China expects to complete the Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory by 2019.

Indian Neutrino Observatory caught in limbo between scientists activists and govt
news Monday, February 15, 2016 - 20:00

With scientists claiming that India will lose to China on the neutrino project and activists on the other hand saying that the project will affect the environment, the Indian Neutrino Observatory (INO) seems to be hanging in the air with clearance from the state government still awaited.

The INO is proposed to be built in Bodhi West Hills in Theni district in Tamil Nadu.

D Indumathi, who is part of the INO told TOI, “We are still waiting for the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board clearance. Nothing is moving in the state government. We cannot start without their support,” she said.

For the INO project, getting approval from the Central government was not an easy task. In 2002, the project was presented to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Later in 2009, the Ministry of Environment denied permission to the project stating that the project falls in the buffer zone of the Madumulai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Nilgiris. At last in August 2010, the project was given approval by Environment and Forest ministry to set it up in Bodhi West Hills in Theni district.

The land for the project was allocated in February 2012. But again, former Chief Minister of Kerala VS Achuthanandan and MDMK leader Vaiko claimed there were environmental and radiological issues, which were later sorted by the INO.

In January 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the setting up of INO. Approved at a cost of Rs. 1500 crore, the project will not only include an underground laboratory but also an iron calorimeter detector to study the properties of the neutrino. 

However, not much is known about these sub-atomic particles, and the proposed project is once again the subject of protests over its possible environmental impact. 

According to Nature, a weekly journal of science, “Neutrinos are abundant subatomic particles that are extremely hard to detect. Billions pass through each square centimetre of earth every second, but barely any leave a trace. The INO would study neutrinos produced when cosmic rays strike the atmosphere, and would seek to reveal the relative masses of the three known types of neutrino.”

In a Frontline magazine article, it is stated that neutrinos like protons and electrons, are subatomic particles - products of radioactive decay, but not radioactive themselves.

In 2015, an environmental NGO called Poovulgain Nanbargal moved the National Green Tribunal challenging the environmental clearance given to the construction of the INO.

They claimed that an environmental impact assessment, which was supposed to study the impact of blasting on the environment, was not done. They said that neutrinos are low in energy and will not travel in a specified targeted path. Ninety per cent is low in energy and low in intensity. The remaining 10 per cent neutrinos are high in energy.

They also alleged that the project is going to use 5 lakh kg of explosives to blast 8 lakh tons of hard rock, which will consume 3000 units of electricity besides utilizing water from the Mullaiperiyar dam.

However, the neutrino physicists claim that even if China carries out the research before India, this project would still be helpful in corroborating the discoveries of other detectors. 

Meanwhile, China expects to complete the Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory by 2019.

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