Thursday, 11 July 2013

Technology is never a guarantee to safety - Part 2

A faulty jet fighter may lose you a battle, 
A faulty nuclear plant will lose you an entire country.

In my earlier article “Technology is never a guarantee to safety - Part 1”  I wrote about the fact that the most high tech military aircraft have crashed despite being thoroughly evaluated for their technical prowess. Due to limitation of space, I could not get to the other facts of this industry and its eerie parallels with the Nuclear Power sector.

Over the past 40 years, more than half of India’s workhorse fighter jets, the Russian MiGs, have crashed — 482 out of 872 to be exact. Yet, Indian Air Force officials told India Today magazine that the MiG-21 was a fantastic aircraft, it is just difficult to land!!

It is not as if only the IAF jets have crashed. The Indian civilian airline industry too has had many crashes in its short history. Let’s look at some of these– not for posterity - but to understand the reasons about why they occurred.


Sirsa, December 02, 2011 - MiG 21 crashes because the aircraft caught fire. 
Reason- Cause not yet determined or disclosed but technical snags were supposed to have downed it.

Bikaner, Rajasthan, August 2, 2011 - MiG crashes in a field while on a routine mission.
Reason- Cause not yet determined or disclosed.

Chakri Dadri (near Delhi), 12 November 1996 - A mid-air collision between two aircraft leaves  349 people on board both flights killed, and making it the world's deadliest mid-air collision.

Bangalore Airport, 14 February 1990 - Indian Airlines Flight 605 crashes killing 92. Reason- The newly launched Airbus A-320 had advanced fly-by-wire technology but had complicated flight system panels and controls, coupled with lack of suitable training for pilots.

Imphal, August 16, 1991 Indian Airlines Flight 257 crashes killing all 69 on board.
Reason- Failure of the navigation and the Instrument Landing System on the ground made the pilot lose contact.

Patna, July 17, 2000 - Alliance Air Boeing 737 passenger plane crashes on housing colony and breaks into four peices. Death toll, 58 charred bodies.

Reason – An ageing 20-year old poorly maintained aircraft, which was supposed to be non-air worthy was put into service.

One can go on and on about the horrific civilian aircraft crashes. 
They have claimed lives of several notable people from India - A.V. Birla, Mohan Kumarmangalam, Dorjee Khandu, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, G.M.C. Balayogi, O. P. Jindal, Madhavrao Scindia, Sanjay Gandhi are among these notable and public figures who perished in aircraft failures.

In fact, the father of the Indian Nuclear Energy program – Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha – was also a victim of an air crash when travelling by Air India Flight 101 in France on January 24, 1966.

As of end 2011, nine crashes involving IAF planes had taken place which included five MiG-21s, two Jaguars and one MiG-29, besides a Sukhoi SU-30 crash near Pune.
Let us also bear in mind that these fighter jets are missile capable and carry nuclear payload (weapons) during war.

If you want further damning proof, then check what Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian astronaut has to say about the state of our defense establishments. He outright blames faulty planning in defense public sector units for the MiG crashes. 

Rakesh Sharma goes further and I quote “As a test pilot with the HAL I would send back fighter planes to the laboratories if I detected snags in their parts. But I soon found out that instead of doing research and development on these parts, the laboratories fitted the parts in another fighter plane. The parts used to keep repeating the full circle consuming time and energy without any result,  HAL does not even have an in-house test-pilot team”

Also see about what this serving officer with IAF has to say: "Flying a MiG-21 amounted to "violation of his fundamental right to life", a serving wing commander has told the Delhi high court - (Times of India 

And this is the same type of government owned public sector undertaking NPCIL which is implementing the Indian civil nuclear establishment!!

And now read this too – A study of the past ten MiG crashes showed that experienced pilots with hundreds of flying hours to their credit were behind the controls in most cases (‘Old aircraft, not pilots’ inexperience, behind MiG crashes’ and here.

So the billions spent on the latest technology have failed NOT because of any human failure; they were let down by the latest “fly by wire” technology. And yet this is the exact same logic which the NPCIL bosses use to justify their purchases and which the government gives credence too.

At Koodankulam, India is putting up nuclear reactors which have the so-called “core catcher” technology while at Jaitapur, NPCIL will be using EPR technology from France - both of which are not fully tested. In fact, the French reactor is not even certified by the US and Finland has almost cancelled its plan to build a reactor based on this technology. GE in fact plans to set up reactors in Kovadda (Andhra Pradesh) using un-certified technology.

Yet, the entire nuclear establishment, including the NPCIL and the government has given a carte blanche certificate to these technologies,knowing fully well that it is an untested, non-certified design and yet claiming that the billions of dollars are being spent on a “safe” reactor!

Has India become a dumping/junk yard for all these failed projects just like it has been to the disastrous and worlds largest ship breaking yard at Alang, Gujarat?

Even neighboring "poor" Bangladesh is raising its voice against the outdated VVER Russian reactors planned there and which has been installed in Koodankulam with so much fan-fare.

However much the government of India tries to cover up and dispute, the fact remains that Murphy’s Law will always catch up.

“When something has to go wrong, it will. Because, for no other reason but because of technology!”

This is not making a case that anything high tech ought to be rejected outright because of fear - Far from it.....But one cannot look at high tech as a savior. Accidents happen despite the best of technology and people being in place. The Three Mile, Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents happened primarily because the technology used was faulty and also due to human greed. The designs were wrong. Maintenance was poor and safety took a back seat out of nonchalance. 

If, at every stage, we continue to say that, “We have learnt from our past mistakes and will ensure not to commit them in future” then it represents a defeatist and negative attitude ; a fatalistic attitude.

Any other accident can be taken as a learning experience and a chance to improve in future. However, a nuclear meltdown leaves people and whole countries in a total mess. It is a huge human loss, an economic and environmental disaster and what is even worse; its effects remain for hundreds of years.

As a technical professional particularly involved with computer systems, I have seen absolutely dumb designs, which make software and systems crash. It happens even with giant companies like Microsoft or Google. They mess up big time with software and updates and it takes a whole lot of time, effort, skills and money to clean up the mess caused by a stupid design failure.

I would hate to see this horror happen in any nuclear reactor. Enough has been written about how the Americans infected the Iranian nuclear program with stealth viruses. Does anyone imagine that the Russians or the French would not have done something on these lines? A friend today could very well be your enemy tomorrow. And it is very easy to infiltrate through technology.

So how much confidence are we putting into these friends, and by imagining that nothing is inherently wrong in these systems – either by error or by design? None of the countries are so clueless as to not understand that political situations are extremely fluid and can rapidly change for the worse.

Tomorrow, France or Russia may decide the India is a threat to their nation or to their national interests. Does anyone think that these countries will continue to have any interest in maintaining these nuclear reactors? Far from maintaining them, these countries would try to sabotage them!

Where will India go when it realizes that its former friends are now its enemies and without them or their fuel / aid it cannot run its reactors?

Conversely, should India continue to be friendly with these countries out of fear of retaliation and retribution and risk losing support for the nuclear program and also lose its military support?

That, my friends, is called the “moment of truth.”

Neither USA, France, Japan, Australia, Korea nor Russia will give anything to India without extracting their own pound of flesh.
That is the reality  tied between nuclear energy and defence deals. And it won’t change because India refuses to accept the fact that its civilian nuclear program is isolated from its defence program.

Yet, India is choosing a dreadfully dangerous path with its quasi civil nuclear program. It is falling victim to the policies practiced by those countries which have a vested interest in business and military affairs. The Russian nuclear program is falling apart, and its industrial machinery is unable to sustain goals set up during the Cold War era. France has so much of domestic resistance to nuclear power that the government may find it extremely difficult to prop up Areva – the French government’s baby. In the US too, the nuclear establishment contributes hugely to Senators via political funding (lobbying). Westinghouse of USA is ¾
owned by the Japanese giant Toshiba and wields enough power in US energy policy decisions thanks to its financial “support” to politicians during elections.All these countries have a huge unemploymnet problem and cannot allow their large defense industry to stall as it will cause local discontent and loss of votes. Eventually it is all about politics and votes!!
Why not wake up to these realities of geopolitics. Do we really need to spend this money on questionable technology?
Common and business logic makes one evaluate everything in terms of “risk-reward ratio.”
So, whether it is investing in projects or for strategic purposes, we subconsciously evaluate everything in these terms. Even while driving a car, we always look at the risk-reward ratio before speeding or overtaking another vehicle!

The risks involved with nuclear energy do not justify the rewards.

With anything nuclear, it is never a question whether an accident can occur. The question is WHEN it will happen.

This is an undeniable fact and there is no escaping it.

There is absolutely no point in saying that we have the latest technology.
Because eventually, technology is not a guarantee to safety.

(This an an updated version of my article published on June 28, 2012)

Monday, 8 July 2013

Technology is never a guarantee to safety - Part 1

A faulty jet fighter may lose you a battle, 
A faulty nuclear plant will lose you an entire country.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”                            –- Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes

When I repeatedly hear about ’Nuclear Safety’ in India and its track record, I’m a bit perplexed. 

After all, nuclear safety is an oxymoron.

Many people (including yours truly) have written earlier refuting these safety claims and  have provided documentary proof of the hollowness of such claims.
Well, it seems to have worked because while earlier, only the Prime Minister (PM), the PM's office  and the NPCIL were touting about “nuclear safety”, now his whole office, staff and probably even his gardener and dog toe this same line to claim that Nuclear energy is the safest form of boiling water into steam!

Why does the Delhi politicians' heart bleed so much for people in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra etc who are apparently suffering from lack of electricity even as the VERY place they occupy their seat of power (i.e. Delhi) is facing crippling power outages?

In this context, would it not be far better to have a nuclear reactor within the parliament or Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential palace) premises? So, why not take this ‘safest form of energy’ (sic) and use as much power as needed for Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR)?

We ALL know that this will not happen - because those in power know the brutal truths, facts and risks and they will not accept these dangers and risks associated with Nuclear energy.
In 2010, it was announced with much fanfare that the seat of Indian democracy - Sansad Bhavan - would go “green” with Solar PV panels and biogas plants for backup power. There does not appear to be anything done after that. Not that one expects much, it is simply wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, a lot of media attention has focused on the German green revolution. The fact is they threw out of the window the nuclear option and choosing a mix of solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy which has been a toast to the Greens around the world. 

Germany showed that political will can indeed bring about a sea change in how we look at previous paradigms and how we can challenge them successfully and live a safe life without being worried about horrific accidents, being displaced, losing lives and livelihoods and have a sustainable existence with the planet.

What has been less highlighted is the fact that Germany was on the path of solar much before Fukushima happened. More than five years prior to Fukushima, Germany had changed its Electricity Act and allowed private operators to connect to the central electricity grid. They provided subsidies to the private sector investing in renewable energy. And given this policy push, a whole host of companies came forward to take advantages of the tax breaks and the profits. 
In fact, Germany is now slowly taking away the subsidy it gave to set up this infrastructure! Now that the things are in place, Germany can well afford to let its nuclear industry wither away -  like what is happening with the giant companies like RWE and E.ON.
Fukushima was just a tipping point for Germany. The decision had been made years back and had been put in place with typical German precision! Safety, economics, sustainability were all thought about proactively and not post-facto in Germany.

But back in India, let us accept one fact. There is no such thing as a “Safe India.” That is a moronic thought. Another oxymoron, if you please.


Forget it!!

India is a country that sees the highest number of road accidents, the highest number of rail accidents worldwide per thousand people. And it results in the highest number of human lives lost in the whole world each year to these two combined modes of transport.

It actually ought to be a matter of national shame for India.

Yet, India lumbers along, slumbers on the way and awakens with a start only to hibernate once again. The standard refrain is that of “over population” But then why is China not at the top of this list? In fact, China does not come anywhere near the top. Don’t the Chinese travel by roads or trains built in extremely harsh and difficult conditions? Why are Indians so callous about safety?

Transport in itself is a quasi civilian problem – because drivers drink and drive, laws are lax and enforcement is difficult and mostly not implemented for those with enough money. Mind you, these are more of excuses. But for the moment, let it pass.

What then makes India so spectacularly accident prone? Why are Indians so highly safety averse that in practically every sector, the accident rate is far higher than the worldwide average! Is it a genetic predisposition? 

Nuclear power is government controlled and regulated with some portion given out to private contractors who in turn give it to sub contractors. The technology comes from a friendly foreign country and each contract runs into billions of dollars. It requires a whole lot of spares and constant maintenance to be run smoothly. These spares and upgrades and maintenance cost another few billions each year. The contracts to buy the technology and the subsequent orders are negotiated between the two governments in private. A lot of diplomatic and economic bargaining is done for each contract. In short, a huge amount is spent on keeping them afloat. They are symbols of "progressthat are supposed to show that India is indeed an "advanced/developed" nation.

Let me come to the moot point. Obviously, roads and railways cannot be compared with nuclear reactors if all the above parameters are used.

So, let us choose the ‘industry’ closest; based on the above parameters – The Indian Air Force. A brilliantly capable organization having even more brilliant officers and pilots who have time and again proven themselves during war and peace.

While not comparing the two on the merits or demerits of their people, there is a reason to compare them both– their purpouted similarities in their processes and tools.

Indian political and nuclear establishment heads hasten to assure that India has the ‘latest’ nuclear technology, the best brains to run and sustain them and therefore they will NEVER EVER fail. Well, probably they will not fail during the lifetime of the these decision makers because cost and time over runs are so commonplace in India that it takes decades to even start a building nuclear power plant. By this time, these politicians and bureaucrats would have long retired from service into oblivion or probably even would have died by then. So, then who cares if their judgments and plans go awry? Case in point is the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Southern India which has taken over 20 years since being conceptualized by the late Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi but which cannot be commissioned even now due to the genuine safety issues raised by the locals and others and which the operator (NPCIL) cannot fix.

Well, the same case can be made with the Indian Air-force Fighter Jets

A look at the statistics points to a startling fact. The IAF has lost a huge number of its fighter jets, be it the MiGs or Mirages. These are absolutely world class planes; bought after a lot of technical debate, deliberations and undoubtedly use the very latest available technology.

And yet, they crash. Repeatedly.

So, how is it possible that a fighter jet worth millions of dollars, selected after careful and
detailed analysis, flown by the very best and capable pilots in the country, maintained in Mint condition at a huge cost suddenly crash? And these are crashes are not on an enemy mission but rather happen when they are on routine domestic sorties.

The Russian MiG's are termed as “flying coffins” and “widow makers” among the air force because of the fact that they are prone to crashes.

Every fighter jet is equipped with the latest in technology – termed as “fly by wire.”
On board computers do most of the job of steering the flight on course doing millions of calculations per second. Without this technology, a modern fighter jet would not exist.

Yet, even wit this technology the best of the fighters fall out of the sky routinely and crash. Over the past 40 years, India had lost more than half of its MiG combat fleet of 872 aircraft. (More)

Of course, the human losses do matter; but what is most incredible is that the MiG, Mirage and the Sukhoi's are considered to be the absolutely the top class military hardware in the whole world.

The Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft ( FGFA ) costs approximately $100 million each. This is only the production cost. Add to it the maintenance and spares cost plus the ground level infrastructure and it turns out to be a whopping expensive machine!
As a patriot Indian, most Indians have never questioned the fact that the armed forces are even lesser than God himself - including myself. 
But doubts creep in when we read about the horrific crashes of MiGs and think of the families and institutions behind it. If the Indian Air-Force (with all its systems and discipline) can go wrong and select a wrong technology, what is the guarantee that the civil nuclear program is not on the same path??

After every crash, there is an inquiry made about the cause of the accident. Most often, it is brushed aside as pilot error.

Yet, facts emerge later during the inquiry into such accidents although most  times, the government pushes them under the carpet. 

More often than not, the cause of the millions of dollars falling out of the sky are Design or Technology related - not Pilot Error as claimed.

A retired Wing Commander said, “As a senior pilot, I have trained several juniors on the MiGs and we have faced problems. But in keeping with the unwritten code of the armed forces, we could never point out shortcomings in the aircraft.”

“It is an established fact that several young IAF pilots lost their lives because they were not willing to eject despite engine flameouts. Nobody ever cares about these factors as the super bosses have their own point to prove – that MiGs are very safe and airworthy,” another officer pointed out sarcastically. (More)

Faulty design of the fight systems, improper positioning of switches, bad software design and perhaps most importantly overuse caused these jets to crash. Add to this the heavy maintenance cost. One millisecond of error can prove to be fatal when dealing with jets and atomic energy. There is no second chance. 

The reason to compare India’s Nuclear program with the Air Force Jets is because of the startling similarity between the two.

Russia and France are the pivot of the Indian Air Force as well as India’s nuclear power sector. It is not by coincidence that defence deals go through with France or Russia. The quid pro quo is always that for every defense deal, a civil deal should happen. And some of those deals happen to be at Koodankulam (with Russia) or Jaitapur (with France), Mithivirdi (with USA). Despite knowing that better technology exists, India has purchased high cost military hardware from these “friendly” nations, even when some of these purchases were unnecessary and unjustified. The West and Russia have a huge vested interest in fomenting an arms race. They do it with admirable alacrity and also push countries to develop “peaceful” nuclear programs.

Whom does this most benefit? Obviously, US, Russia & France gain both ways. By selling defense equipment then getting involved in long term 'partnerships' for maintaining the hardware, and as an added bonus, they set up nuclear power plants in India from where the material to manufacture nuclear weapons can come. 

Make no mistake about it. Far from benign, nuclear power is actually the breeding ground for nuclear weapons. Hence, it is in the keen interests of the US, France and Russia to occupy this space.

Can India, which has invested heavily in this "latest" technology from Russia and France, explain why the same "latest" technology make these jets crash? Whatever the cause of the MiG and Sukhoi crashes, the fact remains that the hundreds of millions of technology wonder are routinely crashing all over India. That is an irrefutable fact.

You may blame a pilot or the weather or technology or spares or stress or any number of reasons.
But the fact remains that they DID indeed crash.
A fighter jet allows a pilot to eject to safety and they do so in cases of emergency. The plane crashes on the ground but the pilot may survive (although in many cases pilots have lost their lives and families have been shattered.)

But, when such an incident occurs at a nuclear power plant, there is no way that anyone can eject or deny the reality. A plane crash in a desolate area and a nuclear meltdown are totally different.

The billions spent on the IAF jets will at most kill the on-board pilots.

A nuclear accident will kill thousands immediately, and will keep doing so for hundreds of years.

Part 2 will be coming soon

(This is an updated version of an original article dated 25-06-2012)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Nightmare Called Jaduguda

It is one of India’s best kept secrets. This is the story of genocide.

The Dark Underbelly of Uranium Mining in India

Jauguda - the living dead

After over 50 years of Independence, there is another India which nobody talks about.


Because nobody knows or want to know about Jaduguda.

I spoke to hundreds of people in Mumbai and elsewhere on streets, in restaurants, bus stations, railway platforms, airports but not one person has ever heard of a place called Jaduguda in India or about its sad legacy. Sure, they all wanted round the clock electricity and were nonchalant about nuclear power. If only they knew.......  

What is happening in the name of National Pride and Self-Sufficiency is a NATIONAL SHAME. A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.

Next time you charge your mobile phone, switch on the AC or your TV, think about the enormous and horrifying cost being extracted from locals and the tribals. 
Jaduguda in Jharkhand is one such cursed place. Cursed, because it has India’s largest uranium mines. A curse called uranium has poisoned generations and will continue to haunt all future generations too.

This is a story which a few people have tried to tell. Many times over.

Yet, no solution is in sight to this living horror.

But then, probably nobody has found an answer because nobody WANTS to find an answer?


The power that is fed into homes using nuclear energy has some of its genesis in Jharkhand, from where the raw material – Uranium – to needed power these reactors is extracted or mined.

India has sufficient uranium deposits to build a few hundred nuclear bombs but it does not have the required amount of uranium to fuel its Atomic Power Plants. The largest deposits were found in the 1960s at Jaduguda and the nuclear lobby in India rushed in to exploit the ore there. Since 1967, the Jaduguda region of Bihar has been exploited for its uranium and so have its people.

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) formed the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL) with a mandate to explore and mine this precious ore. UCIL started the exploitation of man and nature the very next year in 1968.

Over forty four years later, it has created a tragic legacy which includes loss of health, disease, deaths, ruining of social fabric and professions, environmental destruction and irreparable damage to the ecology.

The only ones who have profited from this deprivation are those associated with the Nuclear Club – those who need uranium for dubious power and atomic weapons.


The Jaduguda mines (and to an extent, the uranium mines in Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh) supply the bulk of the uranium needed as fuel to the ever increasing reactors in India. Currently, India has one Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) at Hyderabad in Southern India which is over a thousand kilometers from Jaduguda and even further from the North Eastern mines in Meghalaya.

The original mines at Jaduguda have since been expanded and now include the Narwapahar mines a few kilometres away. Together, they make it possible to extract thousands of tonnes of earth each day using a mix of techniques.


As it usually happens, the land where the uranium was discovered belonged to the tribals (adivasis), who had lived there for hundreds of years and co-existed sustainably with nature. Elders recall that the tribals were strong and rarely (if ever) fell ill. The ecology was self-sufficient with man and nature providing and caring for each other.

Enter UCIL

As usual with any nuclear project, there was complete secrecy. This was easy in India of the 1960s and remains so even today. Anything nuclear is considered top secret and classified information and the DAE has to be brought kicking and screaming into courts before they divulge any information – at times even misinformation.

UCIL’s job was of course made easier because of the remoteness of the mines and the lack of education among the tribals. Moreover, the tribals were a trusting lot – as they would later discover to their peril.

Ergo, when UCIL commenced operations there, they acquired tribal land and made no mention about the kind of material that would be mined. Nor did they inform the locals about the hazardous nature of radiation.

As long as uranium remains in nature, buried deep within the earth, it is not dangerous. But the mining process brings it out in concentrated quantities, which is further ground into dust, and it is this phase where radiation starts taking its toll by entering the body and the ecology.

To understand this better look at the uranium cycle below –

At Jaduguda, the ore is mined, milled, refined into Yellow Cake and dispatched to the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC), Hyderabad by road and then by trains.

As can be seen, uranium ore goes through a number of processing phases and at each stage it pollutes the environment in more ways than one.

It is important to note that unlike this diagram above, it is alleged that the depleted (or spent) uranium waste is brought back to Jaduguda for “disposal,” i.e. thrown away as debris!

When UCIL started operations, locals were promised firm jobs, medical facilities, schools, roads, better opportunities and some say even bribe money. There are stories of locals being taken to far off nuclear facilities so as to impress them about the high technology, cleanliness and safety of the project.
The tribals trusted the government and were trapped.

For UCIL, there was a need for people to go down into the bowels of the earth and come up with the uranium ore for which it deployed the tribals. They needed labour because even the best of mining technology still needs physical labour. The open pit mining requires people to physically go deep down into the mines to dig further and load the ore for transportation to the surface. From there on, the other processes are also labour intensive.

What this means is that ALL these people working in the mines were subjected to radiation for prolonged periods of time. They inhaled the uranium, worked with no protective clothing and ate contaminated food. When they finished work, they returned home and their contaminated uniforms were handled and washed by the other people at homes who started getting affected by the secondary contamination.

This, however, was only one form of the uranium poisoning.

The process used for uranium extraction involves conversion into a slurry from which the precious metal is extracted. The rest of the sludge is sent into to the “tailing ponds” which are supposed to hold the highly radioactive slurry.

In reality what happens is that the tailing ponds are unable to hold all the slurry and frequently overflow, especially during the monsoons. More radioactive uranium seeps into the ground and contaminates the groundwater and rivers.

The locals are forced to use the downstream river waters for everything ranging from washing, bathing, sowing and irrigation.
It is from here that the whole uranium contamination/ poisoning cycle takes a massive leap into the food chain spreading far and wide via crops, fruits, and animals. The grass growing here is highly radioactive and when animals graze, it enters their bodies and contaminates the milk and meat.

In short, uranium enters every part of the ecosystem and continues to spread further and further via the rivers, fish, the vegetables and fruits grown there and thus, what starts as a local mine affects a vast region within no time at all.

It was the legal, moral and ethical duty of UCIL to warn the locals about what was about to hit them. But that would obviously have not suited the government.

Ideally, the whole land which was acquired for mining, blasting, processing should have been out of bounds for people and the tailing ponds made in such a manner that there is no seepage into the ground. Warning boards put up to indicate high radiation and danger zones, limit the access to site only message workers and decontaminate all material worn and handled by the workers at the site itself. The processed ore should have been safely transported in well covered vehicles to the nearest railway yard for its thousand kilometer journey to NFC Hyderabad.

All this is not a utopian dream. It is common sense.

But then, I forgot that we are talking about the DAE and UCIL. Agencies for which only the ends matter – not the means to achieve these nefarious ends.

Here are the stark realities at Jaduguda and Narwapahar -

The river, which runs past Jaduguda, is met by the murky outflow from the mine workings. Here, people wash vegetables, sow and bathe in this extremely poisonous water.

Nowhere in the region does one see warning boards. It is an open invitation to use the resources here and get poisoned.

Trucks which carry the processed material from the mines are open dumpers with just a piece of plastic thrown over the top – most often, even this is missing. The dumpers spill the material on the roads all the way from the mines to the rail yards. Radiation level meters (Geiger counters) frequently go berserk as the radiation count exceeds the maximum limit which can be displayed on these meters.

Scientists designing these counters probably never imagined that any civilian region would possibly have this amount of radiation.

School buildings have been made of stone which was extracted during blasting of the mines. Placing the radiation meters on their walls makes the counters beep furiously.

Probably military grade instrumentation with higher limits needs to be used in these “civilian” areas.


The transport from the mines to Hyderabad is another horror story. Look at the picture of this open topped dumper truck below. Often, not even a plastic sheet is thrown over it. The trucks spill the ore along the way on the road sides. The hazardous material is loaded casually on goods trains which carry this material along with rakes filled with edible items. The open trucks pass through various villages and small towns and evertime they hit a speed breaker (very common in rural India because of the prestige associated with having a speed breaker outside your home to make yourself safe from vehicles); these trucks spill the hazardous material / ore at the doorstep of residents resulting in high levels of cancer even in villages further away from the actual mines.

(Below) Ore Handling in India and in Developed countries 

A technical committee advising the government, comprising representatives of pollution control board industries and a retired atomic energy expert have noted that radioactive radiations were less than the permissible limits in Jaduguda.

The Director of UCIL’s technical department Diwakar Acharya said this in defense – “They are all retired employees. Mining methods have changed a lot in the past two decades. Earlier, the workers’ health was in grave danger due to the lack of protective clothing and modern machinery. The technology we have today keeps them, as well as the local population, completely out of harm’s way,” he says.

The sad truth is that NOTHING has changed over the years here.

What has changed is the increased greed of UCIL, NPCIL, DAE and Government of India for more and more yellow cake……. 

(First published on Aug 2, 2012)