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"We have enough Uranium resources"

Ramendra Gupta, chairman-cum-managing director of the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd, responds to criticism about Uranium exploration in an interview with the Hindustan Times.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2008 20:43 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times

What is the big picture on uranium mining in India ?

We are in an expansion mode. We have taken up a number of new projects. One is in Andhra Pradesh in the Cudappah district - we are constructing a mine and a process plant of about 1,100 crore rupees; we are also planning to start a mine and a process plant in Meghalaya and there we are waiting for the government's approval even though the government clearance has come in. We have also taken up exploratory mining in Karnataka - the project name is Gogi. And there, the exploratory shaft is under construction.

As far as the Singhbhum belt (in Jharkhand) is concerned, we have five working mines and two mines are under contruction. One process plant is working and the second process plant - we are taking trial runs and it is expected to be stabilised in a couple of months. These new mines in Jharkhand - actually in the 10th five year plan we have constructed three mines; two others are still under construction. In Jharkhand itself, we have invested almost 700 crore rupees in the last four-five years. We are trying to match up the requirement of nuclear fuel for nuclear power generation.

How are we doing on that? How bad is the fuel shortage?

There is some mismatch for the time being which is expected to be over once these new projects are commissioned. We must agree that in the long term we have a programme of 20,000 megawatt of power from indigenous resources. And for 20,000 megawatt of power, we have enough Uranium resources in the country.

So what timeline are we looking at for 20,000 megawatts?

By 2020.

Is that realistic?

Yes it is realistic.

You mentioned Meghalaya. That's Domiasiat. I remember - I have been hearing about this since my college days. What's gone wrong there?

Nothing has gone wrong. See, in our country, whenever we take up new projects, the new projects also come up with problems of public perception. So there is a small group of people who are against this project and we are in the process of educating and having consensus to start this project.

Is this "small" group of people powerful enough to stall a crucial component of the atomic energy programme for 20 years?

Why do we only discuss about only this programme? See, in this country, you are aware that agitation is always started by a small group of people.. This being a democracy, we have to build consensus and have a dialogue with people. Northeast, being a difficult area, it is very essential.

How do you respond to the criticism that India has enough reserves but we probably did not do enough over the past 20 years to capitalise on that - and that's why we are in the state we are in?

As far as UCIL is concerned, we are on track to opening up new projects, and while opening up new projects, sometimes there are some delays because of land acquisition, environmental clearances, etc.

Is it fair, sir, that one part of the nuclear establishment - the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) - is going on setting up new nuclear power plants, while we know we do not have the mined Uranium to support it?

It's not true, it's not true. It's only a temporary mismatch and in the coming years this mismatch will be removed - and this mismatch to some extent has taken place because of some delay in opening up new mines - like opening up new mines in Meghalaya, which we are attempting for the last so many years.

When NPCIL started constructing the power plants, it was expected that the mines and process plants would also come up. But unfortunately, there is some delay.

The quality of Uranium itself - is it improving in the new finds?
In India we have only few low percentage of Uranium resources except in the state of Meghalaya where the Uranium percentage is better.

When one talks to people at AMD, they say that through the nineties, they handed over several sites to you -
Not sites, resources. See, a geologist sees the resources from a different perspective, and once the resource is handed over, a team consisting of mining engineers evaluate it and prepare a detailed project report to see whether the resource could be taken up for mining or not.

They have only handed over resources - some of them are good, some of them are too small to be taken up, and some of them are in areas like Meghalaya where we are having continued resistance from people to open up the project.

Turamdih mine - why was it closed down?
I think it is an important question. See, when the decision to close down Turamdih was taken, it was having a few issues. At the time we were having sufficient stocks of Magnesium Di-Uranate (fuel needed for power plants) and we had some problems in the construction of our power reactors. Number two, Turamdih was considered a low grade deposit and exploration work was on in Meghalaya - it was thought that even if we are closing Turamdih, Meghalaya would be opened up. The third thing was that there was a financial crunch during the time.

But now Turamdih is being restarted.

Now it has restarted, because when we reassessed the situation in 2001-2002, we found that there is a delay in opening up Meghalaya and the NPCIL - they had sorted out their problems and new reactors were being constructed and it became essential to have a review of our programmes and on a review it became clear that we could take up mining in the Singhbhum belt.

When did India 's atomic energy establishment realise that a crippling fuel shortage was coming its way? Was it mid-nineties?

See, the review of our fuel requirements is a continuous process. It is not as if suddenly we realise. Decisions are also reviewed every now and then. When we realized that we were having a difficulty in opening up our mines in Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya, a decision was taken to start the mines in Singhbhum belt.

No, my question was -

I have answered it. You can infer it from here.

From 1992 onwards, we are attempting to start a project in Meghalaya. But it has not happened. And Northeast problems are not for just Uranium projects - they are there for any other development projects also.

Let me ask you a blunt question. You said 1992 - and we are at 2008. Was there slackness on part of UCIL itself, which just did not want to go to Meghalaya for all these years?
If that was the case, then at least now we would have started the project - now we have the environmental clearance also for the last one year. So where is the question of reluctance?

The feasibility report was prepared in 1993 itself. And then UCIL started interacting with people. It was thought that people have problems with open pit mines - so could we go in for in-situ leach method? For which we appointed a consultant from the Czech Republic somewhere in 1998 - and by 2000, we have come to the conclusion that technically it is not feasible to be able to leach and then we again updated the detailed project report -- started working on that.

Let me ask you as a citizen. Is there a lack of accountability in the atomic energy establishment?

Absolutely wrong. Absolutely wrong. In eastern India , where we have all the mineral resources .. at least we were able to start five new projects despite all the land problems, despite all the land still not being handed over to me --

So it is absolutely wong to say that there is a lack of accountability.

Because of the present fragmented political mandate that is coming, and no consensus on major issues, we have to pass through this. You have seen the opposition to the Tata project at Singur. At least we avoided that.

There is a bias against nuclear energy. There has to be a consensus on rehabilitation issues so that a policy which is acceptable to all is available for us to follow.

Is there a staff shortage?

There is an issue.. We are losing young blood. For the last 10 to 15 years, the best talent is attracted towards software companies because they are paying more. So we expect that that this new pay revision will help. The situation is quite bad everywhere. There is a gap between the senior level and lower levels - at the middle level there is a shortage of people. Last 15 years, a lot of people have resigned.