HRF, former bureaucrat express concern over breaching of UCIL’s tailings pond

‘Atomic Energy Regulatory Board should undertake an immediate technical audit of the pond’

Expressing concern on the breaching of the embankment of the tailings pond of the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) mine at Thummalapalli in Vemula mandal of Kadapa district, members of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) said that it would create huge environment and ecological issues, here on Saturday.

The embankment breached after the district received heavy rains on Friday.

V.S. Krishna, HRF’s A.P. and TS coordination committee member, pointed out that waste generated while processing uranium is stored in the form of slurry in a tailings pond. Uranium tailings contain over a dozen radioactive nuclides. These ponds hold hazardous radioactive matter that is highly toxic in nature and is a constant menace to the health of people, groundwater, local water bodies, agriculture and livestock in the area and now the breach has enhanced the danger, he said.

Mr. Chandrasekhar of the HRF pointed out that this was not for the first time that the residents of Mabbuchintapalli, Thummalapalle, Bhoomaiahgaripalle, Rachakuntapalle and KK Kottala, have faced such a situation.

They live in a constant fear of contamination and earlier in this year on June 9, a short spell of intense rain caused overflow from the pond and the spewing of radioactive waste and toxic slurry in the adjoining area. The nearby farm lands were inundated to a depth of nearly 6 feet with farmers suffering loss of banana and other crops. The UCIL then claimed that it did not envisage such a heavy rainfall, he said.

Mr. Krishna pointed out that regulatory authorities of the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) have not done anything substantial, despite the issues with the tailings pond, being brought to their notice by the residents of the villages and various other rights group.

Former Union Secretary E.A.S. Sarma pointed out that both the DAE and the AERB were aware of the issue but unfortunately none have followed it up.

He pointed out that as a public sector unit, the UCIL should set the highest benchmarks in safety, especially keeping in view the fact that both the UCIL and the DAE operate under the aegis of the Prime Minister and are accountable to Parliament.

According to Mr. Sarma, the MoEF&CC should not give clearance to the UCIL for expansion, unless and until it complies with the safety norms.

He demanded that the AERB undertake an immediate technical audit of the tailings pond with special focus on the safety of the embankment and its lining.

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