No Room for Neu­tri­nos

India Today - - STATES - By Amar­nath K. Menon

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

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