|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Meghalaya uranium mining: Govt plans
Supratim Dey in Guwahati | May 05, 2008 19:02 IST
Against the backdrop of increasing demand for uranium, the Centre has decided to go the extra mile to blunt the opposition to uranium mining in Meghalaya, which has the third largest reserves of the mineral after Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh.
The Department of Atomic Energy plans to bring out a "detailed white paper" on uranium mining that would be later placed before the Meghalaya Assembly.
The decision was taken at a meeting between Union Minister of State for Power Jairam Ramesh and Chief Minister Donkupar Roy and senior bureaucrats in Shillong.
The white paper would be prepared by May 31 and the chief minister had agreed to place it before the Assembly for its consent, Ramesh said.
The white paper will mention the DAE's plan for uranium mining in Meghalaya and the precautions it would take to address the fears of the locals.
Ramesh said Roy and Deputy Chief Minster HS Lyngdoh agreed to the idea. During the tenure of the previous Congress-led government, Lyngdoh, as a member of the Opposition, was in the forefront of opposing uranium mining in the state.
The DAE also plans to bring a team of doctors and scientists from Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital to address the general fear that uranium mining leads to cancer. Ramesh said the doctors and scientists would start a "public outreach programme" to create awareness on the issue.
The department also plans to take a team of legislators and representatives from civil society to Cuddappah district in Andhra Pradesh. It had recently invested Rs 1,500 crore on a similar project in the district.
Ramesh also revealed the chief minister's willingness to allow uranium mining if a nuclear power plant was located in the state or elsewhere in the north-eastern region.
Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar said Ramesh would soon set up a committee to study the techno-economic feasibility of setting up the nuclear plant. Ramesh said he talked with Kakodkar on the matter.
"The central government will not do anything against the wishes of the government of Meghalaya or the public opinion of the state. This is a huge challenge and we will address it in a very transparent manner," said the Union minister of state.
"Most of our nuclear power plants are running at 50 per cent capacity due to shortage of uranium. This shortage is the reason why we are going for the Indo-US nuclear deal. Uranium from Meghalaya can help us feed our nuclear reactors to a great extent," he said.
An exploratory survey done by the DAE in the 1980s had confirmed high-quality uranium deposits in the state's West Khasi Hills region. The mining proposal has often been criticised by various tribal organisations, NGOs and the influential Khasi Students Union.
Uranium Corporation of India Ltd, which had to wind up mining operations in the Khasi Hills in the early 1990s due to violent tribal protests, had again applied to the state government for uranium mining in 2001. The mining project, estimated at Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) in 90s, is now estimated to cost Rs 814 crore (Rs 8.14 billion).
Meghalaya accounts for 16 per cent of India's uranium reserves, with deposits estimated to be around 9,500 tonnes and 4,000 tonnes at Domiasiat and Wakhyn, respectively.