26 February 2015

Will the real scientific community please stand up? – Vijay Asokan & G Sundarrajan

This is apropos of Prof Jayaraman’s "Tunnel vision block neutrino lab progress" piece that had appeared in the Times of India edition dated February 23, 2015.(An edited version of this article has been published in the Times of India dated February 26, 2015)

Let us begin by addressing the age-old question of scientific versus non-scientific temper. By putting the scientific temper on a pedestal, the author seeks to belittle the concerns of the poor and the vulnerable sections of the society that his organization claims to be standing for.  Unscientific as it may be, the concerns of the people living in the vicinities of projects such as Neutrino and who are expected to bear the brunt of its consequences, needs a sensitive and a humane approach that the author sadly seems to be lacking. The tone of arrogance that pervades throughout the article is too scientific and un-Marxist, to say the least.

Which scientific community, the author says, stand insulted by our claims? The same community that takes miniature models of satellites and orbiters to Tirupathi to invoke the blessings of the almighty for the projects to be successful? Can any other gesture be more insulting to science? The scientific community, atleast in India, has been anything but rational. In fact, rationalism in India, more particularly in Tamil Nadu, has thrived among the ordinary citizens who ‘woefully lack the scientific temper.’ Only in India, science has also become a superstition. We really wish the Science forum had taken up issues such as this and work for the prevalence of real scientific temper instead of mocking at the fears and concerns of ordinary people.

The author says there is no basis for groundwater resources being endangered. The entire Western Ghats are aquifiers and birth place for the peninsular rivers. All we say and still maintain is that the groundwater resources will be depleted if the project is implemented. Also, the Western Ghats where Pottipuram lies has been declared by UNESCO as an ecologically sensitive area. Has the ‘scientific community’ taken cognizance of this fact before embarking on the project? Or the fact that Pottipuram is an aquifier zone? The ‘scientific community’ claims that there will be no negative effect to the aquifers and nearby dams due to the vibrations caused by blasting the rocks. But the water that is stored in nearby streams or other surface-water bodies commonly connected hydraulically with the bedrock fracture system. Leaching and dissolution of chemicals from blasting material will possibly interact with rock-water interfaces which will impact the ground water chemical composition. The change in composition will easily spread to nearby water streams and surface-water bodies.

We would like to know if there is any report that has studied the effect of remaining nitrates or other chemicals to the ground water or wells nearby. We understand that the environmental impact studies related to the effect on ground water relating mineral composition deposits and chemicals from rock blast has not been done. We demand that modeling studies related to the possible man-made seismic events and possibility of tectonic fracturing during blasting be done and the local people be given access to the documents.  

Also is there any environmental monitoring group appointed to do simulation studies considering the possible and future environmental effects?

Japan’s seisimic department has announced that the earthquake that hit the north east part of Japan Feb 17, 2015 was an aftershock of 2011 earthquake that caused the Fukushima disaster. However protected the environs of the project in whatever way, it has been proved that blasting seriously disturbs the geological set up of any area. The result of the blastings need not be necessarily available immediately. As illustrated by the Fukushima disaster, it might take years to see the effects. Will the scientific community accept that shockwaves produced as result of a quake or a blast in minimal form is not preventable? The waves whatever may be their strength, will certainly impact the adjoining areas.  At sub surface any disturbed geological structure is highly unstable and no one can predict the time of the destruction.  

Is the author aware that the EIA developed by the project proponent (available at its website) says: “The experts are hopeful that during its normal operation phase, the laboratory is not expected to cause any damage to the environment. However, there is no detailed study regarding the impact of blasting of a large quantity of rock on the aquifer, the rivers and the reservoirs in the Environment Impact Assessment”.

In a response written by INO team in 2012 to the article “India Based Neutrino Observatory: Potential Geological, Radiological And Biological Impacts” dated 26, September, 2012 placed on ‘Countercurrents.org’ by Mr. V.T.Padmanabhan, MA, it is clearly mentioned that no neutrinos from Neutrino factories will be beamed towards INO site being constructed at Theni, Tamil Nadu. But in a response dated 15, November, 2012, the INO team said there is nothing wrong in such collaborations and further admits that in the second phase of works, neutrinos will be beams from the Neutrino Factory.  A mail by Mr. N.K. Mondal to Mr. Sundarajan (one of the authors of this response) dated 30, January, 2015, again confirms that the neutrino detectors  to be placed at Theni will be detecting only atmospheric neutrinos and argued that the plan for construction of neutrino factories is only at theoretical stage and not relevant to INO. Don’t we see a flip-flop?

The first proposal for INO project for funding was first dated in the year 2005. This year in particular is worth noted in scientific community because of the first proposal of International design study – Neutrino factory (IDS-NF), showing the target (detector) for neutrino beam generated in neutrino factory is kept at around 7500 KM from the neutrino factory (planned at Chicago).

In November 2009, Pier Oddone appointed Sanjib Mishra, University of South Carolina and Brajesh Choudhary, University of Delhi as Technical Project Coordinator for the development and execution of the Indian Institutions and Fermilab Collaboration on Neutrino Physics. Later that month Indian Institutions and Fermilab collaboration signed the addendum MOU IV for neutrino collaboration that included MINOS, NOVA, LBNE and MIPP experiments”

This confirms the connection of INO to Fermilab and IDS-NF, since the experiments of MINOS, NOVA, LBNE and MIPP are the part of IDS-NF project. Further, could anyone answer what is the relation of INO to magic baseline terms? It is not only massive iron calorimeter detector that INO is going to setup. It is the first detector in the world at present to detect neutrinos from the neutrino factories far away from 7500 KMs.

The documentation released by IDS-NF in February 2010, stating the meeting held between IDS-NF and Tata Institute for fundamental research (TIFR) in November 2009, shows that the discussion particularly focused on the 50k tonne magnetized iron calorimeter, emphasized the current status of prototype construction, and confirming the possibilities of such detectors to receive neutrinos far from 7500KMs.

Mr Jayaraman speaks of delay in the project conveniently side-stepping the fact that the delay was more due to his own scientific fraternity and hardly had anything to do with the opposition to the project. The author claims China has marched ahead in the research due to this delay. Will the scientific community say the same thing about China’s AT&C (aggregate technical & commercial loss) in electricity distribution which varies from 4% to 8% while in India it is 30%- 40%?  China has started producing 10w ceiling fans when India is still discussing about 35w Fans. Was this also because of the lack of scientific temper?

In a country which still has about 8 lakh manual scavengers, it is not a shame that a whopping Rs 10000 crore is spent on two projects of DAE including the neutrino observatory?

The author has also cleverly sidestepped the issue of Pottipuram being turned into India’s Deep Geological Repository that will house the Nuclear waste generated in India including Koodankulam. We were aware of this only through the proposal from a website of the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority which said that the application was submitted under Nuclear waste management category for the INO project. After the issue was raised by us, it was brushed aside as a clerical mistake. But we still feel it was ‘testing the water of sorts’ and was given up after a hue and cry. 

The author does not only have more than enough of scientific temper but seems to have acquired legal temper too in advising the courts on deciding the fate of petitions. We do hope the courts will be concerned about the people unlike the scientific communities of India. It is the same ‘scientific community’ that is pathetically indifferent to the plight of the people who suffer because of pollution of all kinds and have turned a blind eye to the concerns of common people. How are we expected to trust the same scientific community to be concerned about people of pottipuram alone?

While the scientific community thinks it fit to invoke the Lord in Tirupathi for their missions to be successful, let me take the liberty to invoke George Bernard Shaw to instill some ‘people’s sense into the scientific community. “Science is always wrong,” Shaw famously proclaimed in a toast to Albert Einstein. “It never solves a problem without creating 10 more.”

Of course, as long as it is right to the cause of ordinary people, we will never say that science is wrong. 

(Vijay Asokan is a research student in Nano physics group at The University of Bergen, Norway and G Sundarrajan is an engineer and a volunteer with Poovulagin Nanbargal, TN based environmental movement.)

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