Impact of Nuclear Tests in Chaghai

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In the Chaghai district of Balochistan, there is a mountain sealed and off-limits to general public. This is the Ras Koh Mountain region where, on 28th May 1998, Pakistan conducted its first set of nuclear tests and entered the list of Nuclear powered countries. This was a celebratory moment for the complete Islamic Ummah in general and Pakistani nation in particular.

On 11th and 13th May 1998, India conducted its 2nd series of nuclear tests, Pokhran II. According to Rai Muhammad Saleh Azam in the defense journal, this posed a threat to the security of Pakistan as India was now a nuclear power and Pakistan wasn’t. In response, Pakistan made a decision to react to India’s aggression within a month. On 28th May, Pakistan responded to India’s threat with a series of five nuclear tests, Chagai I, at Ras Koh hills district Chaghai.

Pakistan first began building its nuclear weapons program in 1974 following the Indian nuclear test on 18th May 1974. In 1977, the task of designing an underground nuclear testing site along with all its allied infrastructure facilities was given to Special Development Works (SDW) under the overall supervision of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). According to the defense journal, the sites had to be designed in a way that they could be utilized at short notice and were to be completed by December 1979 at the latest.

Keeping in view the prerequisites for conducting underground nuclear tests, there was a need to have such a site, preferably a “bone dry” mountain with the capability of withstanding 20 kilotons of a nuclear blast from the inside. Therefore, scientists carried out a thorough reconnaissance of the area between Khuzdar, Awaran, and Turbat in the south and Kharan-Naukundi in the east. The survey concluded confirming that the topography, climate and water level of Ras Koh Hills in Chaghai District (not to be confused with Chaghi hills in the north) suited all the rudiments required for the conduct of the underground nuclear test.

The Chaghai district is the largest of Pakistan located in the South West. It shares borders with both Iran and Afghanistan in the north and south respectively. The Chaghai district, also known as Chaghi, has a total population of 226,008 according to the 2017 census with its majority being Baloch. As stated on the Revolvy, the district consists of two mountain ranges Chaghi hills in the north with Afghanistan and Ras Koh Hills in the south, the latter being the test site for the nuclear system. The Hills fall into an arid climate zone, devoid of vegetation and water, with extreme temperatures. These characteristics made Ras Koh Mountain Range inapt for habitation, thus, making it best suited for conducting the nuclear tests.

According to When Mountains Move- The story of Chagai, the nuclear tests were conducted underground to prevent the radioactive fall-out and for this reason, strict precautionary measures were taken which included concrete sealing of the tunnels which led to the nuclear system, by mixing cement and sand. Approximately, 6000 cement bags were used just to seal off the tunnels after detailed inspection by the scientists and technicians. Moreover, security level in complete country was enhanced, and air alert over all military and strategic installations were imposed. At 3:00 pm on 28th May 1998, the Ground zero was fully evacuated and at 3:16 pm, the button was pushed for the first detonation.

Pakistan’s finest hour was marked just as the Ras Koh Hill and its surrounding area trembled and changed its colors, stating the successful detonation of the nuclear devices. It was the historical moment when Pakistan became the world’s 7th Nuclear power.

The nuclear tests were conducted for the first time in the history of Pakistan in the Chaghai district and due to sensitivity and severity of the experiment extreme precautions were taken not only in physical but in spatial domain so that damage to the flora and fauna be curtailed to the maximum.

There have been many speculations and misperceptions about skin diseases and other environmental problems developing in the area due to radiation exposure as a result of the nuclear testing. However, according to the officials of the district, the area has been sealed and devoid of any human habitation ever since the blasts and there has been no radiation fallout detected in the area. Thus invalidating the said claims about the radiation exposure. Also, the most of Balochistan consists of barren lands and dry climates due to which its people are exposed to high levels of sun rays and UV rays which can also cause skin diseases.

Moreover, foreign nationals often visit the surrounding areas for various purposes, which would not have been possible if there was any radiation in the surrounding area. Most importantly, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could never have been developed and invested upon by China in a radiation effected province.

The people of Balochistan are peaceful and hardworking people and such rumors have only the purpose of spreading hate and misconceptions regarding Pakistan and will mainly harm Balochistan more than anything. Thus, unless properly researched and any cases being officially reported such rumors to damage national sovereignty should be completely shunned by the people of Balochistan.

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Serwat Fatima is a design graduate from Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design. She belongs to Quetta and has interests in arts and design, creative writing and current affairs.

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