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Radiation row over uranium project

Hyderabad, Aug. 20: Locals and green activists fear another Jaduguda is in the making in Andhra Pradesh.

Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) proposes to mine 1,250 tonnes of U-238 uranium from an open cast mine at Lambarpur and set up another underground mine at Peddagattu in Andhra. Both sites are within 10 km of the Krishna river on the Srisailam-Nagarjuna Sagar sector.

Andhra villagers and environmentalists fear people may be exposed to radiation as happened at UCIL’s mines at Jaduguda in Jharkhand. Locals suffered genetic deformities, lung cancer and kidney trouble due to uranium exposure at Jaduguda.

A public hearing was held yesterday on the proposed Rs 507 crore uranium mining and processing unit at Lambarpur-Peddagattu in Nalgonda district, 120 km from here.

A committee headed by district collector R.P. Sisodia and comprising representatives of the state pollution control board and the forest, environment and health ministries held public hearings at Lambarpur, Peddagattu and P.A. Palli.

But the meeting ended in a farce amid uproarious scenes as green activists, residents of the 10 villages likely to be affected by the proposed mining, and company officials came to blows.

UCIL officials, led by Swapnesh Kumar Malhotra, head of the public awareness division of the department of atomic energy, paraded family members of some Jaduguda miners yesterday. Some Andhra farmers were also taken to Jharkhand to allay fears that they may be at risk from the units.

Green activists say the project, the third uranium-mining project to be set up in India after similar units in Jadugada and Domiasiat in Meghalaya, will contaminate groundwater, pollute the air and degrade the land.

The company plans to produce 1,250 tonnes of uranium-283 ore, which has a 0.50 per cent mineral content, and 500 tonnes of yellow cake at its Andhra units, spread over 1,300 acres.

Uranium reserves in the mine total around five million tonnes and should last 20 years.

UCIL has offered to fill up the open cast mines and dig a water trench around the open cast and underground mines to contain dust contamination in the area.

Asked about groundwater contamination in the area, company adviser S.D. Prasad said since the “uranium deposits sit on a massive granite base” there is no chance of seepage into groundwater sources.

“We need around 2.2 million cubic metres of water for processing, which is provided from a separate tributary of the Krishna. We recycle the water used in processing and also keep the residue in slurry form till it is taken back to the mines for disposal,” Prasad says.

But environmentalists like Surendra Gadekar and Prafulla Bidwai contest data provided by the company on rainfall in the area and the project’s encroaching onto the Rajiv Gandhi-Nagarjuna Sagar tiger reserve. “The area has no rainfall at all. From where will they supply water when the Krishna goes dry like it has during the last two years,” asks Bidwai. “The rainfall data is bogus,” he adds.

Captain J. Rama Rao, who heads the Movement against Uranium Project, says the uranium facility is violating the Wildlife Act. He says the unit falls within the buffer zone and is only six km from the core area. No industrial activity is permitted within 25 km of wildlife reserves, Rao said.

A number of social activists, including Ganesh Nochur of Greenpeace, Pranay Waghray of Nallamali foundation, Deepak Apte of the Bombay Natural History Society and members of Anveshi participated in the public hearings which lasted late into the night.

Many Dalit women in Digiala village have expressed concern over the risks the uranium unit poses. “We have no rains and the land is useless without any rainfall in the region. How can we live if diseases become a permanent feature in the region,” asked Sunitamma, an agricultural labourer in Peddagattu.

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