Jadugoda is a small township of Uranium Corporation India Limited in the Singhbhum district of Jharkhand State in Eastern India. It is 35 km by road and 20 km by train from the Steel city of Jamshedpur.
All of the uranium for India’s ten Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (Powers) comes from a Single uranium processing plant at Jadugoda, a sprawling complex fed by three underground Uranium mines and the by-product from three nearby copper mines. Jadugoda (variously spelled as Jaduguda or Jadugoda, from the word ‘Jar agora’ which means a grove of the castor oil tree).
Jaduguda exports Yellowcake - U3O8 to the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) in Hyderabad, more than a thousand Kilometres away in southern India, for fabrication into fuel rods. Wastes from the NFC plant, as well As nuclear wastes from other parts of India, are then returned by road and rail to Jaduguda and Dumped adjacent to tribal villages, on what were their rice fields? Around 50,000 people live in 15 villages within 5km of the Jaduguda complex. They are paying For India’s nuclear capabilities with their lives.
The Mining Operation
In Jadugoda extensive mining has been going on since the time of British India. 26 minerals are currently being mined in the Singhbhum district alone, including iron ore, copper, manganese, Bauxite and uranium. The mine is situated in a heavily forested area of steep hills, which frame a fertile river valley. This is part of the catchments of the Subarnarekha River, which flows through the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and into the Indian Ocean.
The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL)
The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) is a wholly owned State monopoly charged with supplying uranium to the Indian Nuclear industry. UCIL is owned by, and reports to, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and its operations are covered by the Atomic Energy Act, which makes accurate information about the Mine somewhat tortuous to obtain.
Jaduguda underground mine and mill (processing Plant) Narwapahar underground mine, Bhatin underground mine, Rakha copper mine , uranium recovery plant, Surda copper mine, uranium recovery plant, and Musabani copper mine. All of these facilities are within a short distance of each other.
The Jaduguda Mine
Jaduguda is an underground uranium mine, which commenced operations in 1967. The ore Grade is around 0.06%, a grade so low it would not be considered worth recovering in other Countries. 1600-2000 feet below the surface, the Mine workforce works without protective clothing to bring the ore to the surface.
Ore is brought to the Jaduguda mill in open trucks from the nearby Bhatin and Narwapahar Mines. These trucks sometimes partly covered by Tarpaulins and occasionally carrying workers perched on top of the load are a familiar sight on the narrow roads linking the mines. These dusty Roads also run through the middle of the villages and are littered with loose rock fallen from the Overloaded trucks. Seeing children and livestock picking through piles of uranium ore is enough to give the casual visitor a feel for how safety standards are observed at the mine. The ore is crushed to a fine powder in the Jaduguda mill and is then chemically treated (an Acid leach process) to remove the uranium with most of the uranium removed, the remaining 99.94% of the mined rock is left as waste. Jaduguda produces around 200 tones of uranium in the form of yellowcake-U3O8 a year, and has a processing capacity of around 1000 tones of ore per day. By rough calculation, this means that UCIL is mining, crushing and then dumping around 330,000 – 360,000 tonnes of rock every year.
The Tailings Waste
This waste, known as tailings, is treated with Lime to neutralize the acidity, and then separated into coarse and fine particles. The coarse tailings, making up about 50% of the volume of the waste, are backfilled into the mine cavities. The remaining Fine tailings are mixed with water and pumped through a pipeline over the rooftops of Jaduguda Village into the tailings dam, they are final resting place.
Uranium is not the only radioactive element found in the ore. There are a dozen or so others known as uranium decay products; among them, Thorium-230, Radium-226, and Radon-222. Each of these presents a unique hazard to people and other living creatures coming into contact with them. These wastes are radioactive for around 250,000 years; in human terms this might as well be forever. In addition to the radiological hazard, Uranium ores commonly contain varying concentrations of zinc, lead, manganese, cadmium and Arsenic.
Nuclear Waste Dumping
The Jaduguda tailings dams have become the nuclear waste dump for the entire country. Wastes from the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad and the BARC Rare Materials Plant in Mumbai, Mysore, Gopalpur on sea, as well as medical rewashes from an unknown number of sources are being returned to Jaduguda. This only came to light when local people began to find syringes, bags and IV pipes from hospital wastes buried in the tailings. It was an early demand of theirs that this practice be stopped, which UCIL eventually agreed to. It is now widely understood that the company still imports this waste, and is feeding it through the mill, crushing it before discharging it into the dams. It is likely that some of these materials are gamma radiation emitters, adding to the radiation hazard suffered by everyone in the area.
Heavy Water: D2O, deuterium oxide. It is similar to light water (H2O) in many ways, except that the Hydrogen atom in each water molecule is replaced by “heavy” hydrogen, or deuterium, making the Molecule about 10% heavier than ordinary water. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen containing one Neutron. Indian nuclear reactors fuelled with natural uranium (see entry) use heavy water to slow down or ‘moderate’ the neutron radiation produced inside the reactor, allowing a chain reaction to occur.
Natural Uranium: uranium occurs in nature as a blend of three similar types, or isotopes. An isotope is a variant of any element, which has the same number of protons (or atomic number) but differing numbers of neutrons (giving it a different mass number). Isotopes are almost always chemically identical to each other but can have very different physical properties. The most common isotopes of uranium found in natural deposits is U-238, which makes up 99.27%. The rest is a mix of U-235 (0.72%) and U-234 (trace quantities). Most atomic power stations use enriched uranium, where the more useful (Fissionable) U-235 isotopes are enriched to make up a larger proportion of the mix. Indian reactors use Uranium in its natural proportions, which mean they have not had to invest in expensive enrichment plants. Natural uranium reactors need to be moderated with heavy water.