Nuclear wasting PakistanPublished by MAC on 2006-04-28
Nuclear wasting Pakistan
28th April 2006
Last week, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) held its annual general meeting in India where, among its aims, is to boost nuclear/uranium power in the region. One of the areas defined by the Bank as among Pakistan's "most backward" is Bagalchur, site of old mines which were the original source of yellowcake used in Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme. Instead of being made safe, the abandoned mines are a continuing source of radioactivity, and now - adding further injury to injury - a site for the dumping of wastes from Pakistan's illegal and deadly nuclear programme.
VILLAGERS' FEARS OF NUCLEAR WASTE
by Nadeem Saeed, BBC News, northern Pakistan
28th April 2006
Baghalchur's uranium mines are now being used as a dump.
Residents of a remote Punjab village in northern Pakistan say their lives are in danger from nuclear waste being dumped in their area.
"We are being slow-poisoned," said Nazir Ahmed Buzdar, a resident of the tribal village of Baghalchur some 400km (248 miles) north of Karachi.
He is part of a group in a legal battle with Pakistan's nuclear authorities over the dumping of toxic waste.
Baghalchur is the site of abandoned uranium mines now being used as a dump.
"Our land played an important role in making Pakistan a nuclear power but all we have got in return is poverty and poison," said Mr Buzdar.
The relevant authorities say nuclear waste material has been stored deep down in underground caves and poses no danger to the environment.
But Mr Buzdar and his colleagues cite one of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission's (PAEC) own reports which said that the waste material being dumped at Baghalchur was "active".
Pakistan's nuclear authorities were mining the area around Baghalchur between 1978 and 2000. Locals say it was the first location in the country to produce uranium for Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.
Toxic effluent Villagers claim there are piles of "yellow cake" lying around The mining was stopped in 2000 but the underground tunnels were earmarked for storing nuclear waste.
Former chairman of the PAEC, Pervez Butt, told the BBC that the storage was perfectly safe.
"It is being done in keeping with the international standards for storing nuclear waste," he said.
In October last year, four residents of Baghalchur petitioned the local courts on the matter. The case was referred to the Supreme Court earlier this year.
The PAEC sought time to file its reply but requested the proceedings be kept in camera given the nature of the case. The court agreed and the next date of hearing is not yet known.
Lal Mohammed, one of the petitioners who has worked for the PAEC for eight years, says the nuclear waste being stored in his area may contaminate the environment for "centuries".
He pointed at several large and malodorous piles of what he called the toxic effluent of "yellow cake" - a raw form of mined uranium - lying openly around the place.
"Rain washes the chemicals in this sludge into the main water channels which are used both by humans and animals," he said.
Co-petitioner Naseer Shah says there has been a dramatic increase in infant mortality since the dumping of toxic waste started.
He says it has seriously affected milk producing cattle - many of which have died after contracting previously unseen diseases.
The petitioners say that the residents of Baghalchur should be assured that the dumping is not going to do them harm.
If guarantees cannot be given, they want immediate measures to cleanse Baghalchur of any contamination already caused.
Nuclear Waste Casts a Menacing Shadow
By Nadeem Saeed, Dawn (newspaper)
28th April 2006
BAGHALCHUR, April 27: Awe and silence have become part of the life of the poverty-stricken local population since the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission has started dumping "radioactive nuclear waste" here.
Ismail Leghari, a dweller of a village in the vicinity of Baghalchur, told this correspondent that livestock mortality and diseases among people had been on the rise for the last one year. No-one had bothered to tell us about the pros and cons of dumping atomic waste in our area, he complained.
Ismail was not the only person in the grip of fear of hostilities commonly attached to the word 'atomic'. The matter of dumping nuclear waste has been concerning all and sundry. Though illiteracy is something glaring over there, the locals somehow understand that radiation in the active nuclear waste can be a matter of concern for a long period of time.
"It is not that we have not lodged complaints with local PAEC authorities and the tribal area administration, but in fact no one is inclined to pay heed to our concerns," said Ghulam Farid Leghari, a local who was said to be detained on the orders of political assistant for two months for making hue and cry over the issue.
Situated in the mountainous tribal area of Dera Ghazi Khan district, Baghalchur remained an important site for uranium extraction for 22 years until further mining here was stopped in 2000. Tribesmen belonging to various sub-clans of Buzdar and Leghari tribes of Balochi origin inhabit Baghalchur and its adjoining areas, including Ronghan.
The area has been categorised by the Asian Development Bank as among the most backward parts of Pakistan. And its fate remains unchanged despite playing a vital role in the country's ambitious nuclear programme by providing a major chunk of the raw material.
However, the locals seem to be contended with the role their rugged native land had played in realising the dream of becoming a nuclear state. "But we were baffled to see some PAEC trucks unloading waste material a few years back in a uranium mine," Farid Leghari said, adding the labourers engaged in the unloading process were covered from head to toe in special uniform.
The locals said after that episode the arrival of trucks laden with drums of waste material became a recurrent affair. Initially, people sought help of their tribal elders to have their concerns addressed but they remained indifferent as they lived in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, he remarked. However, some of the locals mustered courage and moved the Dera Ghazi Khan district and sessions court in October last year as a last resort to stop the PAEC from dumping its waste in a populated area.
Earlier, the PAEC authorities were informed about concerns and demands of the local population on March 3, 2005, by the then political assistant, Syed Imtiaz Husain Shah. Their straightforward and valid demands were that the PAEC should tender a certificate that the material being dumped in the Baghalchur repository was not harmful to the people and their animals and in case of any bad effect of the nuclear waste surfacing at a later stage, the medical treatment of the local community would be its responsibility.
Jaffar Buzdar, the nazim of the area union council, said the people were not given any assurance regarding their concerns and demands. In their application to the district court, petitioners Naseer Shah, Nazeer Buzdar, Lal Muhammad and Maqsood had said the adverse effects of the 'radiation' emitting from the nuclear waste had started affecting the local population and its livestock.
They particularly pointed out abnormal growth of the feet of some animals.
In reply, the PAEC authorities in Dera Ghazi Khan claimed that the waste was being dumped underground in the tunnels and there had been no radioactive effects of it on the area population and its environs.
The locals, however, countered the PAEC claim saying if the dumped material was not radioactive then why it was being placed here after removing from far-off centres of the commission. The district court forwarded the case to the Law, Justice and Human Rights Commission for further hearing in February this year. The commission is said to be chaired by the chief justice of Pakistan.
The CJ sought report from the commission through the attorney-general. On March 29, the apex court was informed that the PAEC wanted 15 days to submit its reply. The court directed that the PAEC reply should be kept secret until further orders were issued in the matter. The SC has yet to fix the next date of hearing the case.
Utter neglect of the authorities concerned becomes evident when one visits Baghalchur. The uranium mines can be seen unprotected while heaps of sand and material left in the leaching process of uranium are found lying in open along the natural watercourses of the area.
Experts say it is a universal principle that the nuclear waste must be dumped away from man and his environment. They say it is the duty of the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority to ensure safety regime while handling the nuclear waste.
Dr Pervez Hoodbhai, professor of Physics at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, said a radiochemical analysis of the environs of Baghalchur had to be carried out and a complete medical checkup of the area residents should be conducted to ascertain affects of radiation (if any) on their general health condition.
He stressed that an independent inquiry commission should also be constituted to look into dumping of active nuclear waste in the area.
It may be added here that around 50,000 people live in scores of hamlets situated in and around Baghalchur, which is not far away from Dera Ghazi Khan town of half-a-million population.