TOPICS: The silence of the lambs

As a 1960s radical observing the shadows fall around us, I find history repeating itself. I was one of those who marched on the Clyde when the US Navy docked Polaris submarine there. Year after year we descended on Aldermaston. We were called ‘war babies’ because of the time into which we were born, but, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, war and its machinery, especially large concentrations of nuclear power were anathema for us.

I learn about the overwhelming concern of at least two of our neighbours about the threat of instability Nepal’s political situation poses to the region. It is their right to be concerned. Nepal also has rights. Size is not an issue, but morality and ethics are. To date, none of our politicians has raised a voice about a silent killer that threatens the well-being of the progeny of South Asia. President Bush agreed to share US nuclear technology with India, even though India has not signed the NPT. We understand it is for much-needed energy. Nuclear waste is peaceful, it has the potential to ensure that any small oversights in its disposal will render us all peaceful for a long time to come! Disposal should be solved satisfactorily and ideas range from shooting it into space (safest) and burying it under the sea (next safest) – both too expensive to consider practical.

Nuclear waste has a half life, ranging from 50 years for low-level waste like medical waste or radium suits to high-level waste – such as uranium and plutonium – which can have half lives of up to 100,000 years. The latter are of concern because our neighbours use them. It will have to be buried in rocks (Himalayas?) or other ‘stable’ places (seismicity is a problem) and any leakage will have severe consequences. Nuclear medicine cures deadly diseases. Medical scientists use it with caution? Do governments do likewise?

Governments aren’t sure how to dispose of nuclear waste safely and that, with so many old plants needing decommissioning, not to mention the disposal of nuclear arsenals, the world will have a huge disposal problem. In Nepal, hardly a voice has been raised about nuclear power around us. Why query an agreement made by a Republican president who has laid down the latest template for the D word? Why indeed – because democratic norms imply that neighbours should be consulted/ informed/ made privy with some degree of transparency about ‘peaceful’ activities – for example generation of nuclear power: one issue being of course where will your neighbours dump the waste?

We share land and atmosphere in this subcontinent and contamination can be lethal. The half life period indicates how long before nuclear waste ceases to be a severe threat to living beings; and neighbours’ rights to pursue economic aggrandisement need to be challenged when life and environment will be at risk. The children of this sub-continent, our silent lambs, deserve to have this challenge made on their behalf. If we don’t owe it to ourselves, we owe it to them: they didn’t waste this world, we did.