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Uranium: To Die For 2012

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Ruth Diskin Films Ltd., P.O.Box 7153, Jerusalem, 91071, ISRAEL
Produced by Shanny Haziza
Directed by Shanny Haziza
DVD, color, 54 min., French and Hebrew (with subtitles), English

General Adult
Nuclear Weapons, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uranium

Date Entered: 03/21/2014

Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach

This documentary tells the tale of an Israeli woman on a mission to investigate the illegal mining and trade in Uranium in the Congo. The uranium that emerges from this lawless corner of the world – some of the highest quality in the world, and thus requiring less processing to produce weapons-grade fuel – powers nuclear ambitions across the world.

The Congo witnessed some of the darkest chapters in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Belgium’s King Leopold in the late nineteenth century turned the land into his private industrial enterprise, hacking off the limbs of the slave laborers who tended to the rubber trees and harvested ivory. Joseph Conrad told the vicious and genocidal tale of European imperialism in the Congo in his classic Heart of Darkness. Congo has unusually high quality uranium compared, for example, to the uranium extracted from Navajo lands in the United States. During World War II the African Metals Corporation – a Belgian company that mined uranium primarily to extract radium – was suddenly in possession of a material that would decide the outcome of the war. The U.S. seized the company’s uranium, to prevent it from getting into German hands, thus acquiring much of the material needed for the Manhattan Project. The nation after a war of independence went through numerous iterations from the 1960s, but all were classic post-colonial failed states, corrupted by supposedly revolutionary leaders, experiencing horrific genocidal episodes, and looted by various kleptocrats and warlords. Combined with some of the most valuable natural resource in the world, political instability and corruption has given rise to a perfect environment for the illicit uranium trade. Israel, for example, was rumored to have acquired most of the uranium in the late 1960s for its unacknowledged, but widely accepted nuclear weapons capability. Tales of injustice abound: villagers kicked off their land by warlords to get at the minerals underneath; unprotected miners working nearly as slaves in the low-tech mines and irradiating themselves and their environment in the process.

The production values of the film may not be particularly high, but that only serves to highlight the daunting and perilous task that the film has taken on: penetrating and revealing the secret world of weapons proliferation and its origins in the social and political chaos of the Democratic Republic of Congo. What emerges is a shocking tale about the illicit uranium trade – yellow cake uranium for $200,000 a pound -- that deserves far more attention that it has received, and perhaps for good reason. To accept the reality of this documentary is to embrace the inevitability of nuclear weapons proliferation and the eventual capability of some rogue state or terrorist group to create a nuclear weapon. More perhaps than anything else, this documentary answers the question of why the rich Western world should care about political stability in the heart of Africa.

For those anti-nuclear advocates who have recently embraced nuclear power as the only possible way to get off the addiction to fossil fuel, and its destructive carbon footprint, this documentary is a cautionary tale. The ancillary and unseen aspects of the global nuclear industry in the Congo should give pause to any level headed viewer about the wisdom of a nuclear-powered world.