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How foreign NGOs fuel India's anti-uranium lobby

December 01, 2014 13:53 IST

'We need uranium to fuel our reactors. Our scientists and engineers have been handling uranium safely since 1967. They must not feel disheartened by the activities of well motivated local or foreign agencies,' says Dr K S Parthasarathy.

How foreign agencies spend funds to influence public opinion in India is an interesting, intriguing and challenging question.

The Ploughshares Fund, the anti-nuclear US charity gave $20,000 (about Rs 12 lakh/Rs 1.2 million) to Indian Doctors for Peace and Development to 'support public education campaign, policymaker education and media work around the proposed expansion of uranium mining in India for purposes of nuclear energy and weapons expansion and the related public health impacts.'

The IDPD, the Indian affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, conducted a health survey in the villages near the uranium mine and mill at Jadugoda in Jhakhand. It bypassed the peer review process which is essential for such studies and published its 'findings' in newspapers.

Only vigilant journalists can arrest this lamentable trend. The Ploughshares Fund did not care about such niceties as its aim was to plant seeds of suspicion among the villagers and the public at large.

IPPNW published the IDPD 'study' as a presentation on its Web site. On November 9, I asked John Loretz, the programme director, IPPNW, how the agency can justify displaying scientifically unsubstantiated results on its Web site.

IPPNW's ultimate objective is to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. I asked Loretz whether he thinks any means followed for it is justified, as it is, in his view, for the greater good.

I pointed out that uranium resources in India are used to operate research reactors that produce life-saving radioisotopes and that opposing uranium mining blindly is not justified.

Rather than answering the questions he called me the industry mouthpiece posing as a freelance journalist!

Earlier, I asked, Paul Caroll, the programme director, Ploughshares Fund, details of the IDPD project including its full scope and its final report with details of the amounts spent to carry out different elements of the project.

Caroll wrote that he was not at liberty to provide detailed internal information about the expenditures of the project team.

'My own sense is that the project was successful in its goals,' he asserted.

That means the project 'educated' the public against expansion of uranium mining in India. Protracted correspondence with him yielded only limited information. He refused to hand over a copy of the final report and the details of how IDPD used the fund.

IDPD presented the study at an anti-nuclear seminar in London in 2007 and at the 18th World Congress of the IPPNW at New Delhi on March 10, 2008. It has been presenting the study at several meetings since then. The US charity got value for its money.

The IDPD's paper (external link) is a 'cherry picking' analysis. As the US charity expected, IDPD assumed that specific health problems related to uranium mining was affecting the indigenous people disproportionately in the study villages compared to the reference villages and then searched for evidence to support the assumption.

It sent 34 investigators from the same villages to every household and collected replies to a questionnaire.

'Responses to some of the variables in few of the interview schedules were not found to be satisfactory and such responses were not considered for data analysis,' the authors innocently and brazenly admitted to 'cherry picking' of the data. Lorentz's irritation is understandable.

Another avatar of an anti-uranium mining agency is the International Uranium Film Festival, a foreign organisation founded in 2010 in Brazil. In 2013, anti-uranium mining activists held the IUFF in Mumbai, Shillong, Ranchi, Manipal, Hyderabad, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and Thrissur. In 2014, it held the IUFF in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Manipal, Bangalore and Tatanagar.

IUFF claims to make people aware of every aspect of nuclear energy including the risks involved through 'the motion pictures containing soulful human stories.' Never mind, there is no scientific basis for the claims on adverse impacts of nuclear energy or uranium mining. This strategy turns unsuspecting sections of society against nuclear energy.

IUFF wins the emotional game because specialists knowledgeable in the health and safety aspects of uranium mining are mostly in their cocooned existence in the units of the Department of Atomic Energy.

IUFF organised photo-exhibitions and presented video documentaries at every venue. 'Documentary' makers vied with each other for the limited pie. IUFF provides a platform to young aspirants to interact with film makers and others working on nuclear issues.

Shri Prakash, a videographer of Jadugoda documentaries, is presently the South Asia Director of IUFF. IUFF-2015 may exhibit 60 new (in my view, anti) nuclear films in India.

Indian scientists should call the bluff and wipe out this barrage of disinformation on nuclear energy.

During the 1990s, the media reported that individuals residing close to the uranium mines and milling facilities were suffering from several diseases, deformities among children and infertility amongst women. An NGO made the claim that many women in Chattikocha village in Jadugoda had changes in their menstrual cycle and had 'gynaecological' problems and infertility.

Twenty-six specialists including physicians from outside the DAE did not find any radiation related abnormalities in the villagers in three separate surveys.

The ministry of health and family welfare reviewed the health reports and informed the National Human Rights Commission that there is no need for any further health survey in Jadugoda.

On April 15, 2004, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition (188/1999) demanding judicial intervention to have the necessary steps taken to safeguard the health of the population.

Some foreign agencies are attempting to reopen a settled issue.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited must proactively travel an extra mile to explain to the public, how they comply with all applicable safety standards.

We need uranium to fuel our reactors. With the available uranium, the average capacity factor of a group of Indian reactors clocked 94 per cent, far more than most reactors in the world. Our scientists and engineers have been handling uranium safely since 1967. They must not feel disheartened by the activities of well motivated local or foreign agencies.

Dr K S Parthasarathy is a former secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

Dr K S Parthasarathy