MAC: Mines and Communities

An Open Interactive Discussion on Uranium Mining and its Effects: A Proceeding

Published by MAC on 2004-07-15

An Open Interactive Discussion on Uranium Mining and its Effects: A Proceeding

15th July 2004

Hosted by the KSU, MPHRC AND HESPO

Like many other burning issues in the state, uranium is one of them. The general public has raised a concern about the uranium mining and its effects and most importantly is to know the facts about uranium. It is facts that though most of the people in the state are educated but when it comes to uranium many are in the dark. The views expressed by many are more than enough to create confusions in the mind of the public. Thus, the three Powerful Non-Governmental Organisation (viz. KSU, MPHRC, HESPO) took the initiative to have an open discussion forum. The open discussion forum represented the experts from all possible fields.

The UCIL, BARC, DAE, and AMD Shillong renowned journalists, physicists, and activists from Jadugoda, Jharkand were the prominent people in the discussion besides a good number of audience. The open discussion was held at DonBosco Youth Centre, Shillong on 15th July 2004.

The discussion started with a welcome speech given by Rev. P.B.M. Basaiawmoit who is also the Moderator of the discussion. He introduced the member of the panel which consists of the members from Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) represented by Mr.S.K.Malhotra and others; from the Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) represented by the Chairman and Managing Director (C & M.D), Dr. R.Gupta, Mr. C. F. Lyngdoh, Mining Adviser of UCIL in Meghalaya and many others: among those representing the Babha Atomic Research Division were Dr. P.K. Mishra, Mr. A. Khan and others. Other prominent panellist consists of Mr. Praful Bidwai, a renowned coloumnist, Dr. Surendra Gadekar, Physicist and a Professor of IIT, Kanpur and Mr Ganshyam Burelee of the JOAR Mr. Sre sri Prakash Director of the Documentary film “Buddha weep in Jadugoda”.

Rev. P.B.M. Basaiawmoit in his welcome speech said that the issue of uranium is not just about the issues of nuclear powers but uranium is an issue of human survival. Uranium affects the lives of many people and the old word coined as the sustainable development have become less important but has become more of a sustainable human welfare.

1st Session

The discussion was started by a presentation from Mr.Praful Bidwai, renowned columnists. He expressed his gratefulness to the three organisations for holding a debate that will lead to enlightened and informed opinion on the subject. Everybody has heard about uranium, he started, but what is so controversial about it is another question that needs to be answered. He gave the three points:
• Nuclear power would grow indefinitely and it will become cheap barring France who use nuclear power for electricity.
• In Western Europe many nuclear plats have closed down for people protest until the safe disposal are found. Issue is controversial.
• Fuel cycle gives many hazards and these do not end. It is a continuing process.

Mr. Bidwai also stated that to understand uranium it is important to understand the risks that uranium mining could profess.

1. Considering radiation that uranium gives out are invisible, intangible where it cannot be felt but does enormous damage to the chromosomes. Since chromosomes pass from one generation to another so radiation is a continous process. It is lifelong and last for many generations to come. The genes of one generation to another are damaged and there is no cure.

2. The notion that ‘low dose of radiation is safe’ he said, is very wrong. There is no safe dose and even natural radiation cause problem. If radiation could cure cancer the same radiation could do damage to the healthy cells in the living organisms.

3. Uranium has its by products which have both long and short decay. Plutonium 235 lives for a quarter of million years, U 238 live for 4.5 billion years, U234 has a half-life 245 thousand years. It is poisonous to soil, water, air, any forms of life.
He further elaborates on the genetic problems, which makes uranium mining so controversial around the globe. The genetic problems arise from three kinds of reasons, he said, these are:

1. Toxicity of Uranium
2. Occupational hazards
3. Environmental consequences

Toxicity of uranium: U238 has more than fifteen radioactive products. Most of these are the by products or uranium. These are found in the uranium ore when it is mined. They, radioactive products, are very hazardous to life forms because of their high toxicity. If one happens to breathe in he might get lung cancer, because they emit powerful alpha particles that are most of the time likely to cause lung and bone cancer. The decay products of uranium too are very hazardous to health.

He stressed on the ‘radium jaw’ phenomenon to support his view that even a low dose of radiation could prove to be disastrous. An American dentist discovered the ‘radium jaw’ phenomenon when he started having patients of young girls who worked in the factory. The reported cases of bleeding jaws and jaw cancer were high according to the Dentist. Later cases of lung, anaemia and other types of cancers were found. Autopsies reports have shown that the victims have a very minute amount of radium in their body. These factory workers swallowed the radium in when radium was used to paint dials. Radium was used because it shines in the dark

The effluents are also drained into the waterways and many rivers and streams are becoming contaminated. People use these contaminated water streams and rivers for their household chores. The tailing ponds retain 85% of the original radioactivity. What will happen then if these ponds leaked or seeped into the environment?

Occupational Hazards: Radon 222 a by-product of Radium 226 causes lung cancer. Death of lung cancer rose to five times higher than the expected number 40 years back in the U.S. Workers too are exposed to radiation hazards every second and minute of their day’s work. Lead causes damage to the kidneys, brain and the lungs.

Environmental Hazards: The ore milled is in itself very dangerous. The discharge from the mill is 40 % solid and 60% liquid. These seep into the environment. In an area that records the highest rainfall how one would protect from these dangerous leakages?

In New Mexico, 94 million gallons of the effluents were produced when the tailings leaked and dilution of the effluents is not a solution at all. He further stated that technologies would create problems but would offer no solutions. He concluded that most of the uranium is found in the indigenous homelands and resistance or conflicts arise everywhere because of the risks that uranium has. He stressed on the fact that we don’t need uranium and not even for electricity when other means are available.

The next panellist was Dr. R.Gupta, C & M.D of UCIL. He introduced himself as Mining Engineer from the School of Mines, Dhanbad. He joined UCIL in 2000. After listening to Mr. Bidwai’s presentation, he said, he pitied him for the confusions that he has claiming that Mr. Bidwai doesn’t understand that uranium could bring benefits for the country. He said that nuclear energy issues are hot debates right from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Stressing on the fear psychosis that people have in their minds regarding uranium, he said, people should look at the issue in totality. Citing an example from electricity, he said, even electricity is not safe without cables and if people would touch it would produce a shock. The same thing happens with uranium. In fact, risks are always associated with any ore mining not only with uranium e.g gold, bauxite has radiations. Problems or breaches in the process might be there but people have not stop mining the raw minerals.

What is important, he said, is the exploitation of these minerals safely. This brings about development in a state. Developments could also be associated with better roads telecommunications and electricity. These alone could bring about a sustainable development without disturbing the natural resources.

Asking why countries, excepting the developed countries, of the world have shifted to nuclear power he traced its growth to the Gulf War. He further stated that the result of the war has made nuclear power to become important and many developed countries have dominated the scene. U.S have more than 100 nuclear power plants, India, which selects the safe way, has 40 nuclear power plants and 9 are under construction.

Confronting with what Mr. Bidwai has said that the country does not need uranium for electricity; he said how much could wind power provide electricity to the country?

He further elaborate that he had been working in the mines for 27 years and it is indeed very sad to see that the good work is always ignored. He continued saying that uranium is need to be economically strong for any country. As far as the tailing ponds, he said that the safest way following certain procedures would be adopted in Meghalaya. He concluded stressing that people should look at the project in its totality. Opportunity to the experts to examine the issue should be given a chance.

The third presenter was Dr. Gadekar, Physicist, Professor IIT, Kanpur.

He suggested that the open debate/discussion should have been hold on the 16th July because it coincides with the explosion of the uranium dam in Mexico which took place on the 16th July 1945, instead of the 15th July.

His presentation was based on development and health. On development, he said, has done a research on people living near the power plants and said that their health is not safe. Second, these nuclear power plants give no jobs to the locals as promised. Third, these power plants do not provide electricity to most of the places as promised in their projects.

He stated another point claiming that the UCIL and BARC are two independent organisations, is a myth. He said, these are one and BARC have no office or staffs of their own.

He said that in India one has to dig a 1000 times to get the ore. What one would do with the rocks/stones that have been dug?. These, he said, are used to build schools, walls, houses etc thus contamination takes place. Further, these stones or rocks were taken to the mill and have to be transported ranging from 10-12 kms away. Open trucks that carry the tailings were again carried to the mines and on their way spilling or leaking or the tailings take place. The spilled or leaked tailings lay on the road, dust is carried to peoples’ houses and the vegetation is contaminated.

Also, he goes on, the mine workers at UCIL have only one uniform and of which they wore it 6 days a week and on the seventh day they carry it home to be washed by their wives who in turn got contaminated by washing them. These ponds where they wash their uniforms become contaminated and sediments remain in them. People bathe, wash and drink this same contaminated water.

As far as health problems in Jadugoda it is surprising to hear that people suffer from no radiation but diseases are congenital. Deformity cases rises to about four times that before. He also said that it is unbelievable to hear that not a single case of lung cancer was reported not even the natural ones but there is high incidences of Tuberculosis which is chronic lung problem in reality. The death records were high.

What shall we do, he asked. Given all the factors and the knowledge that one has on uranium the answer is the ‘do it yourself project’. If you want to know about the realities then find out for yourself, right now and again and again till you get it right and with this he concluded his presentation.

Next on the line was Mr. S.K.Malhotra from the Department of Atomic Energy. He began his presentation saying that uranium was developed by the developed nations. In developed nations there is excess of 15,000 units /person/year…these countries have less population and therefore need less energy. Taking the case of India, he said, wind and tide energy is not sufficient to produce electricity. Wind energy produces 5% less of the need of electricity i.e it gives on 250 MW, which is not sufficient for a country like India.

Elaborating on the risks of the fuel cycle, he said, risks are there even in aeroplanes and even in railways. Risks are everywhere. He stressed, railways have killed millions of people while transporting trillions of them. he requested the people in general to view nuclear energy in a positive approach – to go by facts not fiction. He elaborated on a theory or supposition that in case of uranium shortage not only electricity produced will be reduced but even health services will be in a crisis. Think of the cancer patients dying because there is no cure. Like these many other services will be affected.

He further talked about the half life substances. His view was that Mother Nature has given what is best for its habitats. E.g mosquitoes live only for three days otherwise they would envelop the entire human race so also the same case happens with the radio isotopes. The less dangerous ones were given more life and the more dangerous one for less life but not vise versa.

He brought to the conclusion by saying that these fear psychosis that people have should be based on facts and that safe mining will not affect the environment.

The last but not he least panellist to present was Mr. Gyansham, a local from Jharkhand. He started the presentation saying that UCIL started its operations in Jharkhand by extracting the four lands belonging to the Adivasis. Though they are agricultural labours but they are not landless labourers that they are now reduced to.

In the process of mining, UCIL promised to give jobs to local people but now almost 40 years have passed some got job and most did not besides the alarming growth of mysterious diseases which many people succumbed to. He alleged that people suffer from impotency, still childbirth, abortion, birth of children without limbs of which he has one in his family.

He also stated that though he looks fine yet he suffers from many diseases of which, at first, Doctors at BARC said that he suffers from general diseases. When he goes for a proper check up at Tata Hospital he was confirmed of a serious disease of which he is under strict medication and which is why he is still alive. He testified that both his parents died of cancer and that he and his brother decided not to work in the mine of UCIL. As time takes its turn his brother had to work in UCIL as the conditions did not allow them. The same case happened with the people there, he said. After lands were being taken away they had no choice but to work in the company.

He replied to the question raised that he is in Shillong to testify the problems that people are facing in Jharkhand and that the same situation does not repeat in Meghalaya. He ended with a note that he is doing it at the cost of his security the moment he is back to Jharkhand, meaning he might face police atrocities of his testimonials.

The last speaker was Ghanshyam Birulee of JOAR and in his replies amidst sniggering from the central government officials said 15 to 16 households in all the villages around Jadugoda have been affected by the radiation from the mines and tailing ponds. He said women have become sterile leading to men marrying two three times to get children. A lot of diseases and abnormalities have also arisen in the area, he added. The social activist said what the people of Jadugoda have faced should not be repeated in Meghalaya.

2nd Session

The second session started with the interactive round where participants from the audience ask questions to the member of the panel. Question asked are related to the safety measure that UCIL is likely to undertake in its mining here in Meghalaya, the development features that the state would gain. There were also counter questions from the Department of Electricity on the issues raised in the course of the discussions regarding the reliability and sufficiency of its supply. Mr H.S.Lyngdoh, MLA one of the prominent personality opposing uranium mining in Meghalaya, stood firm on the principle that he will not allow the mining to take place. However he said that if the UCIL could bring a specified number of fish in the controversial rivers/streams/ponds to breed in two years, and if these fishes could produce eggs as before he has no objection to uranium mining.

3rd Session

The third session was the responses given by the NGOs.

Mr Dino D.G.Dympep Secretary General,MPHRC, in a nutshell, stated that if UCIL wants the uranium mining here in Meghalaya it should first recognized the Indigenous and Tribals peoples collective rights under the UN treaty –based international law which requires Free Prior informed consent of the Indigenous and tribals peoples and communities to be affected by their development projects such as the proposed Uranium Mining in Meghalaya.Presently the MPHRC stands to oppose proposed uranium mining. The reason he said:

1. UCIL has not yet recognised the Indigenous peoples rights and Human rights policy relating to Land rights, displacement, resettlement and relocation etc.
2. Post development and post uranium policy has not been included in the UCIL Policy.

There was none to represent the KSU.

HESPO President Rev. P.B.M Basaiawmoit stressed that uranium will not be allowed to be mined, not at least in his lifetime.

While concluding the discussion, the KSU’s President, Mr. Samuel Jyrwa, on behalf of the three organisation viz., KSU, MPHRC, and HESPO moved the Resolution that they are not in in favour of uranium mining’. The reasons he said:

1. Health hazards
2. Land displacement
3. Influx of foreigners

He conclude saying that we the three organisations don’t want development at the cost of the generation at sake. Thus, he declared the resolution that ‘we stands against the uranium mining in Meghalaya and resolved to pressurise the government to abolish uranium agenda… saying no to uranium mining.’

Outcome of the open discussion/debate: It is a point to be noted that more than clarity of thoughts on uranium the confusions are more twisted thus leading nowhere to clearing the confused minds. It is also noticed that UCIL and its experts could not convince the people that uranium mining is safe.

The meeting ended with a vote of thanks by Mr. Dino D.G.Dympep, Secretary General MPHRC.

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