The Meghalaya government has decided to undertake a fresh study at the proposed uranium mining sites in South West Khasi Hills district after the reported incident of radiation hazard, officials said on Friday.
A senior Meghalaya government official said that after a high level meeting chaired by Chief Secretary M.S. Rao, the state government requested the Shillong-based North Eastern Hills University (NEHU) to assist the state government by way of a “third party investigation” to ascertain the factual position regarding the radiation levels and whether there is any health hazard in the area.
An official statement said that in view of the alleged incident of radiation hazard at Domiasiat, Nongbah, Jynrin and Wahkaji areas in southern Meghalaya’s South West Khasi Hills district bordering Bangladesh, the state government has requested the NEHU to undertake the third party investigation to determine the accurate position about the radiation levels.
A six-member expert team led by B. Myrboh from the Department of Chemistry, NEHU, had visited the sites on November 10 last year.
“An interactive session on the report of the expert committee was held last week under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary. The expert committee report reveals that the radiation levels at the source (tanks and pits), villages and human habitations nearby as per the millisievert/year unit of measurement using the Radiation Survey Metre are well within the safety levels,” the statement said.
It added: “Further, the expert committee found that 100 feet away from the source in the rivulet Phud Syngkai, the levels of radiation are higher than at the source which requires further study. Therefore, the Meghalaya government has decided that a fresh study on the rocks and sediments of the stream Phud Syngkai will be conducted and the samples would be analysed at a credible laboratory to determine the exact cause of the radiation.”
Earlier, the local people, several NGOs and environmentalists had separately claimed that high radioactive emissions have been noticed in areas close to the uranium waste storage tanks. They had claimed that there are four effluent storage tanks and two other reservoirs in the Domiasiat-Nongbah-Jynrin areas which have developed wide cracks causing leakage of toxic waste.
The Hynniewtrep Youth Council (HYC), a local body, has announced to file a petition before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) if the state government does not take appropriate steps in the matter.
The tanks were built a few decades ago, reportedly for storing wastes extracted during the exploratory drilling for uranium deposits.
Such exploratory drilling has been carried out in many places in the uranium-rich South West Khasi Hills district. The Atomic Minerals Directorate had reportedly decided a few years ago to stop exploratory drilling for uranium in the district.
India’s largest and richest sandstone-type uranium deposits estimated to be 9.22 million tonnes are located in Domiasiat-Nongbah-Jynrin areas in central Meghalaya.
The Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) had made a plan to develop the mineral resources in Domiasiat under the “Kylleng Phendengsohiong Mawthabah (KPM) Uranium Mining Project”.
The project has the potential to generate substantial nuclear fuel for the atomic power plants of the country. But due to strong local protests and agitations, the project could not progress.
A committee constituted by the Meghalaya Assembly in November last year had suggested that though the Atomic Mineral Division has stopped all activities in the Domiasiat-Nongbah-Jynrin areas after the state government’s revocation of the land lease to UCIL, including suspension of uranium exploration and mining, regular and close monitoring of the radiation levels in the villages is required.