Featured image of Kong Spelity Lyngdoh Langrin, Matriarch of Domiasiat, who refused to allow Uranium to be mined on her land. Offered 45 Crore rupees for a 30 years lease of her land, she said, “Money will not buy my Freedom.” Photograph by Angela Rangad
The debate arises whether it is feasible to allow Uranium mining in Domiasiat/Mawthabah in Meghalaya considering the percentage of nuclear energy as a source of electricity and the ramifications faced by communities like Jadugoda, Jharkhand in the past four decades. UCIL (Uranium Corporation of India Ltd.) in 1991 discovered high quality Uranium in Domiasiat, Meghalaya. There have been efforts ever since to start mining in the region but due to the protests from the local people have not been able to take place. The people do not want a repeat of the consequences from Jadugoda in Jharkhand where people have suffered ill health and long lasting effects like abnormalities in children. Taking these factors into consideration, it is significant to analyze the intention and the possible outcomes of this attempt.
According to the Department of Atomic Energy, India plans to generate a capacity of 20,000 MW by 2020. Currently India’s generating capacity is only 2000MW nuclear.
It is important to note how much nuclear power has contributed to the total energy production. In 1995, coal accounted for 63.3 percent of India’s primary energy production. In the same year, petroleum accounted for 18.6 percent, hydroelectricity 8.9 percent, natural gas 8.2 percent, and nuclear power 1 percent. India’s nuclear power program, which has lagged way behind its intended target, added 4,000 mega-watts in early 2008, taking the total nuclear power generation to 6,700 mega-watts. This is an increase of just approximately 1.5% to the total energy production in India. The question arises if it is worth the effort or even realistic to project that nuclear energy would meet India’s energy demand, which was at a projected annual rate of 4.6 percent through 2010.
The only large scale Uranium mine in India has been at Jadugoda dealing with deposits from Jadugoda mine as well as Bhatin and Nawarpahar. These low quality ores, uranium content being only .06% have been exploited for the last four decades. The mine has been considered vital to the Indian Nuclear Programme and its importance shrouded by secrecy with heavy military presence in the area. There is no real data available as to what portion of the extracted Uranium has been used to generate electricity.
During the initial surveying of the area around Domiasiat, UCIL estimated it had about 10,000 tonnes of uranium. As seen from the experience at Jadugoda, these deposits will eventually be depleted as well. As far as the development that UCIL has promised in terms of roads, hospitals, dispensaries, and schools history shows there was not much development for the people of Jharkhand especially the Adivasis/Schedule Castes. The mine might provide jobs for the people but these would only be short-lived for when the deposits deplete the people will only be left unemployed again.
The method of reprocessing nuclear reactor wastes is considered to be safer than wastes from fossil fuels since there is no emission of carbon dioxide. However, UCIL in disposing of nuclear wastes have been irresponsible not to cover tailing pools and allowing waste to seep through drains. These pools have been easily accessible to villagers and cattle and the water that is contaminated through drains is used to irrigate rice fields. Along with these, UCIL is characterized for not using safe methods of transportation, providing workers with protective wear nor making any attempt to warn surrounding villagers of the hazards associated with the mine and the nuclear wastes. There is no guarantee that UCIL will not repeat its lackadaisical ways. Would the mining of Uranium for generating the small percentage of electricity demand be worth the risk of putting Domiasiat’s 23 surrounding villages in danger?