Mining By Uranium Corporation At Thummalapalle Must Stop

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) strongly urges the Union and State governments to take steps to halt the proposed enhancement of uranium ore capacity from 3000 tpd (tonne per day) to 4500 tpd at the uranium mining project at Thummalapalle village in Vemula mandal of Kadapa district by the Uranium Corporation of India limited (UCIL). The public hearing for the proposed project slated to be held at on May 30 must be cancelled forthwith. Not doing so would amount to a mockery of the environmental clearance regime.       

HRF also demands that environmental clearance accorded for the first phase of the project by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) in February, 2007 be revoked and ongoing mining work stopped forthwith.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report which is the basis for holding the May 30 public hearing is a sham. Assessments trotted out in the EIA report are highly dubious and riddled with a number of inconsistencies and misrepresentations. The report fails to address adequately the environmental impact related to pollution caused by the mining and processing, and pollution caused by waste disposal.

For instance, it is claimed in the EIA report that the proposed project will not impact upon groundwater in the region. This is a brazen lie. HRF teams that visited the area on several occasions have seen that the ongoing mining by UCIL is already draining out the groundwater in villages within a 10 km radius. There has been a steep drop in groundwater tables and hundreds of bores have gone dry in and around the villages of Thumalapalle, Bhoomaiahgaripalle, Rachakuntapalle, Kottala and Mabbuchinthalapalle villages in Vemula mandal. In some places residents are forced to purchase water for domestic needs. Where borewells are coughing up some water it is invariably contaminated.

Uranium mining, which is the first stage of nuclear cycle, is the messiest and most contaminating stage of the whole nuclear energy process. Ground and surface water in the vicinity of the mining area is invariably contaminated. Mining at large depths is already penetrating aquifers giving water access to radioactive rock surfaces. Many aquifers interconnect and therefore contamination of groundwater is quickly becoming widespread. Local residents have been complaining that UCIL operations are already polluting their water resources.

The UCIL’s claim that the proposed project’s impact on ecology will be insignificant is absolutely untenable. The project is already hitting at the livelihood and sustenance basis of a vibrant farming community in the region and negatively impacting upon water security in many villages. Project expansion will further devastate their lives.

Mining for uranium will poison the land and deplete groundwater tables. The scars of uranium mining will be permanent. It poses significant threats with residues from mining and processing remaining toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. An entire population in the area (estimated at about 1.5 lakh within a 10 km radius) is endangered with extremely serious health problems like congenital deformities. These include children born with skeletal distortions, partially formed skulls, blood disorders, sterility, cancer and a broad variety of physical deformities. One has only to visit Jaduguda in Jharkhand where uranium mining takes place to see this devastation.

Given lack of sufficient water for domestic and irrigation needs in the area, how can the irrigation department allocate over 6000 cubic metres per day from the Chitravathi balancing reservoir to the UCIL? Diverting such a large quantity of water for such industries and depriving citizens of their legitimate share is unacceptable. Moreover, the EIA report contains a letter dated March 23, 2006 in respect of permission for water drawal from the Chitravathi. This relates to the first phase of 3000 tpd. There is no information about the additional water allocation sought by the UCIL for the expansion. This is one among several glaring omissions and inconsistencies in the EIA report and as such the entire public hearing process is vitiated.

The tailings ponds which store the toxic wastes are known to suffer from leakages of various kinds. They are exposed to the elements and experience shows that it is impossible to make them hazard-proof. Since these ponds with their radioactive contents will outlast the mines by centuries, there is no assurance that their structures, even if they are built in a fool proof manner to begin with, will continue to be so forever. That seepage into the ground water, leakage into neighbouring streams and rivulets etc., from the tailings ponds, cannot totally be prevented has been the universal experience. The design of the tailings pond at Kottala is incremental and can be disastrous. The assurance of impervious lining for the tailings pond is dubious. It is evident that the tailings pond is going to be mostly a natural pond, whose belly and sides will be nature-given to a large extent. The belly as well as the sides is undulating and irregular and there is no way that any effective let alone impervious lining is going to be given. This is an extremely important point since seepage or leaching of the radioactive and otherwise poisonous material from the tailings pond is an important source of severe pollution. 

The project site drains towards the water tank of Buchayyagaripalle and then towards the Papaghni river which is a tributary of the Penna river which is a major source of irrigation downstream. Spillage of waste in the project site will contain radioactive material as well as heavy metals. The drained water which enters the tank at Buchayyagaripalle and the Papaghni can have severe effect on those water sources. And once the drained water enters the Penna river, it will mix with the water of the Telugu Ganga which carries drinking water to Chennai. But there is no discussion in the EIA report of the likely effect of radioactive material and compounds of heavy metals joining these irrigation and drinking water systems.

HRF is of the opinion that uranium mining for generating nuclear power has to be rejected because it is intrinsically hazardous, extremely dangerous and is a terrible legacy for future generations. Despite the orchestrated hype all the way from the Prime Minister down to the UCIL and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) about nuclear power being the answer to the nation’s energy needs, nuclear power is actually more expensive than power from conventional sources like coal, gas and hydro and is definitely not a solution to the climate crisis. In spite claims by the UCIL, the mining and processing of uranium ore would invariably contaminate air, soil, underground and surface water. These negative impacts are already in evidence in the Thummalapalle area.

Uranium mining is an unacceptable risk to humanity and the environment. It is unviable in social, ethical and environmental terms. There has not been any transparency, public scrutiny or democratic debate of this projects which will leave permanent scars in the area.

VS Krishna
(HRF State general secretary)

S Jeevan Kumar
(HRF State president)


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