No Room for Neutrinos
Ambitious plans to build the Indiabased Neutrino Observatory (INO), the Rs 1,500 crore frontline particle physics research project, have been delayed following stiff opposition at the project site in Pottipuram in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district. Alternative sites in Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka are being explored.
The INO was approved in January 2015 though the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) drew up its blueprint way back in 2002. In March this year, the National Green Tribunal suspended environmental clearance for the project and directed that it be applied for afresh. Locals in Pottipuram continue to protest, citing radiation hazard from the project.
INO aims to use neutrinos—tiny, near mass-less particles that travel at near-light speeds—to unravel some of the unsolved mysteries of the universe. The DAE is examining Andhra Pradesh’s offer to provide an alternative site for the underground research facility—a cavern about 1,300 metres below the earth’s surface. Kothapalem in Visakhapatnam district and another site in the Chittoor-Nellore region are being considered.
Critics argue that building a subterranean facility using explosives—even if controlled to limit the impact of vibrations—will impact the fragile ecology of the Western Ghats at Theni and similarly at the proposed sites in the Eastern Ghats. The other concern is radiation, though particle physicists say the risk is negligible. As delays hit the INO, China’s Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory is set to be commissioned by 2019.
UPHILL TASK The observatory site in Tamil Nadu