Safety standards and health hazards

Author: 
Dr Arun Mitra

The study on the health status of people living near Jadugoda uranium mining operation area confirms that health problems related to uranium mining, such as congenital deformities, sterility and cancer, were affecting the indigenous people disproportionately in the studied villages as compared to reference villages. The study also suggests that increased numbers of people living near uranium mining operational area are dying at a younger age (before completing 62 years) as compared to the reference village. The health of indigenous people around uranium mining areas is more vulnerable in spite of the fact that their economic and educational status is better.
There have been reports in the past indicating that people living near the Jadugoda mines are facing radiation problems. An environment committee of the Bihar legislative council, headed by Gautam Sagar Rana, had pointed in its report to the health hazards which miners working in the uranium mines and the tribals (residing close to the tailings ponds used for dumping of nuclear wastes) are exposed to. Another study by Sanghamitra has also concluded that indigenous people residing in the vicinity of the uranium mines are victims of radiation.
The safety standards maintained by the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) authorities can be gauged by an incident, which happened on the December 24, 2006, when thousands of litres of radioactive waste spilled in a creek because of a pipe burst at a UCIL facility at Jadugoda. It is disquieting that UCIL did not have its own alarm mechanism to alert the company in cases of such a disaster. But for the vigilance of the villagers who had arrived at the scene of the accident soon after the pipe burst, UCIL would not have come to know about the toxic spill. UCIL took nine hours before the flow of the radioactive waste that had spewed into the creek was shut off. Consequently, a thick layer of toxic sludge on the surface of the creek killed scores of fish, frogs, and other riparian life. The waste from the leak also reached a creek that feeds into the Subarnarekha river, seriously contaminating the water resources of the communities living hundreds of kilometers along the way. This is not the first such accident. In 1986, a tailing dam had burst open and radioactive water flowed directly into the villages.
Till the 90’s the tailings ponds (where uranium mine liquid waste is stored to evaporate) in close vicinity of the villages were used as children’s playground, open grazing area and for other public use. It shows the utter disregard they have for safety of indigenous people. As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) principle has been thrown to winds by the UCIL authorities.
Conclusion: The finding of the study confirms the hypotheses that the health of indigenous people around uranium mining is more vulnerable to certain health problems. The major finding of the study shows that:
*Primary sterility is more common among people residing near uranium mining operations area.
*More children with congenital deformities are being born to mothers and congenital defect as a cause of death of a child is also high among mothers living near uranium mining operations area.
*Cancer as a cause of death is more common in villages surrounding uranium operations.
*The life expectancy of people living near uranium mining operations area is less; as a result more people are dying in their early ages in villages around uranium mining operation area.
The health of indigenous people around uranium mining areas is more vulnerable in spite of the fact that their economic and educational status is better as compared to reference villages.
Nuclear issues in India are the sacrosanct holy cow. It has been kept out of the purview of ordinary citizen. A nuclear India has been made to be a symbol of national pride by successive Indian governments. Anybody raising the issue of nuclear safety is either ridiculed or branded as anti-national. There should be epidemiological study around the nuclear facilities to check the health of the people living around such facilities before installing a facility. It should be followed up every year to see the effect on the health status of the people. In addition to radiation hazards, the chemical hazards of uranium need a close scrutiny.
Exhilaration about nuclear power plants cannot cloak the miseries of thousands of indigenous people suffering the effects of uranium mining in India due to poor technical and management practices in the Ines. The Uranium Corporation of India Limited and the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India, have a bounden duty towards the indigenous people of Jadugoda to provide all information on radiation and chemical hazard affecting them. (IPA)

Tuesday, 10 October, 2017