ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Uranium Mining : Questionable Decision

Uranium Mining : Questionable Decision

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Last week an inconspicuous news item announced that Meghalaya had given the long-denied permission to the Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) to start mining operations in Domiasiat in the West Khasi Hills. If this is true the way is now clear for the hill region to be turned into another Jadugoda – UCIL’s other uranium mine which has devastated the lives of the largely tribal population of the region, just so that the uranium-hungry atomic energy industry may be kept running. UCIL has been eyeing the north eastern hill regions for a long time. Some 10 years ago the atomic minerals division of the department of atomic energy discovered uranium in the region. An initial survey found that the area around Domiasiat may well yield some 10,000 tonnes of the precious mineral, making it the largest and richest deposit to be discovered in the country. Moreover, the mineral is fairly close to the surface and is embedded in sandstone-type of rock which would make mining a comparatively low-cost operation. The ore is reportedly spread over a 10-km area, in some places as close to the surface as 8m to about 47m. So far all of India’s uranium needs have been met from local sources, all of them in the Singbhum district of Jharkhand. The three mines, Jadugoda, Batin and Narwarpahar have been extensively mined although the operation has become relatively more expensive as the ore is mined some 500m below the surface. The UCIL’s record in providing rehabilitation to the large number of people progressively being displaced by the mining operations, offering health care or ensuring environmental protection to the region has been dismal. And because the population of the region, as in the vast majority of uranium sites all over the world, comprises very poor indigenous people, the neglect has been visible and blatant.

Independent studies around the Jadugoda mines show that the uranium mines have indeed resulted in radiation pollution. During the mining and milling process the quantities of tailings produced are radioactive and are dumped in ponds. Water from these ponds as also from the processing seeps into the surrounding soil. The first tailing pond was constructed in Telaitand village which was subsequently evacuated when a second needed to be built. A third pond was built in another village – Chatijkocha, a prosperous village with good crops and producing forest products and the seat of famous theatre groups. The village was forcibly evacuated in 1996 by the UCIL with the help of the police forces and razed to the ground. This led to a huge mobilisation that resulted in the UCIL ‘apologising’, but nothing has been done about rehabilitating people either from these villages or from the mines area.

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