high level radioactive waste.

If we are embarking on a path of creating nuclear weapons or creating nuclear energy it involves nuclear colonialism.

There is 4 tenants in nuclearism: secrecy, mass numbing, othering, and nuclear colonialism.

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