A lime shortage at nuclear waste dumps in Jharkhand, where leftover chemicals rush out through the day at 2,000 litres per minute, frequently results in deadly levels of poison in the waste that can destroy the bone marrow in humans and animals, workers say.
“No one ever goes to check this — there are enough lime stocks for the plant but not the slime dump,” said an employee of the Uranium Corporation of India Limited, declining to give his name or designation. The lime is used to treat manganese in the waste, to reduce toxic levels.
Insider tales of sloth and mismanagement are emerging from India’s uranium mines in a series of interviews with workers and officials who spoke to the Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity. They add a new element to the larger jigsaw reported earlier by HT: how India, beset with a severe nuclear fuel shortage, has enough uranium resources but did little over the past two decades to mine them.
UCIL chairman and managing director Ramendra Gupta dismissed such allegations. “It is absolutely wrong to say there is mismanagement or a lack of accountability… There is a bias against nuclear energy,” he told the Hindustan Times.
But stories abound. At the uranium processing site that helps run the nation’s nuclear power programme, gallons of a pale blue chemical — hydrogen peroxide — worth Rs 18 lakh was recently brought to process the ore, when workmen realised that the huge tanker to store it was not ready. So they were ordered to just throw it all away.
“Everyone was given instructions to not let the liquid overflow — because if it got mixed up in the water bodies in the area and the fish died, it would immediately catch people’s attention,” a UCIL employee said of the May-end incident.
When a sophisticated and expensive mining machine was imported from Australia for the Bhatin mines and set to be inaugurated with great fanfare, officials realised a tiny hitch: they hadn’t taken into account that the 15-foot mouth of the mine was too narrow. The machine just could not go in.
Despite the loopholes, workers say Gupta has put in place several measures towards the safety of workers and mines’ modernisation that have won him praise from employees. He said he was also facing a severe staff shortage with young scientists opting for private sector jobs.
Several employees said the staff shortage was holding up work — an allegation denied by UCIL spokesman Atul Bajpai.
Russian, Australian and Italian engineers come to supervise work in Jharkhand. When uranium ore embedded in rocks was recently brought to a new mill for crushing, the Italian engineer present realised to his shock that the alignment of the sophisticated conveyer belt used to drop the ore into a drum was all wrong.
“The Italian began to break the concrete, he tried everything — he just could not fix it,” one UCIL employee said. “Finally, one of the men thought of a jugaad (trick): we went to a truck mechanic at Jamshedpur,” the employee said. “The truck mechanic fixed the major problem using his hammer, charging us Rs 100 per hammer blow.”