7-13 June 2013 #659

Radioactive decay

Bhojraj Bhat, Nepal, 2 June

LOSING IT: Saili Maya Jimba’s nails are falling most likely due to long term uranium exposure.
Marie Curie won two Nobel prizes for her pioneering work in the field of radioactivity. Her discovery of radioactive elements proved to be a boon for modern science.

But the discovery of uranium in Tinbhangale of Makwanpur district seems to be doing more harm than good for its residents. Although the link between exposure to uranium and higher incidences of cancer and diseases in the region has not been proved yet, experts say there is a connection.

“Although exposure to radioactive rays doesn’t cause immediate harm, prolonged exposure through the air, water, crops, and animals is detrimental in the long run,” explains Professor Binil Aryal from the department of geology in TU. “People should not be allowed to build homes around areas where radioactive elements are found.”

Fourteen years ago, the Department of Mines and Geology discovered uranium in parts of Tinbhangale. Back then there were no houses around the site, today settlements have grown as people from Kavre’s Simle, Falengtar, Chitre, Saure, Jure, Dadegaun started migrating here from mid-60s onwards. Almost everyone in the village suffers from diarrhoea, vomiting, and skin diseases. Other harmful effects of radioactivity such as hair fall, falling of nails, miscarriage during pregnancy, and lung diseases (like tuberculosis) are also on the rise. Even the cattle fall sick often.

Santa Gyaneshwor Guro who lives in an area with the highest level of uranium says he feels nauseous every time he enters the house. He has lost his appetite and has difficulties sleeping at night. Fellow villager Man Bahadur’s 57-year-old mother Kantimaya suddenly stopped talking three years ago. Numerous trips to the capital have proven unfruitful as the doctors cannot diagnose her ailment. Man Bahadur himself looks emaciated and sick.

Lal Bahadur Lungwa of Chatiwan Katlekhola suffers from skin cancer. About 10 months ago he noticed something that looked like an insect bite on his neck. At first Lungwa didn’t pay much attention, but with time the bite began to hurt. He went from hospital to hospital seeking treatment but with little success. At Bharatpur Hospital he discovered he had cancer.

Bhumeshwori Primary School lies 50km east of the region. Teacher Jima Kumari Jimba says she has seen signs of mental illness among students here. “They stare into space and cannot remember their lessons. Sometimes the students even faint,” she explains. 12 students out of a school of 150 are currently receiving scholarship for learning disabilities.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, human habitats should be evacuated if radioactive level crosses over five per cent. In 1987-88, the then Minister of Forest Hem Bahadur Malla ordered the relocation of residents to Rangpur of Rautahat and Toriamai of Makwanpur. But the orders couldn’t be carried out as the Panchayat thought it was done so in alliance with Save Chure movement.

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