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 radiation exposure.
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."