Ulaanbaatar (AsiaNews) - A
Japanese researcher has turned to the nomads of Mongolia to help her document
the extent of radioactive contamination in the landlocked Asian nation. Ryoko
Imaoka, an associate professor of Mongolian studies at Osaka University, has
been supplying used cameras to the nomads of the Mongolian steppe so they can
document the frequency of deformed livestock, which appears to be on the
increase, particularly near uranium mines.
"With the transition to a
market-based economy rapidly in progress, environmental pollution is becoming a
serious problem," said Imaoka, 51, to Asahi Shimbun. "When eating their livestock,
nothing goes to waste--even the last drop of blood. That is Mongolian culture.
(The disposal of nuclear waste there) would definitely affect the people."
A French-Mongolian joint
venture started experimental drilling three years ago in southern Mongolia in
the search for uranium. Shortly thereafter, increased reports of deformities
and birth defects in livestock near the area started to appear. Even though the
correlation between mining and the deformities has yet to be proven, reports
included the birth of two-headed lambs and blind camels. Other animals are also
suffering from skin ulcers and blood clots in their bodies.
News of the birth defects
comes amid reports that both Japan and the United States are or were looking at
the possibility of dumping spent nuclear waste in Mongolia. In the abandoned
mining town of Mardai, in northeastern Mongolia, one of the possible storage
sites considered by Japan and the United States, radioactive waste left over
from the large-scale Soviet mining operations still remains.
The Society of Mongolian
Studies, which Imaoka belongs to, featured the nuclear issue in its journal
this summer. It also carried an essay from Imaoka. In addition, she is
translating a Japanese booklet into Mongolian on how to protect children from
Imaoka was born in Sakai,
Osaka Prefecture. While in junior high school, a television drama depicting the
life of Genghis Khan first sparked her interest in Mongolia. She later studied
Mongolian at university, which led her to specialize in topography. Visiting
the Gobi Desert every year, she has witnessed how the lifestyle of the nomads'
has changed over the last two decades.
Her Mongolian husband is a
car mechanic. She said, when welding in the desert he sometimes uses livestock
dung for fuel. "Mongolians value the cycles of nature. They taught me that one
is responsible for taking care of what one has made until the very end," she
said. "I don't want to see this country turned into a nuclear waste dump."