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Neutrino project approved at Bodi West Hills in Theni

R. Ramachandran

The proposed massive neutrino detector will be built in a cavern set in massive charnockite rock


“Approval subject to conditions that there will be no cutting of trees and damage to forest cover”

INO scientists had considered Suruliyar and Thevaram earlier


New Delhi: After denying permission to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to locate the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) at Singara in Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu ( The Hindu, November 11, 2009), the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on Monday accorded both environmental and forest clearance for locating the project in the Bodi West Hills (BWH) in Theni district, also in Tamil Nadu.

The INO will be a major underground experimental facility to study the elusive and nearly mass-less fundamental particles of nature called neutrinos,

“The approval,” said a Ministry press release, “is subject to the conditions that there will be no cutting of trees and damage to the forest cover; that measures will be taken to minimise the effect of tunnelling and disposal of rock debris and that the environmental management plan prepared by the Coimbatore-based Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) will be fully implemented.”

The site is situated in a reserved forest (RF) area.

The Singara site which, according to scientists, is the best spot to locate the INO, was rejected by the MoEF on the grounds that it was not cleared by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department (TNFD). It was stated to fall in the buffer zone of the Mudhumalai Tiger Reserve. The site being close to the elephant corridor between the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats was also a consideration.

It should, however, be pointed out that the declaration of the region as a tiger reserve was made only in 2008, two years after the DAE applied to the TNFD for clearance. While rejecting it, the Ministry suggested that the project be moved to a site near the Suruliyar falls in Theni district.

Though scientists had considered Suruliyar and Thevaram, they finally chose a huge sheet of monolithic rock hill near Pudukkottai village in Pottipuram Panchayat for the project. While Suruliyar is to the east of the Cumbum Valley, BWH lies west of the valley, very close to the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border.

The actual site is two km from Pudukkottai, 14 km from Bodi and 110 km from Madurai. A serious shortcoming of the site, however, is lack of water and electricity. Power has to be sourced from Rasingapuram, which is 10 km away. A feasibility study for sourcing water through pipelines is being processed by the Tamil Nadu Water and Drainage Board (TWADB).

Two-km tunnel

The proposed massive neutrino detector will be built in a cavern set in massive charnockite rock (group of igneous rocks found in South India with those in Tamil Nadu known to be the hardest). The cavern will be excavated by drilling a tunnel of 1.9-2 km in length under the peak designated as 1589 so that there is vertical overburden of about 1,300 m. For a good neutrino detection facility, a vertical cover of at least 1,000 m is required so that the observed neutrino events are not contaminated by unwanted particles that will be absorbed by the overburden.

The forest types in the area vary from scrub jungles to montane grass land. While the underground facility may go under forest land in one spot, there will be no over ground occupation of forest land, according to scientists. The portal for the site will, in fact, be located outside the RF boundary in revenue land along with other surface facilities.

The application for TNFD clearance was submitted in January 2010 and the TNFD gave its approval early this month. A Rapid Environment Impact Assessment (REIA) is over. The draft report of the detailed EIA was presented to the Ministry on Monday before the final clearance.

Since the project was sanctioned under the XI Plan, scientists hope to start the construction of the facility by 2011. The total cost is now pegged at about Rs. 1200 crore, which will include, besides the Rs. 950 crore for the facility itself, the costs for laying roads, electrical and water lines and other infrastructure. The Detailed Project Report is also nearly ready, according to the spokesman for the project, Noba K. Mondal of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

The INO includes nearly 90 scientists from 25 institutions, with the TIFR as the nodal institution. Scientists now await a formal letter from the MoEF to the DAE, which will be presented to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for its formal and then the Cabinet for its clearance. Since this is a project already approved under the Plan there should be no problem in securing these.

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