Elephants 1, Astrophysicists 0 in Scuffle over Indian Observatory

NEW DELHI—In a setback for astrophysicists, the Indian government, citing environmental concerns, has ruled out construction of the proposed Indian Neutrino Observatory (INO) at its preferred location near the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in southern India.

During the $167 million project, an underground laboratory would be excavated 2 kilometers deep inside Singara Mountain, where a thick granite overburden would shield a 50,000-ton magnetized iron neutrino detector from cosmic rays. Ecologists have opposed the site because of potential deleterious effects on local elephant populations.

In a 20 November report, the Ministry of Environment and Forests stated that Singara “is ecologically very sensitive owing to its corridor value both for elephants as well as other wild animals.” The ministry urged INO to consider an alternative site that it had investigated earlier: Suruliyar, some 500 kilometers south of Bangalore. “The Suruliyar site should be seriously considered … as the location does not present the type of problems that Singara poses,” environment minister Jairam Ramesh wrote in the report to INO managers.

INO officials have little choice but to ponder the alternative. “We will request the government to at least assure us about the environment and forest clearance [permits], provided the site is found technically alright,” INO Spokesperson Naba K. Mondal, a physicist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, told the Deccan Herald.

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