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They Don't Like This Eerie Glow
It was meant to be a public hearing but the atmosphere was that of a protest demonstration. A raucous crowd shouting down anyone who tried to speak in favour of the Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL)’s plans to set up a processing plant in Seripalli village here. The UCIL wants to start mining for uranium in the Lambapur-Pedagattu area, a forested area abutting the Nagarjuna Sagar dam. In 2003, when UCIL first unveiled its plans, it proposed setting up the ore processing plant at Mallapuram, 18 km from the site of the proposed open-cast mines. However, a year ago, the state pollution board turned down the proposal after warnings of radiation leak and heavy-metal contamination in the reservoir. The Nagarjuna Sagar is one of South India’s key dams providing drinking water for several cities including the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, besides irrigation for six districts.
Under pressure to keep producing uranium for the Department of Atomic Energy’s ever increasing number of N- reactors, the UCIL is hoping to get around environmental clearance bodies by moving the processing plant further away from Nagarjuna Sagar. Hence Seripalli, some 54 km away from the proposed mine and 28 km from the dam.
With protests mounting, the UCIL took 40-odd villagers from the area to Jaduguda in Jharkhand where it’s already mining uranium for a tour. However, a majority of them came back unconvinced. Most of them, including the local MLA, spoke against the setting up of the proposed plant at the public hearing. Uranium mining is risky business and UCIL’s safety record in Jaduguda has been far from encouraging. Meanwhile, though UCIL is proposing a shift of the processing plant, it is yet to address concerns about the mine itself. The proposed open-cast mine is a few hundred metres from a river that leads into the reservoir.