Indian scientists confirm nuclear facility to enrich uranium coming up in Karnataka


Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, January 6: A science complex under construction over 8,000 acres of land in the Challakere region of Karnataka’s Chitradurga district will contain a nuclear facility for enrichment of uranium, senior scientists involved with the atomic energy sector said on Tuesday on the sidelines of the 103rd Indian Science Congress.

Last month, journalist Adrian Levy, working for the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington, reported that a "secret nuclear facility" was being created at Challakere amid concerns over safety from some of the local population. The report was also carried by the Foreign Policy magazine, as reported by The Island.

The Ministry of External Affairs dismissed the report with sources saying: "It appears to be a clearly motivated piece which seeks to paint a picture of India’s nuclear programme, which does not tally with facts at all."

But two senior scientists involved with the atomic energy sector in India, including RK Sinha, who recently retired as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), acknowledged Tuesday that a nuclear facility is part of the science complex at Challakere.

But both of them declared that public concerns have been addressed.

"We are not doing any harm to anybody. Enrichment of uranium causes no harm to the environment. It requires land, property. We have acquired the land by paying money to the right people.

We are taking care of responsibilities in the neighborhood development programme. From all angles, people are happy there,’’ The Indian Express today quoted Sinha as saying.

"We should be proud that we have the technology for uranium enrichment. There are countries like Iran who have been blamed for clandestinely acquiring the technology, and the Pakistanis have been accused of stealing from somewhere. We have done it ourselves. Let us be proud of it. Nothing else matters,’’ Sinha declared after a talk on key determinants for large-scale deployment of nuclear energy in India.

A senior scientist from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre corroborated plans to create a nuclear facility at Challakere. He said a uranium enrichment facility — the Rare Materials Plant — has been in existence for over three decades just outside Mysuru and has caused no harm to local communities and the environment.

Sinha said the nuclear facility project at Challakere is being built in national interest.

"We should be self-sufficient in nuclear fuel. Nuclear fuel is a primary thing whose quantities are very small. A small 20-kg bundle can generate 0.88 million units when it is in natural state but if I enrich it, the same fuel will produce at least seven times higher energy. From 20 kg through an enrichment programme we can get at least four million units of electricity. That is the purpose of enrichment,’’ he explained.

"Today enriched fuel is coming from abroad, but we should be able to do it ourselves. That is the main objective of this. Of course, there will be a strategic angle. Why should we not admit that? Our nuclear submarines work on enriched uranium. Where are we supposed to get uranium for that? Should we stop our nuclear submarine programme? Our enemies may not like it. This is a way to attack them. Let us not worry about what they say,’’ Sinha said.

The rate of growth of nuclear energy within the country should significantly increase but growth is dependent on reduction of risk to the public and the environment, acceptance of nuclear energy, availability of sites for new plants, capital for investment and an enabling environment for manufacturers and suppliers, Sinha added.

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