Reports of hazard of uranium mining could not be untrue. Most of the reports are from Jaduguda in Jharkhand where the first uranium mining took place in the 1960s. The reports of human health hazards could be the impact of mining from those days or a few decades later. There is a vast shift in the technology of mining since. Although uranium as an ore or a radioactive material remained the same, technology must have been developed over the years to reduce human exposure to it. While the property of uranium cannot be changed and would remain as hazardous as it was, technology can reduce the radioactivity impact, the main concern in Meghalaya. The other concern is the nuclear waste to be generated from the processing plant.
As the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) has not yet planned any nuclear power plant in Meghalaya, there is no accidental hazard about which the entire world is worried. After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster many western countries have decided to phase out nuclear power. Germany has permanently shut down eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022. Italy already stopped all its nuclear power plants. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.
However, developing and populous countries like India and China are still going ahead with nuclear power to fulfil the ever growing energy needs. In this context, it is unlikely that government of India will slow down it hunt for uranium to generate nuclear power. But, given the world trend, it is also unlikely that from Meghalaya is going to earn sustainable revenue mining of uranium. Even the booming coal mining industry is stuck for the past four years, thanks to the ban imposed by National Green Tribunal due to the rampant unscientific mining causing severe pollution in water bodies and agriculture lands.
While the whole situation over uranium mining in Meghalaya is still murky what is clear is that UCIL is not yet prepared to abandon the state project as yet. At the same time, the PSU is lacking in its effort to address the concern of health hazard. The UCIL has not been able to present before the public the steps it is going to take to prevent any kind of reported or possible hazard. Or is itself not confident about the ‘safety measures’? Either they should clear the road ahead or pack its baggage from Meghalaya.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on March 18, 2017)