Death and disease from India’s secretive toxic uranium industry

According to the uranium corporation’s own records, 17 UCIL laborers died in 1994, 14 more in 1995, 19 in 1996 and 21 in 1997; no cause of death was revealed in the records seen by the Center, but critics claim most if not all were radiation-related.

The corporation will not discuss the causes of these deaths. But a spokesman for the Jarkhandi Organization Against Radiation (JOAR), a local group formed in 1998 out of a student lobby for indigenous rights, said it has investigated these cases and that “from what we can see all of them contracted illnesses associated with radiation or exposure to heavy metals.”

India’s nuclear industry pours its wastes into a river of death and disease Scientists say nuclear workers, village residents, and children living near mines and factories are falling ill after persistent exposure to unsafe radiation Center For Public Integrity ,  By Adrian Levy  December 14, 2015  Jadugoda, Jharkhand, INDIA    “………Charting the trail of disease and ill health back to its source, Ghosh’s team learned that the alpha radiation they had recorded came from the mines, mills and fabrication plants of East Singhbhum, a district whose name means the land of the lions, where the state-owned Uranium Corporation of India Ltd is sitting on a mountain of 174,000 tons of raw uranium. The company, based in Jadugoda, a country town 160 miles west of Kolkata, is the sole source of India’s domestically-mined nuclear reactor fuel, a monopoly that has allowed it to be both combative and secretive.

After starting work in 1967 with a single mine, the corporation now controls six underground pits and one opencast operation that stretch across 1,313 hilly acres, extracting an estimated 5,000 tons of uranium ore a day, generating an annual turnover of $123 million. It supplies nine of the reactors that help India produce plutonium for its arsenal of nuclear weapons, and is thus considered vital to India’s security.

The company crushes the ore below ground and treats it with sulfuric acid, transforming it into magnesium diuranate or “yellowcake,” which is then loaded into drums and taken to the Rakha Mines railway station. From there, it is transported to the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad, 861 miles to the southwest. Workers ultimately process it into uranium dioxide pellets that are stacked in rods, inserted into reactors all over India.

Wherever uranium is extracted, anywhere in the world, from Australia to New Mexico, it is a messy, environmentally disruptive process. However, the poor quality of ore eked out of these wooded hills means that for every kilogram of uranium extracted, 1750 kilograms of toxic slurry, known as tailings, must be discarded into three, colossal ponds. Studies by scientists from North America, Australia and Europe show that while these ponds contain only small quantities of uranium, equally hazardous isotopes connected to uranium’s decay are also present, including thorium, radium, polonium and lead, some of which have a half-life of thousands of years. Arsenic is a byproduct, as is radon, a carcinogen.

The tailing ponds in Jharkhand, Ghosh’s team and other scientists discovered, have never been lined with rubble, concrete or special plastics, as organizations like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have advised for domestic ponds, and as a result their contents leached in winters into the water table. Lacking a cap, the ponds evaporated in summers, leaving a toxic dust that blew over nearby villages. Thirty five thousand people live in seven villages that lie within a mile and half of the three huge ponds, most of them members of tribal communities.

Moreover, during the monsoon season, the ponds regularly overflowed onto adjacent lands, with contaminants reaching streams and groundwater that eventually tainted the Subarnarekha River, according to studies of the issue by Ghosh’s team and other scientists. Pipes carrying radioactive slurry also frequently burst, leaching into rivers and across villages, according to photographs taken by residents. Lorries hired by the mines also dumped toxic effluent in local fields when the ponds were full, actions caught in photographs and on video taken by villagers and shown to the Center.

When Ghosh published his team’s results, there was no reaction from the mine or the Indian government. A senior official in the U.S. State Department declined to discuss the contents of Jardine’s leaked cable, but said he was aware of criticisms about the uranium corporation.

The evidence begins to pile up………  According to the uranium corporation’s own records, 17 UCIL laborers died in 1994, 14 more in 1995, 19 in 1996 and 21 in 1997; no cause of death was revealed in the records seen by the Center, but critics claim most if not all were radiation-related.

The corporation will not discuss the causes of these deaths. But a spokesman for the Jarkhandi Organization Against Radiation (JOAR), a local group formed in 1998 out of a student lobby for indigenous rights, said it has investigated these cases and that “from what we can see all of them contracted illnesses associated with radiation or exposure to heavy metals.” The spokesman, who asked the Center to withhold his name because intelligence officials and police have arrested him in the past and accused him of “anti-national activities,” claimed the number of deaths was actually “four times higher” than UCIL admitted.

Birulee contacted doctors and public health researchers at Jawaharlal Nehru University, in Delhi, one of India’s best government-funded institutions. They came up with a hypothesis about his mother’s death, blaming the family’s laundry. “My father,” Birulee said, “would bring back his cotton uniform, caked in uranium dust, to be washed once a week, as did all the other contract laborers. There were no facilities in the mines and no warnings.”

Birulee wondered how many other families had been similarly affected and, working with the JNU doctors, helped arrange for midwives to visit nearby villages. They found that 47% of women suffered disruptions to their menstrual cycle, while 18% had had miscarriages or stillborn babies over the previous 5 years. One third were infertile. Many complained their children were born with partially formed skulls, blood disorders, missing eyes or toes, fused fingers or brittle limbs. Livestock too were suffering, with veterinarians reporting that buffaloes and cows were infertile or suffering from blood disorders.

Arjun Soren was one of those affected. Born in Bhatin village, adjacent to another uranium mine on the other side of the tailing pond, Soren became the first member of the Santhal tribe to get a medical degree, and one of his first cases was to track the deteriorating health of his family. “My aunt died of cancer of the gallbladder,” Soren recalled. “My nephew has a rare blood disorder.” Then Soren himself was diagnosed with leukemia and transferred to Mumbai for treatment. “Radiation and toxins from the mining processes has to be the reason,” Soren said. “I spent my childhood playing, breathing, drinking, eating there.”………..

Birulee lodged a protest with the state’s Environment Committee, in Bihar’s capital. Its chairman, Gautam Sagar Rana, directed UCIL to finance an independent health inquiry, led by two professors from Patna Medical College, who were accompanied by the uranium conglomerate’s deputy general manager, R.P. Verma; and the head of its health unit, A.R. Khan. Analyzing a representative sample of those between 4 and 60 years old living within a mile and a half of the third tailing dam, the researchers hired by UCIL concluded that the residents were “affected by radiation.”……..http://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/12/14/18844/india-s-nuclear-industry-pours-its-wastes-river-death-and-disease

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