Neutrino project: Ball in Tamil Nadu Govt’s court
The submission of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research before the Supreme Court, that the National Tiger Conservation Authority has given no objection letter for setting up Neutrino project in Theni district in Tamil Nadu has, once again, brought the focus on the Neutrino project, whose fate has been hanging in balance for several years now.
Neutrino project is one among the several other projects in Tamil Nadu in recent years, that have been delayed or suspended, or given up due to the protest from activist groups and some political parties, in spite of the fact that the project promoters and technologists have been stating that such projects do not pose any threat to the environment and the projects are in the interest of industrial and economic progress of the state and the country.
Such projects include titanium dioxide project proposed by Tata group in Tuticorin which has been given up, natural gas pipeline project from Kochi to Tamil Nadu, which appear to have been given up now, oil exploration project in delta region which has been given up now, Petroleum, Chemicals, and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR) in Cuddalore Nagapattinam region which appear to have been given up now, Salem Chennai highway project which appears to be in suspension stage now, Sterlite project in Tuticorin which has been closed by the government and now the matter in the Supreme Court and a few others.
Koodankulam Nuclear power project, which was heavily delayed is now successfully operating, proving the critics to be wrong. Now, as it is proposed to set up nuclear waste storage facility at Koodankulam, some political parties and activist groups have, once again, started protesting and in the process creating controversies, which could delay the setting up of the waste storage facility. As it has become the practice in recent times in Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Nadu government only listens to the activists and protesters and not to the scientists. The Tamil Nadu chief minister has thought it fit to rush with the statement that waste storage facility should not be set up in Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu.
The scientists have clearly explained that the waste storage facility has adequate safety standards and similar facilities are already operating in several parts of the world without any issues. What can the scientists do more than offer such a credible explanation in a situation, where the noise made by the protesters and politicians is heard more than the views of the scientists?
Importance of Neutrino project
The neutrino project involving an investment of more than Rs.15,000 million was sanctioned by the Government of India under the XIth plan and the scientists originally hoped to start construction of the facility by 2011. Around 25 research institutions are associated with the project, with Tata Institute of Fundamental Research acting as the nodal institution.
After initially denying permission to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to locate the Neutrino Observatory (INO) at Singara in Nilgris district in Tamil Nadu, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Government of India accorded environmentally and forest clearance for locating the project in the Bodi West Hills in the Theni district in Tamil Nadu.
However, the Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal suspended the environmental clearance granted to the neutrino observatory by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), due to some objections such as the proposed location being just about 4.9 kilometers from the Madhikettan Shola National Park in Idukki district of Kerala. The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal asked the project promoters to submit a fresh application with more details. The matter is now before the judiciary.
Neutrino project is an extremely important one from the point of view of scientific research and technology development. The Neutrino Observatory (INO) will be a major underground experimental facility to study the elusive and nearly mass-less fundamental particles of nature called neutrinos.
Neutrino has no charge and huge research efforts are underway in different countries in the world to separate the neutrino, which has many potential applications in communication, medical technology, and other areas.
The proposed neutrino detector is to be set up in a cavern set in massive charnockite rock (a group of igneous rocks found in South India with those in Tamil Nadu known to be the hardest).
The cavern will be excavated by drilling a tunnel of 1.9 to 2 km in length so that there is a vertical overburden of about 1,300 meters.
For a good neutrino detection facility, a vertical cover of at least 1,000 meters is required, so that the observed neutrino events are not contaminated by unwanted particles that will be absorbed by the overburden.
There are objections by the activists and some political parties against the project stating that it would cause structural disturbance in the region. This was denied by the scientists who pointed out that several similar neutrino projects are under construction and operation in countries like Japan, Italy, Canada, and others.
Dr. Abdul Kalam, former President, and renowned scientist explained the importance of the project and wrote several articles appealing to the protesters to give up the agitation. The appeal of Dr. Kalam was not heeded.
Tamil Nadu government should take a stand
When the Tata group proposed the titanium dioxide project in Tuticorin, the DMK government was in power with Mr. Karunanidhi as chief minister. Mr. Krunanidhi supported the project and strongly criticized the opposition parties and some activist groups for opposing the project. However, the Tata group got frustrated and left the scene.
Several very important projects in Tamil Nadu have been given up or delayed, as a few political parties when they are in opposition and some activist groups, appear to have made it a habit to oppose projects in the state under one pretext or the other.
In such conditions, past governments in Tamil Nadu have simply bowed to the pressure of the activist groups and the opposition parties and in such circumstances, valuable investment opportunities have been lost and industrial and economic interests of the state have been sacrificed.
Tamil Nadu government should appreciate the importance of the Neutrino project for the development of the state and take whatever appropriate steps necessary to ensure that the project would materialize. The views of the scientists and technologists must be heard, with the clear realization that the scientists and technologists are as much interested in the progress of the state and in environmental cleanliness as those of the activists.
The ultimate decision on such technologically intensive and vital projects should be taken on the basis of scientific analysis and evaluation and international practices and not based on mob protest and street demonstrations.
The ball is in the court of the Tamil Nadu government.
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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