Contemporary. Visual. Stories

Jadugoda: The Nuclear Graveyard

By CHINKY SHUKLA



By 2032, India hopes to generate 63 gigawatts of nuclear power that would cut its dependence for energy and put it on the path to progress. But progress, they say, comes at a price. Jadugoda, in the eastern state of Jharkhand, is that price.

This small township is home to the world's finest uranium ore, magnesium diuranate, the fodder for India's nuclear dream and Jadugoda's nightmare. This lethal feed for the country's reactors is slowly finishing an entire generation of tribals living in the area. The photo essay documents this dark legacy of Jadugoda, the horrifying expense of unchecked progress through the eyes of its people.

A native of Jadugoda, Laxmi Das has had three miscarriages and lost five children within a week of their births. When her ninth child, Gudia, survived, she considered herself fortunate until she discovered that her baby has cerebral palsy and would be bed ridden for life. Gudia passed away in 2012, leaving the scars of her memory. In Jadugoda, a uranium-rich district in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, there are many women who share Laxmi's fate.

The people of Jadugoda are exposed to radioactivity in several ways: uranium mining and milling operations produce dust and release radon gas, both of which are inhaled by miners and cause internal irradiation. Uranium ore is transported in uncovered trucks on bumpy roads, causing radioactive debris to fall off and land on the side of the road. The mine's tailings retain high percentage of the original radiation and are dumped in unlined and uncovered ponds, which emit radon gas and gamma radiation.

Villages which are in close proximity of the tailing ponds are the worst affected. During the dry season, dust from the tailings blows through these villages. During the monsoon rains, radioactive waste spills into the surrounding creeks and rivers, causing further internal radiation as villagers use the contaminated water for washing and drinking and also use the nearby ponds for fishing.

According to a study done by a team from Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD), there has been a significant rise in the cases of congenital deformities among infants, increased sterility; and elevated numbers of deaths due to cancer. Reduced life expectancy among people living near the mines was also documented, 68.33 per cent people are dying before the age of 62. Another study done by professors of Kyoto University, Japan reveals high uranium contamination in the areas around the tailing pond and along the stream that carries the tailing waste to the local river, Subernarekha. It also found high level of radiation on roads through which trucks carry uranium ore to the mill in Jadugoda.

More than hundred thousand tons of nuclear waste is stored in the tailing ponds of Jadugoda, which produces large amount of toxic gases and nuclear radiation contaminating the water, vegetation, soil and subsequently entering the food chain. The dumped nuclear waste can remain radioactive and dangerous for millions of years.

UCIL, the company responsible for mining, refuses to acknowledge the problems of the local communities and is opening new mines around Jadugoda and in other parts of the country. The company should respond to the demands of the people, comply with international safety standards in handling radioactive materials and provide proper medical care to the radiation-affected victims.

Jadugoda, which means the land of magic in the local sadri language, was once a place of scenic beauty, dense forests, small villages surrounded by hills and hardworking tribal people, but is now a man-made hell. Left to fend for themselves, the people of Jadugoda are being sacrificed at the altar of development.



Chinky Shukla is a Delhi-based photojournalist working on photo research and documentation projects. She is the recipient of Picture of the Year award and second best photo story award in the National Press Photo contest of the Media Foundation of India, 2013. Her work can be seen at www.chinkyshukla.in.