Source : Down to Earth [India] April 21, 2004
RED ALERT in nuclear India
Intro:Indiaís pampered nuclear power programme is losing steam. Uranium
stocks are almost over; people wonít let the government dig new mines; all
projects are running late and new technology is almost impossible to get as
decommissioning reactors is the trend world over. Is the Indian nuclear
establishmentís target of 20,000 MW by 2020 just a fantasy?
RICHARD MAHAPATRA & T V JAYAN get to the core
Indiaís limping nuclear establishment wanted a new mine to dig but the
verdict it got from the people was no. When the Jharkhand state pollution
control board held a public hearing on February 25, 2004 in East Singhbhum
districtís Banduhurang village to get environmental clearance for the
Uranium Corporation of India Ltdís (UCIL) proposed mine, three villages
refused to be displaced. The villages reminded UCIL that it still hadnít
given them compensations promised in 1985 when lands were taken away for a
uranium mine near Thuramdih village.
At the meeting, anti-nuclear activists reeled out stories of
radiation-related health problems in villages around uranium mines. UCIL and
pollution control board officials countered this by telling people not to
Harsingh Padeya, village head of Banduhurang, doesnít buy UCILís claims. He
lost his lands when UCIL, a company controlled by the Department of Atomic
Energy (DAE), started the Thuramdih mine. He is still waiting for the
compensation, and there are at least 250 displaced people like him. ìI fear
that they wouldnít keep their word again and that is why I will vacate my
land only if I get all compensation, old and new,î says Padeya.
Roughly 5,000 people would be displaced by the proposed Banduhurang mine. So
this time when the villages got a relocation notice before the public
hearing, Padeya and others decided: ìNo uranium without compensation.î
Villagers and environmental activists hounded the hundreds of officials at
the hearing. They demanded to know if the new mine would cause radiation
like the ones in Jaduguda and what would they get in compensation. ìPoverty
is more hazardous than radiation. What if we leave our village and donít get
good compensation,î says Ashwini Sahoo, a resident of Kerwa village. ìThe
hearing didnít promise us a good compensation package and without it we will
be destroyed.î ìUCILís credibility is in question, and we hesitate to take
a decision based on its claims,î says Arun Nayak, a resident.
No luck in Andhra Pradesh
Public protests against UCIL have prevented it from opening up any new mine
since 1985. In last six months, UCIL has tried thrice to set up new uranium
mines in Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya and Jharkhand but hasnít got permission
anywhere. The Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya governments have agreed to UCILís
proposal in principle, but have withheld permission because of public
pressure and nuclear activistsí campaign focusing on UCILís poor safety
record in Jaduguda.
That record has landed UCIL in the court too. The Supreme Court since 2000
has been hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Delhi-based
lawyer B L Vadhera, which alleges that UCILís mining has created radiation
and health problems in Jaduguda. The Supreme Court on March 23, 2004 was
shown independent studies, which allege that irresponsible handling of
uranium ore had put some 50,000 people in Jaduguda at risk and caused
genetic deformities in the area.
And there is no end to UCILís public drubbing. On January 28, 2004 the
Andhra Pradesh pollution control board (APPCB) rejected the companyís Rs
400-crore project to set up a uranium mine at Lambapur-Peddagattu village
and a processing plant in Mallapuram village of Nalgonda district. The
boardís committee for establishment (CFE) decided a processing plant
couldnít be allowed at Mallapuram because it would be near the catchment
area of Nagarjunasagar reservoir that supplies water to Hyderabad. The
reservoir already has uranium concentrations in the range of 2-3 µg/l which
is below the World Health Organizationís preliminary guidance of 9 µg/l, but
experts say if mining is permitted in the Lambapur-Peddagattu area the
leaching of radionuclides into the reservoir will increase. The pollution
boardís technical committee wanted to permit a mine at Lambapur-Peddagattu
if UCIL followed safeguards but CFE refused.
To get over this problem, a public hearing was convened which many believed
would help UCIL get a rubber stamp clearance. When the Andhra government
announced in February 2003 that UCIL wanted to dig a uranium mine in the
state, it faced several protests. So the government stopped speaking on the
issue and then in July 2003 the APPCB abruptly announced in local newspapers
that a public hearing on the proposed mine would be held on August 19, 2003
at Peddagattu. The venue was a remote hillock, roads to which had been
damaged during rains. The state high court stepped in after hearing a PIL by
Movement Against Uranium Project (MAUP-a confederation of 20 anti-nuclear
groups in the state) and asked the pollution control board to hold a second
public hearing on the same day at Pedda Adiserapally, the block headquarter.
But at this hearing, another stratagem was used to block the people and
civil society groups. Police personnel strictly monitored people and
discouraged them from speaking up. UCIL officials tried to mislead people on
facts and figures. ìThey decided not to listen to anybody,î says J Rama Rao,
a member of civic group Better Hyderabad.
But all these tactics didnít work. UCIL failed to convince the gathering
that the mine would be safe. The ore from the proposed mine would be rich in
uranium, UCIL officials told the public hearing. That claim contradicts the
companyís own March 2003 environmental impact assessment report, which says
the uranium here is of 0.02 per cent grade. This means for every 1,000 kg of
ore mined only 200 gm of uranium can be obtained. Interestingly, UCIL
officials tell people they donít risk health hazards because there is so
little uranium to mine. ìCompared to Nalgonda, mines in countries like
Canada yield 2 to 12 per cent of uranium. We are less at risk,î says
Ramender Gupta, chairman and managing director of UCIL.
ìAn environment impact assessment done by UCIL has to be examined carefully.
The examination will be no use if it is done by people who thrive on grants
and favours from the department of atomic energy,î says Buddhi Kota
Subbarao, a former nuclear scientist and a Supreme Court lawyer who has
studied what the environmental impact of the proposed Nalgonda uranium mine
would be. The proposed mine has now become an issue in the stateís politics.
On August 16, 2003 Opposition parties came together to oppose the project
and Congress sent a letter to the chief minister, requesting him not to
permit the mine. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu on August 18 issued a
statement that he hadnít granted permission.
Chased away in Meghalaya
Domiasiat village in Meghalayaís West Khasi Hills contains Indiaís largest
and richest uranium reserve. To convince people that mining this treasure
trove would be safe, UCIL has flown important political leaders and
journalists of Meghalaya to Jaduguda to show its åsafeí mining practices.
ìThis is a transparent way to educate people about uranium mining. Our
problem is that uranium was introduced to the world through atom bombs and
we still suffer from that image,î says A C Kundu, general manager (mines),
But this PR gimmick and a decade of lobbying with the state government and
local communities hasnít won the reserve for UCIL. ìEvery time we turn up at
Domiasiat, people chase us away calling us agents of death,î says a senior
UCIL officer. The company has been exploring at West Khasi Hills for three
decades, but hasnít done any study on what impact uranium mines would have
on the environment.
The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, which decides about the
community land, has withdrawn the permission it had given to UCIL for
exploring the area. ìWe cannot allow UCIL to start uranium mining and
overlook the health hazard this could cause,î says Dino D G Dympep,
secretary general of Meghalaya Peopleís Human Right Council, a
The sandstone-type uranium deposit at Domiasiat will be cheaper to extract
because itís near the surface. UCIL estimates that Domiasiat has about
10,000 tonnes of uranium ore, which is spread over a 10-sq-km area. A sum of
Rs 450 crore was earmarked in 1992 for a pilot project but a massive public
protest in 1996 forced UCIL to withdraw from Domiasiat. Undeterred by this,
the Geological Survey of India in 1998 identified 20 other places in
Meghalaya with rich uranium deposit. UCIL wants to mine all of them,
displacing an estimated 1,00,000 people. Dympep says, ìI have seen in
Jaduguda and will never let it be repeated in Meghalaya.î
In April-May 2003, UCIL conducted a geophysical survey in Domiasiat and this
time it negotiated with individual residents instead of the state
government.The stateís chief secretary admits the government has not been
consulted during this survey. UCIL has met the state Chief Minister, D D
Lapang, twice since last year and promised investments in the state but
Lapang has refused to make a commitment.
(MONSOON SESSION - 2003)
Question no: 247
Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purposes
(a) whether India is committed to the use of atomic energy for peaceful
(b) if so, the details of projects based on atomic energy; and
(c) the steps being taken to increase the production of atomic energy in the
(a) to (c) A statement is laid on the Table of the House.
(a) Yes Sir.
(b) Some of the major projects/achievements are as follows:
(i) The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), a Public
Sector Undertaking, is responsible for the design, construction and
operation of nuclear power reactors. There are fourteen (14) nuclear power
reactors with a total nuclear power capacity of 2720 MWe in operation and 8
reactors are under construction in the country.
(ii) The Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) and the Heavy Water Board
(HWB) provide support to the atomic power programme.
(iii) The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) provides
research and development support to nuclear power programme, produces
radioisotopes and provides facilities for research. The radioisotopes
produced in the research reactors at Trombay and at the nuclear power plants
and the cyclotron at Kolkata find wide applications in the fields of
agriculture and food, medicine and healthcare, industry and research.
(iv) Amongst other activities, the Centre for Advance
Technology (CAT) is engaged in the application of lasers in industries and
health care and research.
(v) The Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology (BRIT) is
responsible for the processing of radioisotopes for supply to medical and
industrial users across the country. Medical applications include
radiopharmaceuticals, brachytherapy wires, radioimmunoassay kits and various
other products and services.
(c) Some of the steps being taken to increase the production of atomic
energy are the following:
(i) Eight nuclear power reactors at four sites are under
construction. On completion of these projects, the nuclear power capacity in
the country will be 6680 MWe. A total nuclear power capacity of 20,000 MWe
by the year 2020 has been envisaged.
(ii) A 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is
planned for constóruction at Kalpakkam during the X Plan.
(iii) The utilisation of thorium reserves for electricity
generation is the main long term objective of the Department. The advanced
heavy water reactor with a capacity of 300 MWe has been designed by BARC as
a technology demonstration project to utilise thorium for electricity
Question no: 322
Radiation from Atomic Plants
(a) whether due to higher radiation from various atomic power plants in the
country the health of workers working in such plants have been badly
(b) if so, the details in this regard and number of workers affected as a
(c) whether it is also a fact that many new born babies around the
habitations near Koodankulam Atomic Project in Tamil Nadu have extra fingers
in their hands and feet;
(d) if so, whether this abnorma1cy is a result of nuclear radiation etc.;
(e) if so, whether any scheme has been formulated to deal with the
(f) if so, the details in this regard?
(a) No, Sir.
(b) Does not arise.
(c) & (d) The nuclear power project at Kudankulam is still under
construction and emission of any radioactivity from the plant at this stage
does not arise.
(e) & (f) Do not arise in view of (c) & (d) above.
Question no: 330
Uranium Reserve and Exploration
(a) whether certain areas in Assam, Meghalaya and other North Eastern States
have rich uranium reserves;
(b) if so, the details thereof;
(c) whether any exploration and exploitation of such reserves has been
(d) if so, the details of such plans;
(e) the action taken so far in this regard; and
(f) the steps taken / being taken to prevent any radiation hazards involved
in such processes?
(a) Yes Sir. Uranium ore reserves have been located in the state of
Meghalaya and a few sporadic occurrences in Assam.
(b) Estimated uranium deposits in Domiasiat, Wahkyn, & Tyrnai in West Khasi
Hills District, Meghalaya are as under:
Name Uranium Oxide in Tonnes
(c) Uranium Corporation of India Limited has initiated action to commence
work on uranium mining and processing facilities in Domiasiat, Meghalaya
during the X Plan period.
(d) & (e) Preparatory work (like preparation of detailed project report,
environmental impact assessment studies, etc.) for this project has been
taken up. UCIL has filed application for grant of mining lease with the
Radiation levels in uranium mining and milling operations are not expected
to be high. All necessary engineered radiation protection measures will be
incorporated in the design of the mine and mill. No radiation hazard to the
plant personnel or environment is likely on account of mining / milling
Question no: 1306
Generation of Power from Thorium
(a) whether there is any proposal with the Government to generate atomic
power from thorium;
(b) if so, the details thereof;
(c) the difference in the cost of production of thorium generated
electricity and uranium generated electricity; and
(d) the details thereof?
(a) Yes, Sir.
(b) An Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) to generate atomic power from
thorium is being developed at BARC. The Reactor will be mainly utilising
thorium as fuel for about two-thirds of its electricity generation. On the
basis of research and development work carried out so far on design and
development of major sub-systems involved, a detailed project report
containing the major highlights of design, safety and other related aspects
for this reactor has been completed. Being the first of its kind in the
world, detailed peer review of the design is being carried out by expert
(c) AHWR is still under development. However considering the features built
in the design and rich thorium reserves in India, the cost of nuclear power
using thorium is expected to be competitive in the long run.
(d) Does not arise.
Question no: 2207
Madras Atomic Power Station
(a) whether Madras Atomic Power Station Unit 11 is likely to be synchronised
to the grid;
(b) if so, the details thereof;
(C) whether the said synchronisation process will result in an additional 50
MW of power to the grid; and
(d) if so, the details thereof?
(a) & (b) The second Unit of Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS-2) was
synchronised to the Southern Electricity Grid on 23.7.03.
(c) & (d) With the synchronisation of MAPS-2, the capacity of the Unit is
planned to be restored to about 220 MWe from the present rating of 170 MWe.
Question no.: 3019
(a) whether the Uranium mining in some forest areas in Jharkhand has created
severe problems for the tribals living in these forests because of radiation
emitted during uranium mining;
(b) if so, the details thereof;
(c) whether any environmental impact assessment study has been conducted by
the Government in this regard;
(d) if so, the details thereof and the outcome of the assessment study;
(e) the rivers which pass through these forests where uranium mining has
(f) whether the Union Government are aware of the fatal impact of mining
activities in these forests; and
(g) if so, the details thereof and the steps taken by the Union Government
in this regard?
(a) No, Sir.
(b) Does not arise.
(c) & (d) There is no hazardous impact on the local people or the
environment on account of operation of uranium mines in Jharkhand by Uranium
Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL). The radiation levels in and around
Jaduguda is almost same as in other parts of the district. The radiation
levels in UCIL mines and mills are well within the limits prescribed in this
behalf by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) which are in turn based
on the recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological
Protection (ICRP). For the systematic and effective monitoring of radiation
levels in and around the mines/mills, a well equipped Health Physics
Unit-cum-Environmental Survey Laboratory of the Bhabha Atomic Research
Centre (BARC), which is independent of UCIL, has been in operation at
Jaduguda since the inception of UCIL.
Environmental Impact Assessment has been done by MECON Ltd., a Central PSU,
for the proposed mine at Banduhurang. Salient features of the assessment
Change in topography will not have appreciable impact on drainage and
In buffer zone there shall be no change in drainage system due to the mining
In operational stage some change in land use in nearby buffer zone is
anticipated due to increased economic activities, urbanisation, etc. which
is viewed as positive change because existing amenities are poor in the
Quality of ground water shows that in buffer zone, prior to mining, iron is
higher than the limits because of the presence of iron salt in the host
rocks. Mining and allied activities will have no impact or bearing on these;
The existing background level" of dust, as 'indicated by the present
(pre-mining) monitoring data, is very less. The estimated dust level rise
shall not cause any appreciable impact on the neighbouring environment
(e) Gara Nala river passes near the operating mines of UCIL.
(f) Data collected so far do not indicate any adverse impact on account of
mining activities in these forests.
(g) Does not arise.
Question no: 3060
Indo-Russian co-operation in Nuclear Field
(a) Whether Russia has agreed to build more reactors in India;
(b) if so, whether Russia has expressed its willingness to expand nuclear
energy co-operation with India;
(c) if so, whether India has agreed to the proposals made by Russia to build
more reactors in India; and
(d) if so, the time by which a final decision in this regard is likely to be
(a) to (c) India and Russia are co-operating for construction of two 1000
MWe reactors in Kudankulam, India. Both countries are in discussion to
expand the scope of co-operation in the field of atomic energy for peaceful
(d) It is difficult to establish a time frame for a final decision on
expansion of the scope of present co-operation.
Question no: 352
Capacity of Nuclear Power Reactors
(a) whether it is a fact that Government have decided that the unit size of
the future power reactors in the country be increased to 700 MW capacify
instead of 250 MW or 540 MW capacity;
(b) if so, the details thereof; and
(c) what important project implementation strategies have been adopted by
the Nuclear Power Corporation of India to reduce the construction period of
atomic plants in India?
(a) to (c) A statement is laid on the Table of the House.
(a) & (b) Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) beyond those presently
under construction (unit sizes of 220 MWe and 540 MWe) are planned to be of
700 MWe unit size, based on scaling up of 540 MWe unit design. The reactor
core in 700 MWe design is same as in 540 MWe and only a few small changes
have been made in other nuclear systems. Design and development works on 700
MWe PHWRs are in an advanced stage.
(c) Strategies being adopted in the construction of projects under
construction for reducing construction time are as follows:
Completion of pre-project activities in design and development of site
infrastructure before commencing the construction of the project.
Timely manufacture of components/ equipment in the context of the experience
gained in the field.
Adopting the concept of large supply-cum-erection packages to the extent
Increased use of automation in the construction.
Strengthening project management techniques and monitoring mechanism for
Question no: 1185
Exposure of workers to radiation
(a) Whether some workers of Kalpakkam Atomic Reprocessing plant were over
exposed to high radiation;
(b) if so, the details thereof,
(c) the steps being taken as safety measures to avoid such incidents in
(d) whether the victims can continue with the present job after this
(e) whether Government would provide any compensation to the victims taking
into account the damage caused to their lives?
(a) Yes, Sir. There has been an incident of over-exposure of six persons at
the Kalpakkam Reprocessing Plant (KARP) on January 21, 2003.
(b) On January 21, 2003, when the Reprocessing Plant was under normal
operation, there was an incident of inadvertent over-exposure to radiation
of six persons during the process of transfer of low level liquid waste from
a tank in an area, away from the main Reprocessing Plant. The cause of the
incident, as identified later on by a specially constituted Technical
Committee, was a minor leak in an isolation valve separating a high level
liquid waste tank from the low level liquid waste tank resulting in increase
in activity level in the latter. Since the leak was of a minor nature, it
had gone unnoticed by the persons involved in the transfer of liquid waste.
This was noticed when a sample of the low level liquid waste which was being
transferred showed a higher than expected level of radioactivity. As a
result, the six personnel who were involved in this transfer operation were
inadvertently exposed to higher than the annual dose limit. The Safety
authorities have investigated the incident according to the procedure, which
involves measurement of radiation doses received, establishing the root
cause and medical examination of the exposed personnel. The Medical
Authorities have certified that all these six personnel are in good health
and there were no abnormal findings. There was neither any release of
radioactivity to the environment nor any risk of exposure to any member of
(c) Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has well laid out mechanisms to review the
safety status of Operating Plants. As per prevailing practice, the facility
was immediately shutdown and an independent Technical Committee was set up
to investigate the abnormal incident, so that remedial measures could be
taken to prevent such recurrence and to disseminate the lessons learnt to
other similar facilities. BARC are implementing the recommendations of the
(d) Yes, Sir. Since these personnel involved are physically fit and are in
good health with no adverse symptoms, they are quite capable to continue to
work in the Reprocessing Plant. However, as per the prevailing Safety
Guidelines followed at BARC, these persons have been assigned jobs in the
(e) In view of the fact that the medical report certifies that the persons
involved are in good health, the question of compensation does not arise.
VOL 12 ,NO 23 Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Headline : Eyewitness: Radioactivity doesn't stop at the mines in Jaduguda
Intro:Travelling in Jaduguda, RICHARD MAHAPATRA finds radioactivity doesnít
stop at the mines
Jaduguda looks grievously casual. Every day, about 200 trucks pass through
the crowded main town, loaded with uranium ore, and uncovered most of the
time. Sometimes, only a thin polythene sheet separates the people from the
deadly cargo. Uranium tailings lie unprotected in front of the local school.
The tailings are also used as construction materials of roads and buildings.
Water from the main tailing pond travels five kilometers before joining the
Subernarekha River. Some 900 meters underground, about 2000 miners explore
the world's lowest grade uranium, breathing Radon gas five to six hours a
day on average. This is life as usual for 50,000 people in seven villages in
the area East Singhbhum, Jharkhand.
See: Online slide show
But as you speak with residents and mine workers, Jaduguda assumes grave
hues. Take Chatikocha village, where 500 people live below the embankment of
the area's largest tailing pond. The massive embankment of the tailing pond
is all that keeps away the village from being swept away by millions of
tonnes of radioactive materials, including wastes from Nuclear Fuel Complex
in Hyderabad. As the wind usually blows from above the embankment,
solidified with milled uranium ores, it carries with it dust from the
tailing pond. The liquid waste dumped here is diverted to a channel that
ultimately joins the Subernarekha River.
"Besides me nobody is alive who joined the UCIL as mill worker in the
1960s," says Saluka Himbram, the village head who retired from UCIL after 34
years of employment. "Abnormal births have become common. Half of the
village's women have problems in delivery and miscarriages." Two years ago,
residents were told not to drink water from the three tube wells. Life
becomes hell in summer. "We feel like vomiting when the wind, carrying fine
dust from the pond, reaches us," he says. His son, who is now working as a
miner, has already made 39 visits to a doctor in the last six months. "A
strange pain in his abdomen keeps him down for days," he says. "There is
some problem here. The tailing pond must be causing the problem."
Complaints of defective births, rising tuberculosis, and lung and abdomen
cancer from villagers living around the uranium mining facilities are on the
rise. "The generation born after uranium mining started is showing these
symptoms more prominently," says Ghanashyam Birouli, a Jaduguda-based
anti-uranium mining activist. Birouli's father, a worker in the mines, died
of lung cancer. "Radiation level is high and the carelessness in disposing
various wastes have overexposed us to radiation," he says.
The ore is milled to separate the uranium from other ore components. Waste
from the milling process poses significant health and environmental hazards.
It takes more than 1000 metric tonnes of ore to get 2 metric tonnes of
uranium (to obtain a typical uranium concentration of 0.2 per cent). More
than 998 tonnes of waste is generated in the process. This waste, called
mill tailings, contains 85 per cent of the radioactivity in the original ore
along with heavy metals and chemical toxic materials. When discharged from
the mill, the tailings are roughly 40 per cent solids and 60 per cent
liquid. According to estimates made by M. V. Ramana of the Center for Energy
and Environmental Studies at Princeton University, US, the amount of waste
produced during mining and milling is 4.1 million tonnes. To obtain a purer
uranium ore grade of 0.03% would increase the toxic waste to 9.3 million
A survey and scientific testing of samples from the soil and water in and
around the Jaduguda mines by Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University's Research
Reactor Institute in July 2002, found high radioactivity. The permissible
limit for radiation exposure by any 'artificial factor' is 1 millisievert
per year (1mSv/y), or 0.11 microSv/hour. In Jaduguda, there are places where
the external gamma dose by only the 'natural factor' exceeds this limit.
Exposure by the 'artificial factor' is avoidable. The most pernicious source
of contamination lies in tailing ponds, and here the amount of air-gamma
dose exceeds 10 mSv/y (1.1 microSv/h).
The same study found high uranium contamination in the areas around the
tailing pond and along the stream that carries the tailing water to the
Subernarekha River. Similarly, roads on which trucks carry ore to the mill
and the railway station at the Rakha Mines has exceptionally high uranium
contamination. Its findings showed:
1. The amount of air-gamma dose exceeds 1 mSv/y in the villages, and reaches
10 mSv/y around the tailing ponds.
2. The perimeter of the tailing ponds is polluted with uranium, from 10 to
100 times higher as compared with areas without contamination.
3. Number 1 tailing pond is contaminated by cesium. As the area's uranium
mines do not produce cesium, this shows the area is used as a dumping ground
for radioactive waste brought from other polluted sources.
4. Uranium concentrations are high in samples taken from the riverbank and
roads. This perhaps indicates tailings are used as construction materials.
5. At the Rakha mines station, from where semi-processed uranium is sent to
Hyderabad for fuel fabrication, the soil is polluted by only uranium. Its
concentration is remarkably high.
Another survey of four villages, two in the vicinity of Jaduguda (where a
similar plant has been in operation for many years) and two villages some
distance away from the plant, conducted by the Gujarat-based Sampoorna
Kranti Vidyalaya Vedchhi (SKVV), found that the number of infants born with
genetic disorders was six times higher than normal, due to the harmful
radiation emitted by UCIL's operations for more than two decades. Of the 70
such cases reported, 60 were born with congenital deformities in villages
close to the Uranium plant, whereas 10 were born in non-affected areas.
Moreover, 16 out of the 60 were mentally retarded, compared to one in other
areas. Cases of infants born with Polydactyl (extra fingers or toes) and
synductyl (fused or missing fingers and toes) is also common in the affected
areas. "By this, we can safely conclude that living in the vicinity of a
Uranium mining and processing plant is an invitation to produce deformed
children," says Surendra Gadekar of Vedchhi.
Of the 107 Tuberculosis cases reported in the area, 50 cases alone were
reported from the 591 persons working in the mines. In comparison, only 57
cases were reported from the general population of 7,051. The survey said
that while the incidence of lung cancer and silicosis was high among people
engaged in mining and processing of Uranium ore all over the world, not a
single case was reported in Jaduguda, even though the incidence of
Tuberculosis was high among the locals. "Wrong diagnosis helps the company
since silicosis is a occupationally caused disease whereas Tuberculosis is
not," Gadekar alleged.
But UCIL and BARC have denied radioactivity in the area, and attribute the
health problems to chronic malnutrition and other localised reasons.
"Jaduguda has less radiation than Hyderabad," says A C Kundu, UCIL's the
general manager (mines). Similarly, R K Sharma, head of BARC's public
awareness wing maintains, "All our health monitoring of mine workers and
other people residing the tailing pond shows no radioactivity beyond
permissible levels. So the health problems are not linked to the mining
BARC's Health Physics Unit monitors the radioactive exposure of workers in
nuclear establishments and the AERB prescribes the safe dosage of
radioactivity exposure. According to its limits, the cumulative effective
dose constraint for five years should not be more than 100 mSv for
individual radiation workers. The annual effective dose to individual
workers in any calendar year during the five-year block shall not exceed the
limit of 30 mSv.
A BARC survey of radiation in Jaduguda found that the background radiation
level is about 1179 microGray/year (uGy/y), which is about the same level as
observed in other parts of East Singhbhum district. At Jamshedpur it is 1150
uGy/y, and at Ghatsila it is 1226 uGy/y. The limits of radiation exposure
for general public are 1000 uGy/y over and above the natural background
radiation. This is equivalent to exposure from standing in the tailings pond
for four hours, every day.
UCIL workers are sent for health check ups every five years. Only the health
report is given to the worker; the radiation report is kept with UCIL. From
1964 to 1994, 22 employees have been stricken with cancer, as admitted by
its former chairman & managing director J L Bhasin. The effluents discharged
by the mill (where the ore is processed) are monitored regularly and the
results submitted to Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) for review. The
results are found to be within the prescribed limits stipulated by AERB. The
Health Physics Unit also monitors the radon concentration in the tailings
ponds. "Here, the concentrations are slightly above the background level.
For this reason, the tailings pond is fenced and access is restricted. Away
from the tailings pond, the concentration approaches the background level
within 250 metres," AERB clarified in a reply to allegations by activists.
About 40,000 people work in nuclear installations in India. Established in
1983, the AERB, is the nodal authority to enforce radiation safety related
rules in the country. One of the functions of the AERB is to 'prescribe
acceptable limits of radiation exposure to occupational workers and members
of the public'. This is a very flexible procedure, and whenever the AERB
feels the need to change the limits, it has to issue a notification.
According to the current limit, the cumulative effective dose constraint for
five years is 100 millisievert (100 mSv) for individual workers exposed to
radiation. The annual effective dose to individual workers in any calendar
year during the five-year block shall not exceed the limit of 30
AERB claims that over time, there has been a gradual decrease in the number
of people exposed to radiation in excess of prescribed limits. For instance
in 1989, about 9 per cent of workers in nuclear power plants were exposed to
radiation levels above 20 mSv/year. This gradually declined to 2.2 per cent
in 1993 and 0.3 per cent in 1997. In 1998, only nine workers out of the
10,145 exceeded the 20 mSv/year radiation dosage. In medical, industrial and
research applications of radiation, the number of workers exposed to 20
mSv/year and above was 0.27 per cent in 1989, which gradually declined to
0.18 per cent in 1998. The corresponding number of workers in industrial
applications of radiation is 1.92 per cent in 1989 to 0.45 per cent in 1998.
S K Malhotra, head of the publicity division of the Department of Atomic
Energy (DAE), claims two independent surveys commissioned by the
organisation, one conducted by Patna Medical College and another by a team
of doctors, found radiation levels below the limit. In fact, says Malhotra,
the survey results stated that the health problems were not linked to the
radiation from the mines. "While the Indian Council of Medical Research
(ICMR) has estimated the national average incidence of cancer to be 74 per
one lakh population, in Jaduguda the incidence is only 22 per lakh
population," he said.
Claims, counterclaims and secrecy continue to cloud the issue. As endless
convoys of trucks pass the army of handicapped children, the people of
Jaduguda are trying to learn how to live with the risk, every day.
Related material: Map on India's Uranium and Thorium Reserves from Down To Earth, April, 21, 2004
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