Uranium ore ferried through Naxal belt sans security

Written by Pranbihanga Borpuzari | Jaduguda (Chhattisgarh), Jun 16 | Updated: Jun 17 2008, 06:17am hrs
Every day, around 400 trucks ferry about 3,000 tonne of uranium ore 12 km between the Narwapahar and Bhatin mines around Jaduguda in Chhattisgarh to the nearby Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) processing plant. Nothing unusual, except there is a conspicuous absence of security as the ore-laden dumper trucks traverse one of Indias most Naxal-infested districts.

Moreover, trucks carrying the radioactive ore have only thin tarpaulin sheets to cover their precious cargo from the Narwapahar and Bhatin mines. The situation is better at the Jaduguda mines, from where conveyor belts carry the ore to the adjacent mill.

Later, heavy-duty vehicles ship the processed uranium ore, or yellow cake, from Jaduguda to the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabadover 1,200 km away. These, however, are better covered. Central Industrial Security Force personnel also accompany them on their more than 48-hour journey.

UCIL officials at Jaduguda from whom FE attempted to elicit comment were unwilling to talk on the subject. But a spokesperson of the department of atomic energy, SK Malhotra, later said, We are aware of the security problems, but we are extra vigilant in the area. These details cannot be given out.

UCIL now has plans to tap into uranium deposits in the Domiasiat region of Meghalaya, about 12 km from the Bangladesh border. Malhotra accepted that security issues would multiply once the mines in the northeast were opened, But we will take all necessary care, he assured.

Perhaps one of the reasons why UCIL officials are nonchalant about the lack of security for the transported ore from the outlying mines to the processing plant is the fact that there has not been a single incident involving Naxals or others in the corporations 41-year history. However, Naxals oppose mining in the tribal-dominated areas.

For the second leg of transportation, the corporation earlier used a combination of road and rail. But, as Malhotra says, Using the railways had a security issue, since we would lose control of the cargo once we handed it over to them for transportation.

Of course, transportation by road has its own accompanying problems. Firstly, only small vehicles can be employed for better security and must be under escort at all times. Last year, a truck carrying 62 drums of yellow cake from Jaduguda overturned on NH5 at Narsannapeta in Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh. However, there was no leakage of radioactive material.

Radioactive waste from Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad is transported back to Jaduguda by road and dumped in tailing ponds.