Issues Around India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO)

Neutrinos are fundamental particles which make up the universe. They are abundant, feeble mass, travel through planets, stars, rock and human body without any interaction. Neutrinos do not carry electric charge and not effected by electromagnetic force.

Neutrinos are very important for scientific progress and technological growth of economy, medical science, astrophysics, astronomy and communication and in Indian context neutrino research is very important. Therefore, in 2015 cabinet gave nod to an India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) which is a particle physics research project under construction to primarily study atmospheric neutrinos in a 1,300 meters (4,300 ft) deep cave under INO Peak near Theni, Tamil Nadu, India. This nod to this project was notable as it was anticipated to provide a precise measurement of neutrino mixing parameters. The project is one of the biggest experimental particle physics projects undertaken in India but has faced several hurdles.

Issues pertaining to the project

The issues related to the Neutrino project is based on misconceptions that it will harm the environment and will cause cancer. The questions regarding these misconceptions have been duly answered by the scientists of INO, but still the concerns persist.

The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal suspended the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) and asked the project proponent to make a fresh application. The court regarded this project as Category ‘A’ project for which Environment Impact Assessment is necessary and involves a number of processes before an Environmental Clearance is granted, unlike the government which gave nod to its Category ‘B’ status where the assessment is not necessary. Also, the site is claimed to be within 5km distance of Madhikettan Shola Natural Park and hence, would need a clearance from the National Board for Wildlife.

Further issues which are just born out of certain misconceptions are:

  • Radiation from the Lab could pose a threat to the biodiversity around: There will be no radiation emitting from the lab; the lab is that deep in the earth to keep out radiation (to study environmental neutrinos without the interference of cosmic radiation).
  • The mountain may become unstable: As INO scientists have said, the lab will not affect the structural stability of the mountain. The tunnel will be tiny, when compared to the underground mines that were operational for more than 100 years. While making the tunnel, the technological advancement will ensure that the environment is left untouched; at the most, the rock blasting will cause flutters, but that won’t last long, and normalcy will be restored in no time.
  • There will be hazardous chemicals and gases: To ensure safety of the experiment and the people working in the lab, the gases will be recycled many times and only then let off in controlled amounts. The equipment and the gases used for the experiment will be hermetically sealed, so there’s no chance of any pollution/contamination from there.

Other concerns also include:

  • Bodi mountain range is dense forest area where it will cause a serious environmental pollution first by digging deep the soil, huge mass of air pollution will be caused. The rock and sand materials will have to be dumped – the dumping and transport vehicles that carry these rocks will add to the environment pollution.
  • Digging deep under mountain range will pollute fresh ground water , it is reserve forest area which will spoil the forest environment.
  • Idukki mullai periyar dam is near to the site which may bring a disaster to the Dam. Water table will get polluted.

Current Status

Although the scientists have denied all the false and baseless claims against the project, there is still a need of a green nod from the authorities to proceed with the project or else it will get stalled time to time. The project should not be treated as isolated national project but is a part of a series of neutrino projects and India has been vested with a responsibility to carry on research in this field for development of alternative resources. Hence, the project must not be seen from a critical view but a balanced view must be taken into account.

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