news Sunday, February 22, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | February 21, 2015 | 03.20 pm IST Kerala and Tamil Nadu are still bickering on the Mullaiperiyar issue, however two politicians are from each state are agreeing to disagree on one issue - a proposed underground Neutrino project in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district. CPI (M) leader and Leader of Opposition in Kerala, VS Achuthanadan and MDMK founder Vaiko have raised their voice against the proposed project - one that was conceived in 2000, and that has been recently passed by the Cabinet. Approved at the cost of Rs. 1500 crore, the project will not only include a setup of 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 protest over its possible nuclear connection and its environmental impacts. What are neutrinos anyway? A topic, broken down in a Frontline article, neutrinos like photons and electrons, are subatomic particles - products of radioactive decay, but not radioactive themselves. Even though about 100 million neutrinos pass through our bodies every second, not everything regarding those tiny masses has been studied. So much so that, of the three nuetinro types - eectron, muon and tau, even the ordering of their masses is not known. Hence an idea of a Neutrino Observatory culminated in a proposal in 2000. Since neutrino interactions are weak, detectors are placed deep underground so as to allow some neutrinos to interact with the detectors. Opposition voices However, a Chennai-based environmental NGO , Poovulgain Nanbargal has moved the National Green Tribunal challenging an environmental clearance given to the construction of the India-based Neutrino Observatory. “We have challenged the environmental clearance. An environmental impact assessment which was supposed to study the impact of blasting on environment has not been done,” said G Sundarrajan of the Poovulgain Nanbargal. However, it’s not just the impact of blasting that the NGO has a problem with. As a policy, we are against the neutrino project, he said. “ Naturally available neutrinos are low in energy, they will not travel in a specified targeted path. 90 per cent is low in energy, low in intensity. The remaining 10 per cent neutrinos are high in energy. “ In its first phase, INO will study naturally-present neutrinos. However, according to Sundarrajan, this was the least of the problems. Earlier addressing an allegation that the project was being conducted under the firm Fermilab, the INO addressed it saying that “Even if a neutrino factory comes up in the future at Fermilab, it is more than 10,000 km from INO, in fact, from India! Even if there is contamination 100s of kilometers from the factory, we are more than 10000 km away on the other side of the globe!” However, Sundarrajan said, “Project is coordinated by FERMI lab of US” which according to him, gave the world its most destructive technology. The location for the INO, Bodhi hills was chosen as it provided the right rock conditions for building a large underground caver, reported Frontline. However, Sunderrajan’s contention is that the Western Ghats has been identified as a “fragile biodiversity hotspot” - an area which even nations at war are not supposed to target. They are going to use 5 lakh kg of explosives to blast 8 lakh tons of hard rock, he says. They will consume 3000 units of electricity, he alleges and also plan to use water from the Mullaiperiyar. Allegations Referring to a Supreme Court ruling that India must set up a Deep Geological Repository at the earliest so as to move all the Spent Nuclear Fuel to the repository, he alleged that the INO location was a step towards finding a repository. Countries outside India have been studying neutrinos for forty years. “What are you going to get?,” he said believing that the INO would function for 5-10 years before being converted into a DGR. Earlier the INO environmental clearance application had been categorised under the “Nuclear Power Plants, Fuel Processing Plants and Nuclear Waste Management Plants.”  However, according to Sunderrajan the idea was in keeping with the DGR concept. “When we raised this issue with the Institute of Mathematical Science, they said it was a clerical mistake,” he said. INO then issued a press release that reiterated that the project was a ‘basic sciences project’ which had nothing to do with nuclear plants. In 2012, the neutrino issue came to the forefront when Kerala-based environmental -activist VT Padmanabhan made a series of contentions against the project, all of which were addressed and dismissed by the INO in its responses.
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