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Friday, December 2, 2022

Bharat must prioritize neutrino research

The unabated proliferation of environmentalism in the world is a dilemma for developing countries in the real sense. The ideals of environmentalism, like other philosophies are lofty, however, the push and pull of realism is eroding its effective implementation.

At the domestic level, environmental issues have become a tool in the hands of social activists to prove their profundity without giving a tinker’s damn to the development of the country, especially in the competitive environment where nations are baying for each other’s blood. Environmental protection should always be at the frontline, however, it should not be allowed as an instrument to throw science and technological progress to the wind otherwise Bharat would regret in hindsight as we are doing today in the development of a well-crafted defence policy for the overstretched principles of ‘Ahimsa’.

Progress in science and technology is happening at the drop of the hat. Every day, a new discovery looks down on the existing propositions, so delaying projects for indefinite time may result in losing the edge.

A research on Neutrino particles has faced such a flak from the environmentalists in the Bharat that we are sliding away in a crucial field of Physics defying our potential to make difference. A neutrino is a subatomic particle similar to an electron without any electrical charge and having a very tiny mass. It is a mystery for physicists around the world, however, for Bharatiya scientists neutrino is not new phenomenon. Bharat was in fact one of the pioneers in  neutrino research in the 1960s when physicists used a gold mine at Kolar in Karnataka to set up what was then the world’s deepest underground laboratory. This was called the Kolar Gold Field Lab.

In 1965, it enabled researchers to detect atmospheric neutrinos. In 1992, when the mine became uneconomical, the laboratory was shut down as a result Bharat lost on the opportunity to become a hub of neutrino research, however, year 2005 turned out to be a special year as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and Indian Institute of Mathematical Science (IIMSc) spearheaded the operation of the Indian Neutrino Observatory (INO) with the help of seven primary and 13 participatory research institutes. The project was very crucial but the objections raised by environmental ministry compelled the change of the project site from Singara in the Niligiri hills to Theni district of Tamil Nadu.

The fortune of science and technology has never been smooth in Bharat, and INO is not an exception to the rule. After the change of site for INO the Tamil Nadu government and an NGO called Poovulagin Nanbargal threw their hats in the ring to resist the project. Poovulagin Nanbargal has filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India and as of today INO is facing headwinds. In this specific case, it is more important to appreciate what we have lost rather than what we have gained because had INO been activated, Bharat would have possessed 50- killotonne magnate the biggest in the world on the top of other benefits more specifically described in this article.

Most advanced countries are already working vigorously on neutrino science with dedicated labs. These include the United States, Russia, France, Italy, China, Japan and South Korea. Bharat too has the potential to contribute to the research but naysayers want us to flounder behind the world. If Fermi lab’s neutrino study lab in Chicago, which is merely 60 km away from the main city is not considered perilous for nature why do only the environmentalists in Bharat create a scene when the nation wants to make progress?

China is also working on a neutrino project and their scientists have successfully demonstrated the most precise value of an important parameter in neutrino research called theta one three. Apart from that China has already decided to take the neutrino study at advance level with its Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory or JUNO ironically, the ground breaking ceremony for JUNO in south China happened five days later than 5th January 2015 a day when Indian government approved the INO.

As Bharat is still struggling to initiate the INO due to fierce resistance by so called environmentalists, China is reportedly completing the JUNO by next year. This procrastination is discouraging the morals of Bharatiya scientists by surrendering their ingenuity to red-tapism and malicious campaigning against the INO.

Understanding neutrinos and working to put them to use for humanity would provide enormous benefits. Firstly, the grappling issue of terrorism and its access to nuclear weapons could be firmly dealt with by the neutrinos. The plutonium-239, which is made via nuclear transmutation in the reactor from uranium-238, can potentially be used in nuclear devices by terrorist groups. Using appropriate neutrino detectors, the plutonium content can be monitored remotely and used to detect any pilferage. Neutrino research can be our answer to ensure that no terror group ever acquires nuclear weapons.

Secondly, neutrinos can detect the geological defects in the earth’s crust therefore, early warning devices, using neutrinos would provide premonitions more accurately about natural calamities such as earthquakes.

Thirdly, as the mass of neutrinos is close to zero, they have the ability to pass through the earth and therefore, a new vista in data transmission could be opened up for the world. The internet and telecommunication sectors would see a new revolution with zero transmission loss.

Fourthly, Neutrinos are called information bearers of the universe. Bharatiya scientists with the help of neutrino particles, would be able to provide a deep insights into the mystery related to matter and antimatter in the universe. Fifthly, the secret of dark matter in the universe can be solved by neutrinos only. These are some of the very important benefits of neutrino research apart from their industrial use in locating a deep-embedded oil and natural gas and minerals in the womb of the earth.

Environmental protection is inevitable for the survival of the earth but it is equally important to understand that developed countries are using it to retain their hegemony in the world. The technology that is prevalent today is a product of developed nations and it has caused damage to the environment but when developing nations are making progress in science and technology interest groups in those countries, funded by these developed nations, unleash their full energy to hound governments and the most favored way is to assert rights through multiple litigation.

A diplomatic victory is directly related to economic dominance, and economic development is solely dependent on technology and science, which in their current form is harmful to the environment, leaving developing countries with no choice but to find alternative methods of development or harm the environment. The risk of losing their economic independence to developed nations is significant in the former circumstance, while environmental devastation is inevitable in the latter. Which road we take is up to the people of Bharat.

-by Shrijeet Phadke

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