India rejects new uranium mining projects

Date of publication: 
20 July 2015

India has taken the decision not to pursue any new uranium projects in at least three of its provinces in consideration of local populace who was against uranium mining, as well as the limited availability of financial allocations from the federal government.

Senior government officials noted that while the prospects for new uranium mines had emerged in provinces like Meghalaya, Himachal and Uttarakhand, issues like unstable hilly terrains and opposition from sections of the locals had forced the government to go slow in taking up mining projects in these areas.

Simultaneously, uranium mining under the authority of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), could only be implemented when large funding requirements were assured from the federal government not only for mining but also research and development. Without this funding, it would not be possible to initiate projects piecemeal, the officials added.

It was pointed out that in Meghalaya, a large section of the local political parties representing ethnic and tribal sections had been running movements against uranium mining in the region, and government could not ignore the opposition given the strategic location of the north-eastern province and sensitivities of minority communities.

While information on uranium reserves in general and Meghalaya in specifically were not readily available from government agencies, as it being categorised as ‘strategic mineral’, unofficial reports estimated the reserves in the province to range between 9 000 t and 14,000 t, ranking third among all other uranium rich provinces in the country after Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) has undertaken pre-mining activities in West Khasi Hills in the province, but were stopped in 2009, with officials now saying that the projects, or other similar projects in the region, were unlikely to be take up in the immediate future.

Meanwhile in a related development, the Indian government was considering setting up a `strategic uranium stockpile’ ranging between 5 000 t and 15 000 t to take care of fuel requirement for the next five to six years.

Officials said that India had been pursuing purchase of uranium from Australia and Canada and such negotiations were moving on a very ‘positive track’ and hence the proposal for a strategic stockpile had been mooted and forwarded to the Union Cabinet of Ministers for approval.

It was pointed out that a stockpile had become all the more feasible following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kazakhstan last week, with uranium supplies of about 5 000 t had been contracted from the central Asian country.

With possibilities of overseas supplies of uranium to India brightening in recent months, the country would afford to go slow or even scrap mining projects in the country that had become sensitive both politically or financially, the officials said.

In 2014, Indian had produced an estimated 1 252 t of the atomic fuel against a requirement of about 650 t for its existing nuclear power plants and hence with short term fuel requirement being assured and overseas supplies assured in the future, risks in taking up new domestic mining projects could be avoided, the official added.