Priyanka Loach

Priyanka is a medical doctor, associated with the Indian Doctors for Peace and Democracy(IDPD).

This article is adapted from her presentation in the South Asia conference organised in Kathmandu (Jan 14-16, 2014) by the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War(IPPNW)

Jaduguda, situated 24 kilometres away from the Tatanagar railway station in Jharkhand, is one of the largest uranium reserves of India. The uranium ore from the nearby mines is brought to the processing mill at Jaduguda where uranium is extracted and the residue is processed into mill-tailings(radioactive wastes) which are converted into slurry and then transported by pipelines laid over villages, public roads and work areas, and discharged into what are incorrectly called ‘tailing ponds’; looking at the scale of the material dumped there, these should actually be called tailing dams.

On the basis of available information today, around 7000 people work at the Jaduguda mining complex. Hundred percent of the contract workers are tribals. A study conducted by Anumukti (Liberation from the Atom)- a leading anti-nuclear journal in India since 1987-in its January 2004 issue, points out that about 55.3 % of the households in the surrounding villages have at least one person in regular employment in the mines. In addition to the tribals, Dalits and other backward castes also work in the mill and the mines.

The uranium ore is brought from the mines to the Jaduguda mill in open trucks along narrow roads. The trucks that carry the ore are sometimes partly covered by tarpaulins and occasionally transport workers perched on top of the ore. The dusty roads that run through villages are often littered with rocks fallen from the overloaded trucks. A casual visitor would see children and livestock picking through piles of uranium ore, an evidence of the kind of safety standards being observed. In the Jaduguda mill, the uranium ore is crushed to a fine powder and chemically treated (acid leach process) to extract uranium. The ‘yellow cake’ manufactured at the plant is then transported to the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) in Hyderabad, where fuel rods are fabricated.

Jadugoda-2There are three large tailing ponds at Jaduguda, impounding tens of millions of tonnes of radioactive waste. The tailing ponds spread out on more than 100 acres are unlined and uncovered, where liquids, gases and fine dust particles rapidly get recycled into the environment. During the dry season water from the ponds evaporate, the wind picks up the loose tailings and blows them around; during the monsoon rains, the radioactive toxic water overflows into the river. No standards have been met in the tailing ponds construction and no measures have been taken to control the radon emissions from them. As a result, they pose a constant threat to the villages that lie within 10-15kilometres. Even Jamshedpur,  20 kilometres away is not free from radiation.

Without knowing the dangers of the mill tailings, people living around them often use these ponds to graze livestock and even play soccer. They regularly cross them on their way as these ponds are constructed on traditional routes to the forest and beyond, connecting people with their markets and other places. Tailings have also been used for landfill and dumping construction materials and have gradually encroached upon villager’s agricultural land and living space structures. Wastes from the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad as well as medical radio wastes from unknown number of sources are being returned to Jaduguda. This came to light when local people began to find syringes, bags and IV pipes from hospital wastes buried in the tailings.  It is likely that some of these materials are gamma radiation emitters, adding to the radiation hazard suffered by everyone in the area.

The Indian nuclear industry is able to hide behind an oppressive ‘Official Secrets Act‘ and is not directly accountable to the people for its actions. All nuclear research including health physics and health test of affected populations are hidden by this Act.

– In the absence of any official initiative to find out the health status of the people living around the mine, in 1993, Bindrai Institute for Research Study and Action conducted a survey in seven villages within a kilometre of the mining site, specifically the tailings dams. It took two years to complete the survey.
– The report revealed that 47 per cent of women suffered from disruptions in their menstrual cycle, 18 per cent said they had suffered miscarriages or given birth to still born babies in the last 5 years. 30 per cent suffered fertility problem. Nearly all women complained of fatigue, weakness and depression. Further, the survey found a high incidence of chronic skin diseases, cancer, TB, bone, brain and kidney damages, nervous system disorders, congenital deformities, nausea, blood disorders and other chronic diseases. Children were the most affected . Many were born with skeletal distortions, partially formed skulls, blood disorders and a broad variety of physical deformities. Most common is missing eyes or toes, fused fingers or limbs incapable of supporting them. In addition, the researchers found that 30,000 people living within 5 kilometres of the mining area were exposed to abnormally high levels of radiation.

IDPD’s HEALTH SURVEY

Indian doctors for peace and development (IDPD), an affiliate of the 1985 noble prize winner INTERNATIONAL PHYSICIANS FOR THE PREVENTION OF NUCLEAR WAR, conducted a health survey in 2007 that looked at 2,118 families within 2.5 kms of the mines. The health survey conducted in may –august 2007 painted a very terrifying reality of people’s health in jaduguda….

Jaduguda tells a different story than the governments’ claims of being safe, a story that narrates the price being paid by Jaduguda’s residents for India’s nuclear dream.

OUR DEMANDS

  1. Bringing radioactive wastes into the area and dumping them in the villages should stop forthwith;
  2. International norms and standards for storing radioactive waste that has already been dumped should be meticulously observed;
  3. All villages around the existing tailings ponds should be resettled at a safe distance and complete rehabilitation should be undertaken;
  4. All families whose active working members have either died or been incapacitated should be adequately compensated and for those families that have children with serious physical and/or mental disabilities, the company should take the responsibility for their treatment.
  5. The company should set up a public dispensary, manned by qualified medical personnel to treat radiation related diseases

Jadugoda