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KGF's half-a-century tryst with atomic research

KGF,Nov 25, 2012  DHNS:  22:24 IST

Lab in gold mines conducted proton decay experiments in the sixties.

hidden history The Kengal Hanumanthaiah Law College now stands in the location of the erstwhile Bhabha Atomic Research Centre laboratory at the Kolar Gold Fields. dh photo

Fears of nuclear fuel waste being dumped in the mines of Kolar Gold Fields are nothing new for the town. Back in the 1980s, news about plans to dump fuel waste in the abandoned mines made the rounds, causing concern among the residents.

The department of atomic energy itself has stated that a centre for research on scientific procedures before disposing nuclear fuel waste was started in Kolar in 1980.

Two decades before that, in the 1960s, a laboratory had been set up in the depths of the gold mines for experiments on the life of protons. Experts, however, said that the present row over the disposal of fuel waste from the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant has nothing to do with the experiments in the laboratory.

Research on cosmic rays was conducted at KGF, following the presentation of an article by Homi Jahangir Bhabha at an international seminar in Mumbai in December 1950. The research was kicked off in the city on August 15, 1965, over the life of protons and other aspects.

Though research has been stopped now and the laboratory has been closed, the Kudankulam controversy has shifted focus back to such establishments in KGF. The laboratory had scientists from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) U S Narasimhan, P V Ramanamurthy, B V Srikantan (hailing from Nanjangud in Mysore district) and those from Japan, England and South Africa working on the experiments.

The air-conditioned lab with state-of-the-art computers also had scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre working there and had aroused curiosity among officials of the Bharat Gold Mines Limited, a TIFR scientist told Deccan Herald from Mumbai. The laboratory was located in the pristine forest environs at Marikuppam in the city.

Science writer Nagesh Hegde recalls that Absuth Sallam, Pakistan’s only Nobel prize-winning scientist had also visited the laboratory, which had been set up at a depth of 8,000 feet in the gold mines. Experiments were staged to discover whether iron rods weighing 8,000 tonnes would melt when radiation passed through them. The experiment were declared a failure five or six years later, Hegde said.

The Marikuppam laboratory was closed in 1992, following the Centre’s decision to close the mines in 1990. It is presently under the department of atomic energy of the Union government. It had been abandoned for a time before the Golden Valley Educational Trust started the Kengal Hanumanthaiah Law College on the grounds.

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