Inspired by Her History, This Amherst Student Is Working to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

Emily Ratté spent the summer interning at Global Zero, and hopes to continue to work on nuclear disarmament and improved relations between East Asia and the United States.

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Emily Ratté spent the summer interning at Global Zero, and hopes to continue to work on nuclear disarmament and improved relations between East Asia and the United States.

Ratté, an Amherst student, first was introduced to nuclear diplomacy through her Japanese language teacher (Photography by Madeleine Cook, George Washington University)

As the newest campaigns and research intern at Global Zero, Emily Ratté spends her days researching nuclear issues and working at an organization that pushes for total elimination of nuclear weapons. Having grown up with dual Japanese and American citizenship, Ratté was interested in matters involving nuclear weapons since she was in high school. Since the United States is the only country to ever use nuclear weapons on another, and Japan was the affected country, Ratté is able to look at the benefits of eradicating nuclear weapons from both sides.

Through her work with Global Zero, Emily Ratté has researched how nuclear issues intersect with racial justice. She has explored how nuclear waste and pollution affect minority and Native American communities, and has used her internship as an opportunity to delve into this important and often-overlooked section of nuclear politics. With this new information and experience to guide her, Ratté plans to continue working toward nuclear disarmament after graduation.

Ratté studies how nuclear weapons affect minority and disenfranchised groups (Photograph by Madeleine Cook, George Washington University)

What Global Zero does that’s really unique is combine the activism and policy sides of nuclear disarmament. Both policy-makers and activists work on this topic, and having this work be centrally organized allows a lot of communication between both sides. Certain staff members specialize in their field, but being able to be in a space where both policy and activism happen is really cool and unique to this organization.”

The organization supports the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons—we support disarmament more than nonproliferation. That’s based on the fact that having any nuclear weapons in the world at all means there’s the potential for someone using them.”

I work more on the campaign side than on policy, but within that I help out with whatever the campaign leaders need, as well as doing research on intersectional issues with nuclear weapons. That includes how nuclear weapons are produced and how that affects the communities that are around those plants or those mines. It has a lot to do with indigenous communities and racial and social justice issues, which is really interesting to me.”

I was thinking a lot about what not only interested me the most in my academics, but also what moved me the most, and I landed on this.”

I’m half Japanese, so that started my interest in nuclear weapons. When I was in high school, I had this teacher who did a whole unit on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She was a Japanese language teacher, but she really wanted us to know about that history because she thought it was important and she was there [in Japan] at the time. I’d always known about the bombings, but that was how I got introduced to them in an academic setting.”

I grew up as a dual citizen, so that experience, being from both countries, and Japan having been the only country bombed by nuclear weapons, shaped my interest. Just hearing stories from my grandparents about living in Japan during that time and experiencing the war in Japan got me interested in these issues.”

Ratté’s work comes at an especially poignant time given current U.S. foreign diplomacy (Photograph by Madeleine Cook, George Washington University)

The largest chunk of my day is spent doing research on frontline communities. I started out by researching uranium mining, since that’s one of the first steps in the whole nuclear process, whether it’s weapons or power plants. I looked at how it affected Native American communities or low-income communities, because those are generally where the mines are. I especially looked at how contamination from those mines affected the communities around them. I’m now moving more into nuclear weapon production plants, and again focusing a lot on contamination.”

This frontline community research is not something I expected to do at the internship, but I’m really happy that I am. The racial justice side of nuclear issues has been the most interesting thing for me so far. I study Sociology back at Amherst, so that’s what takes up a lot of my academic time and being able to connect with that is great. In minority communities, radioactive contamination doesn’t get as much attention as large-scale events such as Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.”

One event that comes to mind—the one that shocked me the most—was basically a break in the Church Rock dam in New Mexico, which is right next to a uranium mill. It released eleven hundred tons of waste, ninety-four million gallons of radioactive wastewater, and contaminated a huge amount of water and land. This was particularly important because it was an area populated by a lot of Navajo people; the nuclear waste caused a lot of desecration of native land. That happened in 1979; around the turn of the century, unusually high rates of cancer started showing up in residents.”

The fact that something that happened way before I was born can cause sickness that only shows up around twenty years later is terrifying. The long-term effect that nuclear contamination can have is really shocking.”

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