The Secret of Jaduguda

The Rare Metal Survey Unit  was commissioned by the Govt. of India to locate uranium deposits . The team decided to focus on the existing mineral belts in the country, specifically the copper/gold/silver mining regions for deposits of Uranium and “other geologically favorable belts in the sub-continent”.

In 1951, the team found the perfect location – Jadugoda, Singhbhum District, Jharkhand which would hold the distinction of being the first uranium mine in the country . There’s another side to Jadugoda ‘s uranium mining that the concerned authorities / Govt / Judiciary have paid no attention to  over decades and the rest of the country has not much idea about  zero idea about .

Jadugora / Jadugoda – The Beginning of the End ( 1967 – )

The local tribal population was a huge plus – the prospect of cheap labor and most importantly, the promises about acche din – steady jobs , schools for the children , good medical facilities and access to amenities and facilities was enough to get a mining project and an ore-processing plant up and running by 1967 managed by the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) , functioning under the Dept. of Atomic Energy (DAE)

The promise about jobs  was fulfilled ( no surprises there ) – almost every earning member of the majority of families was employed as open pit miners in the deepest operating mine in the country . The miners’ everyday consisted of spending hours in the mines handling the ore much like a construction site worker would handle building materials minus a quality protective gear. The work uniforms were not decontaminated within the mining premises and the local indigenous population  who had zero idea about the materials they were handling everyday got them washed in the nearby downstream river.

I haven’t still got into the really appalling details – the river which the locals had been using for domestic and irrigation purposes was not the radioactive waste dump which it has become following the mining activities the region. Let me elaborate on this point .

The ‘ tailing ponds ’ are meant to be the dumping sites for the highly radioactive wastes of the ore-processing plant –  the waste retains 85% of the radioactivity of the ore along with by -product heavy metals of the extraction process and chemical processing agents.  However, these tailing ponds had overflowed during the monsoons too often over the years . The radioactive waste had seeped through the ground resulting in groundwater contamination and the unchecked inflow of the untreated waste from the processing plant has resulted in the downstream river becoming yet another unofficial tailing pond. This ‘river’ runs through the super-radioactive course before joining the Subarnarekha . As of this year, stage-I and stage-II tailing ponds are full and stage-III pond is expected to fill up towards the end of this year. So , the site activities of the stage-IV tailing pond has been initiated with estimated cost  to be at 4240.47 lakhs as given by the Annual Report of UCIL (2016-2017) .

The concentration of Uranium is alarmingly high in the vicinity of the tailing ponds very understandably . One discovery that [independent] researchers haven’t been able to account for is the high concentration of cesium in the stage-I tailing pond which is a fission product and not a by-product of uranium ore processing . Cesium-137 which gives off beta and gamma radiations gets into the  food chain with accumulation in fish and animals . It is also known to contaminate the soil and adhere to the buildings . According to a study conducted by Hiroaki Koide from Kyoto  University Research Reactor Institute ( July 2002), the dosage of gamma radiation in the air is greater than 10 milliSevert/year while the permissible limit to exposure to gamma radiation is 1milliSevert/year . The contract lorries also dumped toxic wastes in local fields when the ponds are full , actions caught in photographs and on video taken by villagers and shown to the Center but nothing has  changed for the better .The Geiger counters are recording  super-high levels of radioactive emissions from the vicinity of the tailing ponds .The Geiger counters placed on the school walls are beeping furiously because every stone in the walls  is from the mining site .

The processed ore is transported is done in open trucks through the villages ( most often with a plastic sheet thrown over the precious cargo ) with laborers riding these trucks  barefooted in everyday clothes with dust and processed ore particles spilling along the  way to the Rakha mines railway station . From here , the semi-processed ore is  transported to Hyderabad for fuel fabrication for reactors .

The native tribal population has paid a heavy price over the decades due to the health hazards that plague them due to the sub-standard mining operations in the region . Lung and abdominal cancers , tuberculosis , congenital skeletal deformities , multiple miscarriages and sterility ( just to name a few) have become very common health hazards in the surrounding villages .  Gadekar , a nuclear physicist observes  a “phenomenon” – the absence of any silicosis cases but a huge number of reported  tuberculosis cases. According to him , the fact that the “tuberculosis” was prolonging forever was very suggestive that the miners did not suffer from tuberculosis but probably silicosis – a lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust, which is a major constituent of sand given that the miners worked in thick dust of sand and dust at the mines. He further draws attention to the negligent attitude of the UCIL in maintaining the mining standards – the rocks extracted during the mining  process are sometimes deposited at the roadside which are used by the locals in the construction of their houses .These rocks , Gadekar says , may have concentrated radon gas which poses the risk of cancer with exposure  over a prolonged time period .

What has been done till now ?

The judiciary too became a mute spectator even when the conditions at Jadugoda were brought to their notice and a three judge bench of the Supreme Court actually dismissed the Public Interest Litigation filed by legal activist B L Wadhera in 1999.The first hearing of the PIL was in November 2003. On April 15th, 2004 , the bench which included the Chief Justice of India dismissed the PIL on the grounds that they “did not find any merit in the petition”.

After 10 years, it took a newspaper report by a photojournalist whose pictures  were finally able to convince the courts about the severity of the issue . The Hindustan Times ran an article titled Jadugoda: The Nuclear Graveyard on 23rd Feb 2014 ( Ranchi Edition ) by Chinky Shukhla whose black and white pictures finally revealed the ugly side of the whole thing that has been dubbed  as ” India’s best kept secret ” for the rest of India .

The State High Court  stepped in finally in the light of all the facts reported and most importantly , the photographic evidence of the pathetic conditions in the region . The court strongly put it down that

“[…]  news item about the disastrous effect of Uranium Mining Operation photographically under the caption  “ Jadugora: The Nuclear Graveyard” making the most cherished provision of the Indian Constitution “Right to Life and Personal Liberty” as enshrined in Article 21 to the Constitution of India lifeless and inactive in this context “.

The  UCIL and the DAE (primarily) were asked to clarify on several counts :

Safety measures and standards adopted in respect of the workmen working in the Uranium mining operation in Jadugora mine , Bhatin Mine, Turamdih Mine, Bagjata Mine, Narwapahar Mine, Banduhurang Mine, Mohuldih Mine in the District of East Singhbhum and Seraikela Kharsawan and also the villagers and the common people living in the area.

The measures taken to prevent the effect of nuclear radiation emanating out of the
mining operation , transportation and disposal of the radioactive waste in the health of the people at large and environment surrounding the area .

Steps taken for safe  disposal of radioactive waste .

Safety measures taken in ensuring the safety and health of the workers and people living in the vicinity for protecting them from the nuclear radiation of Uranium

In addition the  court  sought clarifications from the State and the  Department of Health, Medical Education & Family Welfare on the following points:

  • The establishment of hospitals in providing health care to the people in and
    around Jadugora Uranium Mine and all other surrounding places .
  • The measures taken to create awareness amongst the locals about the prevention and treating the bad effects of the radiation and other chemicals on health and environment .

The Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board was asked to consolidate a response addressing on all the above mentioned points .

The court directed UCIL to form a team to investigate the effects of radiation during the mining operation and to file their survey report within 3 months . But there was no survey report on the table after 3 months and the matter was again heard in the court when Times Of India ran an article titled Leaking Jadugoda Mine Poses Radioactive risk:US Report . The court appointed  a four member committee with recommendations from the DAE . The members ‘ background who constituted the panel made the independent functioning  highly questionable which was very evident in the further proceedings in this case . The court placed great importance on the ‘ findings ‘  of an amicus curiae who had not visited the site even once and his recommendations  and noted that “the petition stands wrapped up”.

This is The Secret .

One of the committee members attributed the health hazards that people are facing in Jadugoda to ” economic backwardness, smoking habits and malnutrition ” . How callous can one get??

The mining activities came to halt following the expiry of the lease in September 2014  in Jadugora mine but the ore from the other mines are transported to Jadugora for ore – processing .

Latest developments :

Suspended Jadugoda uranium mine obtains forest department clearance

BJP MP Bidyut Baran Mahato *  today said Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), which recently got approval from the Central Forest Department, will soon commence mining activities in Jadugora near here . Mahato, who had earlier held several rounds of meeting with top forest department officials and Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave had recently met the forest officials. “The forest department after a meeting with forest advisory committee gave the nod last week,” Mahato said at a press conference. A lease for 50 years has also been granted to the oldest uranium mine, he said. Asked when the mining will start, Mahato said, the file related to lease renewal of Jadugora mine is with the Union Environment Minister who is likely to give his approval in the next few days. Mining activities had come to a standstill after the lease licence expired in September, 2014. (Business Standard Apr. 3, 2017)

*Bidyut Baran Mahato is the MP from Jamshedpur , Jharkhand

As of today :

The mining activities have still not commenced but people are still reeling under the aftermath of  effects of the colossal damage from uranium mining of last few decades . Perhaps , there ‘s no word to describe the cruelty of the whole saga that unfolded in Jadugoda .

You can check out Chinky Shukhla’s article in the link below

Jaduguda – The nuclear graveyard

You can check out the following You Tube video series on Jadugoda

Buddha weeps in Jadugoda, Part 1 of 6

This Earth Day , I thought that perhaps we can move away from standard ” Ways to Go Green ” posts and discuss about few environmental issue(s) / case(s) that have been under-reported time and again or issue(s) which are not eliciting enough response measures despite our being well aware of the risks the issue(s) pose.

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