The Hindustan Times publishes Horror stories on uranium mining

The provocative article, titled “The Nuclear graveyard: To ‘light up’ our homes, some lives are falling into ‘darkness’    (The Hindustan Times, February 22, 2014) is a classic example of spreading horror stories on uranium mining. The story itself is nothing new. Such reports including video films appear with remarkable repeatability every few months

Six years ago, a videographer published a YouTube film titled “Budha weeps in Jadugoda”.

This writer wrote thus in the location where the video appeared:

This video is a collection of scenes and quotes deliberately used to bias the viewer to a certain point of view. It is taken by a group of activists who are intentionally using the visual medium to confuse the viewer and to make him believe that all the maladies in Jadugoda is due to uranium mining. Many scientifically unsupported statements and claims are made wantonly to scare the innocent villagers.”

A year later the same videographer displayed another video.

I did some additional search. I could not resist commenting thus:

The video maker of “Budha weeps at Jadugoda” gave another video to the Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. They are showing it widely along with a totally flawed “health study”, they allegedly carried out in the Jadugoda villages IDPD received US $20,000 from The Ploughshares Fund” a US based NGO to carry out the anti uranium mining activity in India. Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition (No 188 of 1999) asking for judicial intervention in Jadugoda, as the petition had no merit.

Telling photos have a killing market. Photojournalists like videographers are sensitive with a sharp eye for macabre details.  This writer has no quarrel with them. The problems start when they attribute, without any scientific basis, everything they see to nuclear radiation.

The reporter in The Hindustan Times (February 22, 2014) faithfully and gleefully reproduced the photojournalist Ms Shukla’s reactions:  “I read reports by scientists and environmentalists who had been tracking the Jadugoda issue.”

“I also read about the increasing number of deaths among nuclear scientists in India”.  The authorities were dismissing them as suicides,” Ms Shukla recalls.

Am I missing something here, as I lack a fertile imagination? Is she saying that scientists are dying because of uranium mining!

Ms Shukla followed the Jadugoda story and went there in 2012. Her three- weeks- project yielded 24 photos titled “Communities of Jadugoda continue to suffer in nuclear wasteland”. Her photo feature, ‘Jadugoda: The Nuclear Graveyard’ won some awards. Often they do!  The videographer I referred to also got many awards

These do not provide any scientific basis to prove that the adverse effects, if any, are due to uranium mining. The reporter gratefully relied on Ms Shula for the photo-enhanced story. The “parasitic” relation was mutually beneficial. Mercifully, the daily, in its wisdom, did not use the most macabre photos.

Many specialists have visited Jadugoda. They reviewed the  health studies. They have stated that the adverse effects are not caused by radiation. Their frequency in Jadugoda is the same as that elsewhere in the country.

As I mentioned in my response to the video film. potential impact of uranium mining was a subject matter in a Public Interest Litigation (No188 of 1999) in the Supreme Court of India. On April 15, 2004, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition, explicitly stating that it did not find any merit in it.

We must explore and mine the indigenous resources of uranium by adopting safe practices and technology. The Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) is conscious of this responsibility. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board enforces the safety stipulations.

The voice of sanity must prevail over fear and ignorance. The nation must benefit from mining uranium, a virtually useless metal except as a nuclear fuel, while we wait for another scary report in the next few months!

Do we expect that when such scientifically unfounded stories are filed by a reporter, the editor must be circumspect in accepting it and publishing it without verification? May be the nuclear community which includes this writer is not doing enough to allay the fears and apprehensions of different stake-holders.

Words such as “Uranium” and “Radiation” provoke irresistibly strong emotions in many. What follows is the spectre of deformed babies, vague fear of cancer such as leukemia etc. If the mind is biased like that the activists, ably aided by photojournalists or videographers can nudge them into believing any story. We must find a way to counter this in national interest.

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About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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