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Radioactive matter found at thermal plant site

Traces of radioactive substances which can be harmful to people in the longer run have been found in fly ash at the Chandrapur thermal power plant in Maharashtra. Chetan Chauhan reports.

delhi Updated: Jun 18, 2011 23:52 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Traces of radioactive substances which can be harmful to people in the longer run have been found in fly ash at the Chandrapur thermal power plant in Maharashtra.

A study of fly ash by the public sector Nagpur based National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning has found traces of radioactive thorium and uranium in the fly ash lying at the plant.

“The radioactivity is within the permissible levels,” said P Raja, the lead author of the study based on samples of fly ash tested at the bureau’s laboratory. “If the radioactive substances are not removed it can lead to contamination of air and ground water and prove environmentally hazardous”.

In the study, radio-nuclides were estimated in fly ash samples collected from the economizer, aerator and electrostatic precipitator of the power plant. In all samples, presence of radioactive substances was below the level prescribed by Atomic Energy Board, the regulator for radioactive safety in India.

What the study fails to answer is the key question whether radioactive substances in the fly ash have affected people living near or working in the plant. “No such study has been done,” Raja said, while arguing a need to analyse local population for radioactivity living near Chandrapur thermal plant.

Radioactive substances are formed when coal is burnt at very high temperatures at thermal power plants. Recent studies in Russia have shown high presence of radioactive substances in waste generated from burning of coal which can impact local population.

But in India presence of radioactive substances from thermal plants has not been discovered, but the study says its presence is a cause for environmental alarm. “It shows weak implementation of environmental norms,” the study said, apparently agreeing with anti-nuclear activists who have been claiming that enforcement of radioactive laws in India are extremely weak.

The finding comes at the time when anti-nuclear activists are demanding scrapping of the Jaitapur nuclear power plant on the possible impact on local population from radioactive rays generated at the plant.

“We are saying that poor implementation of environmental norms which can prove disastrous in the longer run,” Raja said. The study, which has been peer-reviewed, will be published in the next edition of the Indian science journal Current Science on Monday.

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