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DMK MP for Thoothukudi K Kanimozhi has said in an interview to Thanthi TV that the ad that Vedanta took out and their subsequent press release shows that Vedanta has decided it cannot run Sterlite Copper plant. So the option is to shut down the plant or sell it off. The DMK government stance is that the plant has to be shut and cannot operate as it is now, as a smelter. For sure, it cannot be a smelter, she said, adding that someone else operating a facility may be acceptable to the DMK government if people accept it.
The Vedanta ad had laid down the infrastructure the plant offers including a captive power plant and several facilities that turn the byproducts of smelting into useful ones. T Swaminathan, retired professor of chemical engineering at IIT-Madras who has served as scientist at NEERI, says that Vedanta has likely recouped the investment it made at Sterlite. “Even if they sell the plant as scrap, they would still have made money,” he says. Swaminathan had given an expert opinion on the level of arsenic in the copper ore used in the smelter and the pollution it was likely causing.
“The problem with Sterlite Copper is that they did not operate the plant properly and caused damage to the environment,” says T Swaminathan, retired professor of chemical engineering at IIT-Madras who has served as scientist at NEERI
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Swaminathan said any process especially a chemical industry is bound to cause pollution. A robust environment management plan and regular monitoring can help to ensure the systems are working well and keeping pollution within limits specified by regulations. “The problem with Sterlite Copper is that they did not operate the plant properly and caused damage to the environment,” he said. “If all the systems are revamped, chimney height increased and so on, and standard operating procedures are evolved to keep pollution within limits, then the copper smelter can be operated,” he said.
Vedanta had indicated that it was offering to sell the plant in national interest, indicating another owner may be more acceptable to the people. It had talked about the economic benefits the plant was bringing to the local economy as well as to the Thoothukudi port. National interest would be served by operating the plant since it can provide as much as 40% of India’s refined copper needs.
Swaminathan explained that the Sterlite Copper smelter could possibly be turned into another type of facility. Fundamentally the systems deal with high temperatures and the kiln used to melt the ore could be turned into a boiler for a power plant. But, in the case of power plant, too, a robust environment management system has to be evolved to keep pollution down, he added. The plant may have desulphurization and particulate matter systems in place already that can potentially facilitate operation as a power plant, he said.
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