MAC: Mines and Communities

Concerns raised over uranium mining project

Published by MAC on 2006-02-06

Concerns raised over uranium mining project

by NDTV Correspondent

6th February 2006

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has cleared a Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) mining project at the Nagarjunasagar reservoir in Andhra Pradesh.

UCIL will be mining for U3O8, enriched uranium ore or yellow cake. U3O8 is the fuel driving India's civil and defence nuclear ambitions.

The government run UCIL began explorations in Lambapur for the nuclear fuel in 1994. It now plans to mine an extensive 1300 acres, 85 per cent of which is currently forest land.

Environmental scientists like Dr Jeevanand Reddy, who's also a member of the clearance committee of the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, say the project cannot go ahead at any cost.

However, it's not only the Nagarjunasagar that's under threat. India's largest tiger sanctuary the Rajiv Gandhi Tiger Reserve, three kilometres from the open cast mining site, will also be hit hard.

Flouting norms

Even legal experts say the project violates the Supreme Court ruling preventing polluting industrial activity within 10 kilometres of a water body.

In fact, it was this very ruling that forced UCIL to shift their processing plant to Seripally from Mallapur as it was next to the Akampally reservoir that is part of the water supply system for Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

But apparently for UCIL, this same ruling does not apply to the Nagarjunasagar reservoir.

"The mining activity in the vicinity of the Nagarjunasagar reservoir and the Rajiv Gandhi Tiger Reserve is illegal and the government should rethink its stand," said Lakshmana Rao, former chief justice, Allahabad High Court.

Villagers, mostly Lambadas, backed by a Naxal diktat, are determined to stop the open cast mining.

They say it will devastate the Nagarjunasagar reservoir which is their lifeline too.

"I'm pregnant like a lot of women in the village and I'm afraid for my child's future," said a woman.

Awaiting clearance

The project now has to be cleared by the state government.

Just three years ago, as leader of the opposition, Rajashekhara Reddy lashed out against the project:

"This Rs 500 crore project is frightening. UCIL will be mining 1250 tons of uranium every day. This means that there will be huge amount of radioactive waste. The total disaster it has created at one of the mines at Jaduguda raises doubts about UCIL's credentials to be responsible...

"The fruits there have abnormal seeds... People are developing illnesses resistant to known forms of cure... The deformities I cannot describe for fear of hurting readers' sensibilities. Yet UCIL is claiming that there would be no danger... It would be foolish and criminal to take this at face value."

Clearly, some things have changed over the past three years for Reddy to change his mind.

Though the dangers haven't receded and nor have the concerns over radioactive wastes, what has changed for real is that from the leader of the opposition, Rajashekhara Reddy is now Chief Minister.

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