Tribals pay the price of proximity to UCIL mines


HYDERABAD/JADUGODA: If there is thing that comes without asking to the tribals living around Jadugoda, Narwapahar and Bhatin uranium mines of the Uranuim Corporation of India Ltd UCIL), it is radioactivity.

In the past four decades since mining started in the area, thousands of them have died as a result of lack of adherence to basic safety standards associated with uranium mining.

Dr Sanghamitra Gadekar, a scientist studying the effects of uranium mining in Jadugoda, says, "International standards allow a yearly exposure of 100 millirem for persons working in the nuclear industry."

However, the readings taken by Dr Surendra Gadekar, a nuclear physicist studying Jadugoda mines along with Dr Sanghamitra Gadekar, near a vent from the underground mines was as high as 5,851.68 millirem a year, which is 58 times more than permitted limit.

Dr Surendra also found the radiation levels high at and around the UCIL lab. "When asked how they could work there, knowing the hazards, the scientists replied that there was little else to do," he says.

Rajesh Kumar Hembrom, 23, was one such miner. He grew up in a village adjacent to the highly radioactive Tailing Pond 3,and began work in the mines in 1997. He says, "A few months after joining work, I was afflicted by what the UCIL doctors told me was tuberculosis. Unbearable pain tore through my chest, limbs and joints.

I was declared unfit for work in February 2000.My elder brother Manoj Hembrom has replaced me in the mines. Every family in my village has multiple victims of radiation."D V Mardi, Tulsi Hembrom, Chita Tudu, Lakhna Tuduare are all victims, the list is endless.Those that are not rescued by death are rendered physically useless.Their children are born mentally retarded and deformed.

Dr Sanghamitra says, "The radiation is high everywhere. The reading in the Mechua village football field where radioactive tailings lie scattered around was 1,296.48 millirem a year.The readings in the area of the first tailing pond were as high as 5,291.04 millirem a year. Readings on the road (constructed by UCIL using tailings) were as high as 5,256 millirem a year."

Prof N K Upadhyay of the Centre for Applied Ecology, Jamshedpur, conducted a study on the radiation-related problems at Jadogoda. He says, "The radiation affects bone marrow cells, intestines, skin, immune responsive cells, entire stem cell population and also the lymphocytes. It wrecks the hormonal system and even causes mutation.

But worst of all, it affects the sperm cells, altering the genetic characteristics of their DNA and RNA.The children of these miners are born mentally retarded, and deformed."

Says Dr Sanghamitra: "Cases of thalasemia, leukemia (blood cancer), severe anemia, physical deformities such as missing limbs, mental retardation, and even cases of external stomachs due to the absence of the abdominal wall are commonly found in the children of the area. In my opinion, this has been caused by the extremely high radiation levels."

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Referred by: Benjamin P. Kaila
Published on:Oct 2, 2001
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