Uranium contents beyond the permissible limits found in the sub-soil water of Punjab are not due to use of phosphatic fertilisers, but possibly because of graphite rocks under the soil surface, Atomic Energy Commission chairman RK Sinha said here on Wednesday.
Sinha, who is also a union secretary in the department of atomic energy, said, "Uranium possibly is getting mixed in sub-soil water by the slow process of leeching of granite rocks."
Sinha was accompanied by a battery of scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).
He said the content of uranium in the sub-soil water of the state at some places was 10 times more than the permissible limit of 60 parts per billion (ppb). "At some places in the five southern districts of Malwa belt, including Faridkot, Bathinda, Mansa, Moga and Fazilka, the uranium content is 600 ppb," he said. The worst affected, according to Sinha, are Talwandi Saboo town of Bathinda and Bargadi town of Faridkot.
Outside Punjab, water samples in some pockets of Himachal Pradesh, South Karnataka and Hisar have shown uranium more that the permissible limits. Pertinently, the main source of uranium is granite, which is common in the Himalayan range and surrounding areas.
Sinha was talking to the media after giving a presentation to Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal and senior officials of various state government departments. "The focus of discussion was power, agriculture and health sectors, and we also touched the crucial issues of finding a solution to remove impurities from water, use of genetically modified seeds to improve foodgrain production, use of radiation for longer preservation of foodgrains and means for effective disposal of biodegradable wastes," he said.
"Also, we can't connect cancer to uranium. There may be some other reasons for cancer. Even medical science has proved that a heavy metal like uranium causes kidney failure. So it needs to be seen, are there are many cases of kidney failure in the area," said Sinha.
Out of over 2,400 water samples taken by the BARC from Malwa region, over 50% have been found uranium-positive.
Thorough tests of water would ascertain the cause of uranium in the water. The tests will be conducted at a laboratory at Mohali, which will become operational in six months. BARC and Panjab University will jointly run the laboratory, said Sinha, adding that the BARC has developed a special membrane to purify water with uranium content, which would be immediately installed in the affected areas.