MADURAI, India (Reuters) - A minor leak has been detected in the sulphuric acid storage plant in Vedanta’s copper smelter in Tamil Nadu, a government official said on Sunday, about a month after the state ordered its shutdown after protests in which 13 people died.
Police opened fire on May 22 on a crowd of protesters calling for the shutdown on the grounds of pollution. The state government then ordered a permanent shutdown.
“A leakage was observed in the sulphuric acid storage plant. It doesn’t look problematic, but we have decided to evacuate the storage tomorrow as a safety precaution,” said Sandeep Nanduri, the district’s top administrative official.
Vedanta Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of Vedanta Resources PLC, which operates the smelter, said it has asked government authorities to let company officials enter the plant to fix the problem and prevent any further damage.
“Anticipating such incidents in the absence of regular maintenance, we have been requesting the state government to give us limited manpower access and minimal power supply so that mandatory safety audits at the smelter can be regularly carried out,” the company said in a statement.
“We have had no access to the plant ever since it was suddenly sealed and locked with effect from May 28, 2018,” it said.
The smelter accounted for over a third of India’s refined copper output, and India is set to see a rise in copper imports following the shutdown.
Sulphuric acid, a corrosive byproduct of smelting, is used by fertilizer and chemical companies as a raw material.
Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; editing by Andrew Roche and Richard Pullin