Jadugoda tribals live and breathe uranium


HYDERABAD/JADUGODA: The adverse fallout of the countryís nuclear programme does not just rain down on establishments such the Nuclear Fuel Complex. It fills the air at the uranium mines at Jadugoda, 18 miles from Jamshedpur.

Invisible to the eye, low-dose radiation from the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) mines has been destroying the lives generations of tribals in Jadugoda, Narwapahar and Bhatin. Excavated in 1967 in East Singhbhum, Jharkhand, the mines produce all the uranium for Indiaís pressurised heavy water reactors. Over 35,000 people live within 5 km radius of the Jadugoda complex and are exposed to radiation.

Roughly 200 tonnes of uranium produced here every year, generating more than 360,000 tonnes of tailings (waste), radioactivity from which will last 2,50,000 years. The mines are 1,600-2,000 feet deep and tribals comprise almost the entire work force. All that the miners get to protect themselves against radiation and the highly carcinogenic radon gas (Ra 222) is cotton uniform, a helmet and boots. Dosimeters, protective clothing and gas masks basic safety standards the world over (and accepted by the DAE) are unheard of. The miners spend about 2,488 hours a year exposed to unthinkably high levels of radiation and radon gas inside the mines.

Their uniforms are washed once a week when they take them home thereby exposing their families to radiation. On an average a miner dies within 10 years of working in the mines.

The trail of destruction continues when the ore is transported to UCILís Jadugoda mill in open trucks, sometimes partially covered with tarpaulin, occasionally carrying workers atop them. Pieces of the ore fall off the trucks and lie scattered, and radioactive dust is carried by the wind.

The tailings are used to refill the mines and get disposed off in tailing ponds. Nearly, 1,80,000 tonnes of tailings are dumped in three such ponds.While two of these are full and abandoned, the third is nearing brimming and efforts are on to acquire land for a fourth.

These ponds are meant to be out of bounds to humans and cattle,and have strong fencing. No human settlements are to be allowed near them. However, villagers cross the ponds daily while children play on the beds.The tribals also pick up the rope used in the mines and make charpoys with it.Villages exist next to the broken-down fencing of two ponds. To top it all, ignorant villagers have used the tailings to construct houses and to build roads.

Radioactive waste from the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad also gets dumped here. However, the latest such consignment from NFC, is learnt to have been returned.

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Referred by: Benjamin P. Kaila
Published on: sep 29, 2001
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