How India’s Nuclear Industry Created A River Of Death, According to Court Case Claims

Jadugoda, Jharkhand, INDIA — The Subarnarekha River roars out of the Chota Nagpur plateau in eastern India, emptying 245 miles downstream into the Bay of Bengal, making it a vital source of life and, lately, of death.

The name means “streak of gold.” For centuries, prospectors around Ranchi, the traffic-choked capital of Jharkhand state, have sought fortunes by panning for nuggets in its headwaters, which wash over a region flecked with minerals and ore.

The river’s link to widespread misfortune is not admitted by the Indian government. But the authorities’ role in the deaths of those who live near it first became clear when professor Dipak Ghosh, a respected Indian physicist and dean of the Faculty of Science at Jadavpur University in Kolkata decided to chase down a rural myth among the farmers along its banks. They had long complained that the Subarnarekha was poisoned and said their communities suffered from persistent health problems.

When Ghosh’s team collected samples from the river and from adjacent wells, seven years ago, he was alarmed by the results. The water was adulterated with radioactive alpha particles that cannot be absorbed through the skin or clothes, but if ingested cause 1,000 times more damage than other types of radiation. In some places, the levels were 160 percent higher than safe limits set by the World Health Organization.

“It was potentially catastrophic,” Ghosh said in a recent interview. Millions of people along the waterway were potentially exposed.

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Adrian Levy is a London-based investigative reporter and filmmaker whose work has appeared in the Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, and other publications. His most recent books are: The Meadow, about a 1995 terrorist kidnapping of Westerners in Kashmir, and The Siege: The Attack on —> Read More