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Allaying concerns over nuclear projects in Andhra Pradesh

The mine at Tummalapalle in Andhra Pradesh, where  natural uranium is excavated.

The mine at Tummalapalle in Andhra Pradesh, where natural uranium is excavated. | Photo Credit: RAGU R.

Union Minister of State Jitender Singh’s recent statement in Parliament that the Centre had cleared a proposal to set up a nuclear power plant at Kovvada in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, abutting the proposed executive capital city of Visakhapatnam, has sparked another round of protests. At the same time, there are also protests at the other end of the State, in Tummalapalle, Kadapa district, over uranium mining and its associated risks to health and environment, as well as issues of rehabilitation and resettlement.

Despite initial protests after the projects were proposed, people from these two regions were more or less convinced about the developmental aspects of the nuclear power plant and uranium mining, and land acquisition was a smooth affair. The expectation was that the governments would meet the requirements, stick to the stipulated norms, and allay fears over safety, health and rehabilitation.

The Kovvada nuclear power plant was first proposed in 2015. The government has acquired over 2,079 acres of land for the plant, which was taken up in association with the U.S. multinational nuclear power reactors supplier, Westinghouse Electric Company. After Mr. Singh’s recent statement, the Forum for Development of North Andhra, in a letter to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, raised concerns over the plant and urged him to pass a resolution to reject it in the State.

The Forum raised concerns over the location of the plant (it is to be set up close to National Highway 16), the rehabilitation of fishermen, and the presence of several industries in the region. As per the guidelines of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, human habitation is not allowed within a 1.6-km radius of the plant. People living within 30 km from the plant should be kept ready for evacuation in the event of a disaster. Besides, the Forum wrote, should there be a disaster, the nuclear impact may be felt in places as far as Chhatrapur in Odisha and Kakinada in East Godavari district. Kovvada is located in a dangerous seismic zone, it added. “The plant was initially planned in Gujarat but the State had rejected it and it was eventually shifted to Kovvada,” the Forum stated in the letter.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited’s (UCIL) mining in Tummalapalle in Kadapa district has also become controversial for similar reasons. With an estimated 85,000 tonnes of potential uranium deposit, the Tummalapalle mine is touted to be among the world’s biggest. After over a decade of mining at the site, there are concerns now over air pollution, ground water contamination and unmet promises. Locals say bore wells have become contaminated. The most common complaints are of skin and respiratory ailments, but more serious health issues have been reported among women. Despite providing assurances, the UCIL has reportedly not provided medical support. The government has responded to these concerns by conducting field-level surveys, but there is no follow up, the people contend. On the rehabilitation front, the villagers are unhappy as a majority of the youth have not been given the promised employment. The company is also accused of failing to provide pensions to those who have crossed 60 years of age.

The people in both these regions have given their lands to the government and are waiting for the latter to fulfil its promises. Meanwhile, Opposition parties and NGOs are beginning to take note of the issues and inaction. The projects, both associated with nuclear energy, have been taken up in national interest. They have already come a long way. It is high time the government takes note of the issues on the ground and action in the right direction.

appaji.r@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jun 26, 2022 5:36:08 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/it-is-time-to-allay-fears-over-nuclear-projects-in-andhra-pradesh/article65202101.ece