A six-member committee of experts, including scientists of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai, has ruled out the perception of uranium contamination in the groundwater due to ash generated from Bathinda thermal power plants commissioned in 1977 and use of fertilisers.
The report of the committee submitted to the Punjab and Haryana high court on Saturday, during the resumed hearing of a public interest litigation, clarified that the occurrence of uranium in environment is a result of natural process.
The report says that uranium is a naturally occurring element in phosphate rocks usually employed as a source of phosphorous in phosphate fertiliser production.
In this study, samples of soil, coal, fly ash, bottom ash, ashpond water and groundwater were collected from around three thermal power plant sites namely Guru Nanak Dev thermal power plant and Lehra Mohabbat thermal power plant in Bathinda and Ropar thermal power plant in Roopnagar district.
The committee said that since uranium concentration in shallow groundwater is relatively lower than that deeper groundwater samples, the source of uranium is not likely to be from the fly ash leaching. On the other hand, higher concentrations of uranium observed in groundwater samples with the depth range of 100-200 feet suggest that the possible source of elevated level of uranium may be geogenic in nature.
The report also mentioned that the area near the premises of other thermal power plants is not showing elevated levels of uranium in groundwater. As per the obtained value of horizontal migration rate of uranium, it would take about 0.2 to 5 million years to reach one-km area away from the Guru Nanak Dev thermal power plant at Bathinda.
The committee comprised Dr RM Tripathi, Ajay Kumar and SK Sahoo from BARC, Dr Sekhar Muddu of Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore; Dr Pradeep Pandey of the department of atomic energy at New Delhi and Dr Devinder Mehta of physics department of Panjab University. The study revealed that daily consumption of coal in two thermal power plants at Bathinda is 24,000 tonnes and in a year, the cumulative consumption of coal is 8.7 million tonnes approximately.
The report further mentioned that in the past 35 years, a total deposition of fly ash will be about 175 million tonnes, which is spread over 2,500 hectare area of dyke at Bathinda. After taking the report on record, the court adjourned the case for next hearing to September 18.