Government wants scientists to address concerns of environmentalists opposing Neutrino Observatory in Tamil Nadu

Government wants scientists to address concerns of environmentalists opposing Neutrino Observatory in Tamil Nadu

N.B. Nair

New Delhi (ISJ ? Exclusive) ? Union Government wants scientists to talk to activists opposing the proposed India-based Neutrino Observatory, INO, coming up in Tamil Nadu. Science and Technology Secretary Professor Ashutosh Sharma told Indian Science Journal on the sidelines of a conference in New Delhi, he expects the scientists involved with the project to meet the environmental activists and address their concerns.

Union Cabinet had cleared the project on December 26, 2014 at an investment of Rs. 1,500 crores. It will be funded jointly by Department of Science and Technology and Atomic Energy, while Tamil Nadu government will help with the infrastructure. The environmental clearance for the project was given in 2011.

Neutrinos are fundamental particles belonging to the lepton family. They come in three flavours ? one associated with electrons and the others with their heavier cousins, the muon and the Tau. According to standard model of particle physics, they are mass less. But recent experiments indicate these charge-neutral fundamental particles have finite but small mass, which is unknown. They oscillate between flavours as they propagate.

INO is coming up Bodhi West Hills on the Western Ghats in Theni district of Tamil Nadu. It seeks to unravel the masses and other properties of mysterious particles called neutrinos. The project includes setting up an underground laboratory and associated surface facilities at Pottipuram in Theni district, construction of an Iron Calorimeter (ICAL) detector for studying neutrinos, consisting of 50,000 tons of magnetized iron plates arranged in stacks with gaps in between Resistive Plate Chambers and setting up of National Centre for High Energy Physics at Madurai. The measurements could provide insight into the relationships between nature?s four fundamental forces, and the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the Universe.

[caption id="attachment_1812" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Bodhi West Hills - site of India Neutrino Observatory �������������������������������� Bodhi West Hills - site of India Neutrino Observatory[/caption]

Environmentalists are, however, not convinced. Sundarrajan, an environmental activist with Poovulagin Nambargal (Friends of Earth) said the project was taken up by India at the behest of the United States.

?This is a project of Fermilab. This is a project of US government. They want to produce neutrino weapons and to neutralize nuclear weapons of China, India, Pakistan, so that it remains the most powerful military power in the world,? he told Indian Science Journal. Fermilab is America?s premier particle physics laboratory.

Sunderrajan said, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not done by any credible or independent agency. ?We are opposing the project on environmental, social and scientific grounds.?

Another activist Nityanand Jayaraman said, the government shouldn?t be investing huge resources for such projects, when there are several other pressing problems in the country.

?The project requires massive amount of energy to blast the tunnel. When 300 million people in India have no access to electricity, it is absurd that we have to invest so much to set up the project,? Jayaraman told Indian Science Journal.

Several other organizations in Tamil Nadu including Viko, leader of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) or Renaissance Dravida Progressive Federation and Udayakumar, who spearheaded an agitation against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu are opposing the neutrino project.

In 2012, senior CPIM leader V.S. Achuthandan had flayed then UPA government for facilitating a ?US agenda? through the Neutrino observatory. The Project Director Prof. Naba K. Mondal, then told Indian Science Journal, the veteran communist leader was misled and the project authorities were able to convince him about it. Prof. Mondal had said, any apprehensions about the project?s impact on habitation in or around the village was unfounded.

?The Neutrino that we are going to detect is there anyway. We will only detect and study its properties. Light from the Sun, stars and galaxies are there always. When you put a telescope, you detect it. Here also the Neutrinos are coming, we are only putting the detector underground,? he had said. ?We have to put it underground, because in the surface, there are other interactions, which will completely submerge the Neutrino event. That?s why we have to go deep underground, where other particles get absorbed and we can measure the Neutrino.?

Image courtesy: INO

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