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APPCB calls for public hearing on uranium project expansion

Due to concerns of the impact on the health of locals as a result of groundwater contamination by existing uranium iron ore mining in Tummalapalle of Kadapa district, the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB) has issued a notice for a public hearing.

Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) is planning to expand uranium mining with Rs 720 crore in 973 hectares in Pulivendula constituency of Kadapa. The constituency is represented by Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy. The proposed expansion will take place in Meedipentla, Velpula, Tummalapalle, Mabbuchintalapalle, Bhoomaiagaripalle, Rachakuntapalle and KK Kottala villages in Vemula mandal.

The public hearing for environmental clearance will be conducted on January 6, 2021, at Tummalapalle in Vemula mandal, Kadapa. UCIL has proposed to increase the uranium ore production from 9 lakh tonnes per annum (TPA) to 13.5 lakh TPA with the expansion.

Retired scientists oppose the move, stating APPCB has to act in the public interest. Retired chief scientist Dr K Babu Rao said, “Even after the violations became evident, APPCB have preferred to look the other way instead of protecting the people and the environment. None of the violations has been amended, and the study sponsored at IIT Madras is not released yet. APPCB is allowing expansion.”

In 2019, a PCB appointed expert committee observed that the farmers of surrounding villages around the tailing pond reported stunted growth of groundnut crop and banana. “Uranium concentration in the borewell is in much higher limits, ranging from 690 ppb (parts per nillion) to 4,000 ppb, whereas the permissible limit is 60 ppb,” the report said. APPCB later asked UCIL to commission studies by SVIMS for health studies, Banana Research Centre (Trichy) for studying withering of banana plantation and National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) for geophysical studies.

Activist Kakumanu Jayashree said, “KK Kottala and six other villages surrounding the tailing pond spread over 200 acres, where the slurry waste effluent of uranium mining is dumped, are affected.” UCIL maintained data collected over the years do not reflect any significant increase of any of the pollutants. UCIL says that the area falls in metasediments of Cuddapah basin with predominant dolomitic nature of the rock that contains carbonates of calcium and magnesium.

UCIL general manager M Srinivasa Rao said, “There is no contamination of water, air or ground due to our tailing pond or mining. The farmers are digging deep bore-wells and touching natural ore and salt formations due to which the levels are seen in water. Tailing pond has nothing to do with it.” He added UCIL provided several jobs in the past two years and also conducted medical camps.