Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Killing fields?

A day after the US House of Representatives re-opened the case on A.Q. Khan's network of death, a Pakistani senator has come out with claims that the country's nuclear program has been dumping radioactive waste in the open. The government has issued its predicatable denial, but more revelations will undoubtedly follow in the days and weeks ahead. If our nuclear guardians turned a blind eye to the export of their deadly technology, it would be hardly be surprising if allegations of domestic malfeasance are proved to be true.

Discussion of the country's nuclear program is conspicuously absent from the national press and it remains firmly hidden behind a veil of secrecy. If these allegations gain momentum they may be welcomed for not only exposing possible criminal liability but for also chipping away at that wall of secrecy. Another interesting fact: the allegations have been made by a member of the ruling PML-Q - Musharraf's own party. The cracks in the system keep growing wider.

Pakistani lawmaker says nuclear waste dumped in open

Tue May 23, 2006 5:24 PM IST

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani lawmaker on Tuesday accused the country's nuclear authorities of dumping radioactive waste near a village in central Punjab province, causing cancer, miscarriages, and infertility among villagers and livestock.

Senator Sardar Jamal Khan Leghari said tonnes of contaminated waste from milled uranium had been dumped outside abandoned mines in Baghalchur village, some 350 km southwest of Islamabad, flouting international nuclear safety norms.

"It is fact. It is a matter of security of our people and animals," Leghari, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) and son of a former president, told Reuters.

The lawmaker said the country's two prime nuclear institutions, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and Kahuta Research Laboratory (KRL), dumped radioactive waste in the area.

PAEC issued a statement on Saturday saying no waste was dumped in the open. It was disposed of in caverns that were fenced off and guarded against intruders.

PAEC said it has not found radioactivity in water, vegetation and air during its regular surveillance in the area.

"No dumping of this waste is being undertaken in the open but in specially prepared rooms/caverns," it said.

Leghari maintained that, due to uranium radiation, the rate of miscarriages, infertility, cancer and skin-related diseases had increased 200 percent in his constituency of Choti, some 100 km away (62 miles) from the dumping area.

"I have proof. We conducted survey and collected about 1,200 samples from Choti," he said adding that he planned to present the evidence in parliament.

Last week, a bushfire broke out near PAEC's uranium extraction plant near Baghalchur, in Dera Ghazi Khan district, raising a scare over safety at the facility.

Residents had earlier filed a case against PAEC, out of fear that it was dumping nuclear waste in the area. The proceedings were being conducted behind closed doors.

Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998 and many aspects of its nuclear programme remain secret.

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