Scientists apprehensive of shifting observatory site

Construction of INO will involve felling of a large number of trees

Scientists apprehensive of shifting observatory site

 
Setting up the Rs 900 crore INO at Suruliyar – requiring constructing a two km long and 1.3 km deep tunnel – will involve cutting of many trees and extensive construction work in the vicinity of another wildlife park as not much of infrastructure is available there.

“Setting up the neutrino observatory is a globally competitive process. We will request the government to at least assure us about the environment and forest clearance provided the site is found technically alright,” Naba Mandal, a physicist at Mumbai—based Tata Institute of Fundamental Research told Deccan Herald.

Many scientists including Nobel laureates are of the opinion that significant delay will be detrimental to the success of the INO project. Already plans are afoot both in USA and China for building huge underground neutrino labs.

Even though Suruliyar in Theni district too houses a Tamil Nadu government run hydro-electric plant — similar to the rejected site — the availability of infrastructure is much less compared to Singara.

“In Singara, there was no question of cutting a single tree,” said Mandal.  The Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore will be doing an EIA for the Suruliyar site. Subsequently, geological analysis has to be carried out to find out where to drill in the rocks for creating such a long tunnel.

Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who ordered INO shifting from Singara – ostensibly due to the sharp protests from the green lobby – favours Suruliyar.  So does Rajesh Gopal, member-secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority who inspected the spot and submitted a report to Ramesh last week. 

“The alternate location does not present the type of problems that Singara poses. We will try to facilitate necessary approvals from our end for the alternate location,” the minister wrote in his letter to DAE secretary Anil Kakodkar. “But it is only the second best site,” lamented Mandal.

The INO team has also identified a third site at Thevaram as well. But it did not have water availability and water has to be transported from a place 30 km away. Locating the INO at a new site would definietly lead to time and cost overrun, he added.

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