The
Nuclear-Free Future
Award

in the Category


RESISTANCE

is presented to

Almoustapha Alhacen,

Niger

Basel, Switzerland
15 September 2017

Almoustapha Alhacen

As a young man, Almoustapha Alhacen—who had then guided salt-laden camels through the desert—learned that Niger’s soil had something else to offer. In 1978, he settled down in Arlit, a town in northwest Niger, and started work at a uranium mill run by a subsidiary of the French nuclear energy corporation AREVA. It seemed like a good job. He knew almost nothing about the material he was tasked with crushing. Uranium came from the ground, after all—exactly like the salt he had transported on camelback for thousands of kilometers through the desert. No problem.

..
Over the years, however, Alhacen became unsettled by certain goings-on around the mill. The already-sparse vegetation was totally scoured away. Wild animals disappeared. Trees died off. Strange illnesses afflicted his colleagues—and their wives. Relatively young people died mysteriously.

..

In 2002, Alhacen founded a local NGO called AGHIRIN’MAN (Niger)—“protection of the soul” in the language of the Tuareg—dedicated to the investigation and research of the dangers of uranium. Alhacen’s activities led to increased worry amongst the company leaders: talk of dismissing the stubborn investigator became common.

..

In 2003, as president of AGHIRIN’MAN, Alhacen arranged for scientists from the independent French laboratory CRIIRAD (Commission de Recherche et d’Information Indépendantes sur la Radioactivité; Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radioactivity) to survey the area in and around Arlit.

..

What they found easily fulfilled the requirements for negligent bodily injury. The ground- and drinking water were contaminated. The streets of Arlit—paved with radioactive waste material—threw off deadly radioactive particles. Countless millions of tons of radioactive waste lay open and unprotected around the mine. The wind could therefore blast the surrounding area with radioactive dust and radon.

..

Alhacen became a megaphone for those endangered by the mine. Suddenly, it became possible to have work clothes cleaned at the company facilities: before, the mine workers and their families were exposed to radiation through constant contact with contaminated clothing. Alhacen gave talks for several television programs, as well as lectures in African and European countries.

..

In Paris in 2007 and 2014, he exposed the hidden costs of uranium mining in Niger, and during the “Public Eye Award Ceremony” in 2008 in Davos, Switzerland, Alhacen gave a talk about human casualties during “normal” work operations. In 2015, Alhacen was fired from SOMAIR, a sister company of AREVA. Alhacen lost his job and his house. But he never lost his moral compass or passion for his mission.