IAEA allays fears over uranium mining effects

SHILLONG: Former Governor for India of the Vienna-headquartered International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), TP Sreenivasan has allayed fears over the effects of uranium mining, saying that the belief the activity caused radioactivity is a “misunderstanding”.
“It is a misunderstanding that uranium mining can cause radioactivity. It is not true because uranium gets radioactive only when it is enriched. Otherwise, uranium is just like any other soil as it has got no radiation,” Sreenivasan told The Shillong Times on the sidelines of a function here on Sunday.
“But there is a popular belief that if uranium is there, radiation will also be there,” he said.
He cited the example of a village in Kerala in which thorium, (known to be weakly radioactive) which is a very rich mineral, was found to be present in a particular kind of sand and it was recently discovered that several people have cancer in that region.
“Lots of studies have been done but they are not able to establish why it happens. But it is possible that even when it is not enriched there may be some impact,” Sreenivasan said.
Asked whether uranium would be required for setting up nuclear reactors, he quickly pointed out, “And we don’t have enough uranium.”
Of late, Meghalaya has witnessed hue and cry over uranium mining in Domiasiat and other parts of the state.
Sreenivasan said the country has restricted its nuclear development considering that China and Pakistan had nuclear weapons but India was not in a nuclear arms race with them.
“Originally, Americans were afraid that India was going to have an arms race, which is why when we tested there was a lot of trouble and the Americans imposed sanctions against us… I was in Washington in those days,” he said.
He recalled that there was a big commotion but over a period of time, they have felt comfortable with India, and that was how there was a nuclear deal with the United States according to which India was also given some kind of a status in the nuclear equation.
“India is in the mainstream of nuclear research and even then we say that our main objective is complete nuclear disarmament. When everybody is willing to do that, we are also willing,” he asserted.
Stating that India is pushing for nuclear disarmament, he said, “We are saying that everybody must reduce and completely eliminate, then we will also eliminate because we have very small reservoir of nuclear weapons.”
“India is against nuclear proliferation but we have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because it is discriminatory, because those who have weapons can keep them and those who do not have weapons should not make them,” he said.
Sreenivasan said India wanted all countries to give up nuclear weapons and made an effort to do so but in vain. “Therefore India had to manufacture nuclear weapons which then made everybody feel that India was proliferating although it was the contrary,” he said.
“What we did was to create a minimum deterrence. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not a controlling organisation, it is a promoting organisation when it was set up and India was partly responsible for its inception,” he said.
He said after the NPT came, the IAEA became the watchdog of the treaty, which was the not the original purpose. “The original purpose was to promote nuclear collaboration and peace,” he said.
“But now the main responsibility is to make sure that other countries don’t become nuclear weapon states. On one hand they have that responsibility and on the other hand, they have the responsibility of encouraging nuclear power generation and India is more focused on that,” he said.

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