UPSC Mains 2019: NGT nod for long awaited neutrino project

Neutrino Project

Topic: NGT nod for long awaited neutrino project

Topic in Syllabus: GS Paper 3: Science and Technology

Neutrino Project

 

Why in news?

The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has upheld the environmental clearance earlier granted to the India based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC).

 

More about on news:

  • A week ago, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) upheld the environmental clearance granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), a major research facility proposed in Theni district of Tamil Nadu.
  • While this removes all current legal hurdles in building the facility, there are still other obstacles to be overcome before work can begin on this project, which has been in planning since 2001.
  • The judgment states, “it was correct on the part of the Environmental Appraisal Committee (EAC) and the ministry to appraise the project at their level.”
  • The environment ministry, it said, has the legal and technical “competence” to assess the INO project and upheld the environmental clearance.
  • The application for environmental clearance of the project was referred to EAC by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority of Tamil Nadu as it preferred the centre to assess a project of this nature.
  • The ministry gave the clearance on March 5, 2018, but it was challenged in NGT by Pooulagin Nanbargal. The organization also took objected to the category under which the project was cleared.
  • The court reiterated that the INO must obtain approval from National Board for Wildlife and that “specific or general condition or recommendation made by the committees and expert groups on Western Ghats “will be mandatorily made applicable in the current project of INO also.”
  • The judgment states that it was correct on the part of the EAC and the ministry to appraise the project at their level.
  • This is because the proposed site is about 4.9 km from Mathikettan Shola bird sanctuary bordering Kerala.
  • Any major activity within 5km from any wildlife sanctuary requires a specific approval by the National Board for Wild Life.

 

About neutrinos:

  • An atom has a nucleus in its centre around which electrons go around.
  • Inside the nucleus there are protons and neutrons.
  • Neutrinos are tiny elementary particles like the electron but not part of the Atom.

Neutrinos

  • An elementary particle is one which cannot be broken into further smaller pieces.
  • Though the words neutron and neutrino almost sound similar, they are entirely different particles.
  • Neutrinos are represented by the greek letter ν (nu).
  • Scientific discoveries in the past have found out that there are two more particles similar to the electron called as the muon and the tau.

 

India-based Neutrino Observatory:

  • India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) is a particle physics research project under construction to primarily study atmospheric neutrinos in a 1,300 meters (4,300 ft) deep cave under Ino Peak near Theni, Tamil Nadu, India.
  • This project is notable in that it is anticipated to provide a precise measurement of neutrino mixing parameters.
  • The project is a multi-institute collaboration and one of the biggest experimental particle physics projects undertaken in India.
  • The project was originally to be completed in 2015 at an estimated cost of ₹ 1,500 crores, has been cleared by the Ministry of Environment (India) for construction in the Bodi West Hills Reserved Forest in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu.
  • The project includes construction of an iron calorimeter detector, called ICAL, that will be the world’s most massive detector when completed.
  • ICAL at INO holds the key to understanding several fundamental issues regarding the nature and interactions of neutrinos.
  • When completed, the main magnetised iron calorimieter (ICAL) experiment will include the world’s largest magnet, four times larger than the 12,500-tonne magnet in the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Matter of Importance - Neutrino

 

The Neutrino Observatory project includes;

  • construction of an underground laboratory and associated surface facilities at Pottipuram in Bodi West hills of Theni District of Tamil Nadu,
  • construction of an Iron Calorimeter (ICAL) detector for studying neutrinos, consisting of 50000 tons of magnetized iron plates arranged in stacks with gaps in between where Resistive Plate Chambers (RPCs) would be inserted as active detectors, the total number of 2m X 2m RPCs being around 29000, and
  • Setting up of National Centre for High Energy Physics at Madurai, for the operation and maintenance of the underground laboratory, human resource development and detector R&D along with its applications.

 

What it will do this?

  • The INO promises to be a one-of-its-kind facility to detect and study neutrinos.
  • These are extremely tiny elementary particles that are omnipresent in universe but very difficult to detect because they pass seamlessly through all kinds of matter.
  • Neutrinos carry no electric charge. Predicted in 1931, neutrinos were detected for the first time in 1959, and are now considered to be the second most abundant particle in the universe — after the photon, or light particle.
  • Groups in many countries are carrying out research on neutrinos, believed to hold important clues to some of the basic questions on the universe.
  • Once built, INO would be the biggest research facility in India.
  • The underground laboratory will be located nearly 1.5 km below the Earth’s surface, where a giant neutrino detector is to be placed.
  • The laboratory will consist of a cavern of size 132 m × 26 m × 20 m and with several small rooms, and will be accessed by a tunnel nearly 2 km long and 7.5 m wide.

 

What’s special about locating the INO in the South?

  • A project report says most of the neutrino detectors are at latitudes over 35 deg.
  • It is possible to push such a detector down to almost 8 deg latitude in South India, within proximity to the Equator.
  • This permits neutrino astronomy searches covering the whole celestial sky and study of solar neutrinos passing through the Earth’s core.

 

Criteria for locating the Neutrino Observatory project:

  • Depth: An overburden in excess of 1000 m in all directions1, to manage the cosmic ray background. Any site has to satisfy this minimal requirement as part of the physics considerations.
  • Risk Factors: Rock stability is an important criterion from the point of view of safety. This is the largest ever underground lab to be constructed in India at such a depth. Availability of advance geotechnical information is very important for assessing risks. Stability of rock, rock density and compactness are also crucial for managing the detector load factor.
  • Seismic stability is yet another important criterion: it is a crucial ingredient for the design and stability of the underground detector as well as all surface facilities at the site, especially for the life span of such a laboratory (50-100 years).
  • Geotechnical/geographic information: A complete 3D topo map of the region must be available for evaluating backgrounds. Low rainfall area of about 75–100 cm per annum is needed for operating detectors which are sensitive to humidity. Adequate water for cooling the magnets that will provide magnetic fields in excess of 1 T is needed to be available at all times apart from the water needed for A/C for the lab.
  • Environmental impact: Given the nature of the basic requirements, the project location will invariably be located near/in an ecologically and environmentally sensitive area. The impact will be mainly during construction period – it should be possible to minimise and manage the impact during construction; there will be negligible impact during operation.
  • Cost factors – Construction: It is important to remember that riding on an existing project is preferable to an entirely new site. This will also reduce the time gap between the start of the project and the time when the detectors are installed.
  • Operating Cost: Again this may be reduced if many aspects of the associated infrastructure are available due to the presence of another larger project at the same location.
  • Access: It is important to have quick access to the laboratory from major cities with good industrial infrastructure.
  • Neutrino Beam: Distances to various future possible neutrino factories and any particular advantage that may be there due to physics reasons.
  • Long-term availability of the site.

 

Benefits to local people from the project:

  • The construction contract will specify that local labour should be used, based on the skill levels, to the maximum extent possible.
  • Furthermore, gainful employment will be there for a small number of people by way of sourcing of services and daily needs for the INO facility and for the upkeep of buildings and landscapes.
  • A major benefit will be for schools and colleges in the region as the students interested in science can benefit from the outreach activities as well as doing projects at the lab.
  • Efforts will be made to improve the infrastructure and academic standards of the surrounding schools as permitted by governing rules. Exhibitions and other similar facilities will be arranged to enhance the scientific spirit of the local youngsters, etc.

 

Does INO have an environmental policy?

Yes. The challenge for INO is to build a world-class science laboratory, keeping in mind the ecological and environmental concerns, especially during the construction phase, and to actively participate in on-going conservation efforts in the region.

  • During its normal operation phase, the laboratory is not expected to cause any damage to the environment. All efforts will be made to minimise the disturbance during the construction phase.
  • INO will ensure that its activities are in conformity with environmental laws as are applicable.
  • All members of the collaboration, executing agencies and their workers will be trained to cooperate in ensuring compliance with environmental guidelines.

It is imperative to recognize that the study of Nature’s innermost workings need not be at loggerheads with Nature itself. Models of S & T development that are sensitive to environmental conservation thus assume importance. The proposed India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) offers immense opportunities and a challenge for realising such a model.

 

Challenges:

  • Environment – It has had to move from its initially proposed location, because the nearby Mudhumalai National Park had been declared a tiger reserve during the same time.
  • Hence this second site was selected.
  • Litigations – The project has been mired in all kinds of trouble such as litigation, public protests, opposition from NGOs and political parties, including the recently ended litigation with NGT.
  • Red Tapes – Bigger uncertainties in terms of government approvals, meanwhile, are still to come.
  • The project applied for clearance from the National Board of Wildlife only in January this year and that approval is still awaited.
  • Last year, the INO was told it would also need building approval from relevant state government agencies.
  • The building plan is being prepared and an application is likely to be moved later this month.
  • It is unclear how much time it will take to get that approval.
  • The Tamil Nadu government, on its part, has taken its time deciding on approvals for the project.
  • Cost – The Union government had, in 2015, approved a budget of Rs 1,583 crore for the project.
  • That budget was based on cost assessments done in 2012.
  • It is estimated the project would now cost at least 25% more than that amount.

 

Conclusion:

INO will have an impact on the emerging high energy physics scenario in the country. People trained at INO will not only participate here but also have the expertise to contribute to other high energy and nuclear physics projects around the world. Over the long term INO is expected to develop into a world class underground science laboratory straddling many fields like physics, biology, and geology and allied engineering fields.

 

Sample Question:

What were the objectives of the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO)?