Uranium plant gives jitters to Gogi residents

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Wary of radioactivity and cancer, this remote village in Karnataka is unhappy about UCIL’s mining project, reports Imran Khan

Cautionary tale: The UCIL has a poor track record at Jaduguda mines
Cautionary tale: The UCIL has a poor track record at Jaduguda mines

A URANIUM MINING plant coming up in Gogi village, Yadgir district, one of the most backward taluks of Karnataka, has evoked a mixed response from its inhabitants. While on one hand, they are proud of their village possessing a mineral resource of national importance, on the other, they are afraid of the adverse impact it will have on their health and environment.

Their fears have been compounded by the information that the state government has given the mining contract to Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL), which is known to have a poor track record in Jaduguda, Jharkhand.

“I’m proud that our village has become a place of national importance, but the safety of the villagers is also important. Due to health concerns, land issues and fear of migration, we are opposing this project,” says Mahadevappa, one of the 25,000 inhabitants of Gogi, located about 500 km from Bengaluru.

UCIL, a government undertaking of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), has been engaged in exploratory mining in Gogi from 2007 along with Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER), Hyderabad. They found rich deposits of high-grade uranium (U235) in this village located in the Bhima river basin. On 8 November, the state government cleared UCIL’s application for mining and processing uranium with an investment of Rs 550 crore. The plant is likely to create employment for 361 persons.

According to company officials, UCIL has plans to extract 150 tonnes of uranium per year in the form of sodium diuranate (SDU) salt for about 15 years. It has been estimated that the uranium ore reserves of the Gogi belt are approximately 3,077 tonnes.

However, as in other places where the state’s development plans clash with the aspirations of the local population, the people of Gogi have started to resist the coming up of the uranium plant in their backyard.

As part of the environmental clearance process, the state pollution board had conducted a public hearing on 16 November last year, in which the villagers agreed to part with their land. But, as they started to hear reports of the health hazards of mining, they had a change of heart.

Shekappa Amalappa, president of Gogi Kona Gram Panchayat says, “Whether mining happens or not, people need good water and healthy environment. At the time of public hearing, villagers were not aware of any harmful impacts. People have learnt through the media about the impact at Jaduguda; now they are very much fearful about their future.”

UCIL claims there would not be any significant radiological impact on the local population. But experts say since uranium ore emits radon gas, uranium mining can be more dangerous than any other underground mining. It may cause radioactivity and hence cancer. A committee formed on the Collector’s directions and under supervision of Dr Madhukavi and cancer specialist Dr Shekhar Patil to check the health impact of uranium on the local population is yet to reveal its findings.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.
imran@tehelka.com

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