D. Narasimha Reddy has done his Ph.D on nuclear policy and has been a long standing, active critic of nuclear energy programmes. He works for promotion of handloom sector and natural-based farming through awareness, capacity building and advocacy activities
The Nuclear Fuel complex, at Hyderabad, is the most important link in India’s Nuclear Fuel cycle. It produces fuel for all the nuclear power reactors of the country. It has plants for conversion of yellow cake into ceramic-grade natural uranium oxide, enriched uranium hexa-fluoride into enriched uranium oxide, zircon sand into zircaloy components, and uranium dioxide to cintered pellets and to fuel assemblies. It also produces components such as blanket fuel containing thoria pellets, nickel and steel reflector assemblies’ etc. for FBTR. A plant for manufacturing very highly pure materials for electronic industry is also located here. NFC also produces seamless stainless tubes.
NFC has produced a special alloy of Nioblung-Hafnium and Titanium for India’s space programs, which has been successfully tested.
The present operating capacity of the plant is about 850 tonnes of fuel per year for pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR). Enriched uranium oxide fuel, required specifically for Tarapur Atomic Power Reactors, is also manufactured here using enriched uranium hexafloride imported from France. It was planned to expand the production capacity from 80 tonnes to 225 tonnes to meet the recurring demand from different plants, including the Narora Atomic Power Project. Separate facilities are under consideration for meeting the requirement of fuel for 10,000 MWe programme. Daily consumption of Nitric acid is anywhere between 10 to 12 Metric tonnes. Magnesium (M-Du) wastage is one of the major problems.
The people and the environment in the vicinity of the NFC are threatened by radioactive and chemical waste. Here is why the NFC must be immediately shifted away from the densely populated locality in Hyderabad:
1. Once NFC was outside the city, but now because residential growth, it is completely surrounded by human settlements. Guidelines as we understand say that such establishment should be miles away from any human habitation. But it is amidst it is no consolation.
2. NFC used to dump zirconium and other waste. Rag pickers and others used to pick useful things. Once there was fire, as Zirconium is highly unstable, burning to death one or two and injuring a few others. A NFC lorry also was burnt. After the incident, and our press meetings on the same, they built a huge wall around.
3. It has three huge storage tanks of sulphuric, nitric and ammonia acids. Any accident would wipe out a huge population.
4. Groundwater pollution in the surrounding colonies have been noticed and recorded.
A day may come when it will be highly dangerous to use the underground water and people may have to desert Hyderabad as has happened in the area near Hanford works in the USA.
Already, the DAE has forbidden the people of Ashok Nagar to use their wells. This is not scare-mongering but a reality that we must face.
5. There were quite a few accidents inside the premises, but got minimal coverage outside.
6. Officials of AP Pollution Control Board, who are supposed to implement Environment Protection Act (more powerful that any nuclear regulation act) are not allowed inside the premises. They have to beg for permission. They were denied access to information and site, in violation of the EP Act.
7. Railway rakes which bring in uranium ore from Jaduguda and other mining areas are not labelled, when they come and go. Often these rakes could be used for transporting food or any item back.
8. Emergency Management Plans were not shared with the APPCB or local authorities. With so much of ‘hazardous storages and operations’ sharing such plans (including anti-dotes) is a must.
9. I was on a APPCB committee, wherein in one of the meetings, NFC expansion plans were brought up for discussion, in 2000. APPCB officials told me that they were, or will not be allowed, inside. There were also some recent cases of explosions inside the complex. NFC said that these are minor, and do not constitute threats to outside world, and as such there is no necessity for them to approach any ‘outside’ authority.
10. NFC is operating as island of authority, without respect or link to the local laws and authorities. However, there is no law which allows it to ‘behave’ as such. Environment Protection Act and Town Planning and other urban/municipal acts are much stronger.
11. Recently, Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority has brought out a draft Master Plan 2031. Once this Plan gets notified, NFC would be much deeper surrounded by a dense population. It is unbelievable how such a hazardous operation can continue amidst residential areas. AERB also seems to ignore the threat potential here.