Tamil Nadu’s Vaiko, general secretary of the MDMK, has won the support of Kerala’s V S Achuthanandan, the CPM veteran, in his campaign against a proposed neutrino observatory in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district, bordering Kerala’s Idukki.
Vaiko called on Kerala’s opposition leader on Saturday and discussed the potential threat the observatory would pose to people living in Idukki’s high ranges. The attempt to find a common plank, ironically, comes from the most vocal leader from Tamil Nadu in the Mullaperiyar dam dispute with Kerala. The project sites are close to each other.
Vaiko has been the face of the anti-observatory protest since the PMO cleared India-based Neutrino Observatory earlier this year. He had sought the support of Kerala politicians on February 1 and met Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on February 7. He alleges the Rs 1,500-crore project will release 631 noxious substances into the ground and emit one lakh tonnes of harmful particles.
Achuthanandan, who has pledged his support, had himself been trying to launch a crusade but was finding little support in his party. In 2012, he had accused the UPA government of facilitating a US agenda and alleged the project was mysterious, and shrouded in secrecy. A portion of an underground tunnel will run into Idukki, he said, but the Centre had not approached the state for its sanction.
After the meeting with Vaiko, Achuthanandan said he was ready to join hands with like-minded persons against the project. “The issues raised by Vaiko had come to my notice.”
The “like-minded persons” would include S P Udayakumar, leader of the movement against the Kudankulam nuclear project.
He too had met Achuthanandan earlier. “It’s a much bigger project with larger agendas,” Udayakumar told The Indian Express. “We have reports that the deep underground tunnel is to dump nuclear waste. And the long-term objective reportedly includes the use of data from this project’s experiments for making weapons. In a country where open defecation is a common scene, measuring the mass of neutrinos should not be the priority.”
The project is to study the masses of three types of neutrinos, an subatomic particle, using a massive iron detector that weighs at least 50,000 tonnes. The tunnel, 1,300 metres below the peak of Bodi West Hills and 2 km long, leads to a chamber housing the detector.
Scientists engaged in the project play down the concerns expressed. “Tracing the stream of a neutrino is difficult. So we have to construct a barrier at least 1 km below the earth to block out radiation and particles,” a scientist with the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai explains. “We have started building the basic facilities and preparatory designs on 63 acres in Bodi West Hills.”
He dismisses the argument that it would affect the mountain and eco-system. “The project would be like making a 4-inch hole into a 20-foot wall,” he says. Agreeing that minor blasts may have to be carried out to build the tunnel, he adds this will be done in a controlled manner, only twice a day, each blast lasting seconds. “There won’t be even ground vibrations. It is not going to affect animals or human lives.”