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India's Neutrino observatory project runs into rough weather

Pushep (Masinagudi) site in the Nilgiri mountains of South India from the official site

SHILLONG (PTI): India's ambitious Neutrino Observatory project has run into rough weather with the Tamil Nadu forest department raising objections on the proposal to locate it in the eco-sensitive Nilgiris biosphere.

The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) is awaiting final clearance from the forest department, INO spokesman Naba K Mandal said at a symposium on Mega Science Projects at the 96th Indian Science Congress here.

He said the Tamil Nadu Forest Department has raised objections over locating the project in the Nilgiri hills citing that it is a prime elephant and tiger habitat. The site runs through one of the prime elephant corridors and is in the periphery of the core tiger territory, the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.

“Many questions have been asked for which replies have been given,” Mandal said.
Scientists of the Department of Atomic Energy have zeroed in on Pushep, a small village in Tamil Nadu's Nilgiris hills as the best location to set up the project.

Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles which make up the universe. They are also one of the least understood. Essential geographical requirements to set up a Neutrino Observatory are a 360 degree curve, rock-mass for at least a km, mountain feature which is at least a km or km and a half tall, little or no gorge area among others.

More than 50 scientists from about 15 institutes and universities have come together to promote the INO believing that Neutrinos hold the key to several important and fundamental questions on the origin of the universe and energy production in stars.

The observatory would be located in abandoned mining tunnels, at least a kilometer under the rocky surface. The location is best suited, as it would help eliminate cosmic rays and background radiation which mess up the observations. Atomic Energy Department Chairman Anil Kakodkar had met state Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to seek his consent and approval for setting up the INO at Pushep.

The INO, Rs 920 crore project proposed in the XI and XII five-year plans, is one of the major basic science project in the country. The site was chosen on the grounds of safety, accessibility and minimal disturbance (during construction stage) to the environment. Environmentalists in Nilgiris have formed an umbrella organisation to fight projects like the INO.

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