(October 24, 2003) To meet the increasing uranium demand of its nuclear program, India is planning to open two new uranium mines in the states of Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh. Both sites are located in areas inhabited by tribal people. The new mines are said to be needed as the existing mines in the Jharkhand state cannot meet present and future demands (India plans to build six more NPPs).
(595.5553) WISE Uranium - As a non-signatory state to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), India has to completely rely on its own uranium resources, to fuel its nuclear power and nuclear weapons programs. Since the Indian uranium deposits are extremely low grade (by far less than 0.1% U), uranium production costs are several times the world market price, and the environmental impacts are comparatively large, due to the vast amounts of uranium mill tailings produced. India states its known uranium resources in the Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) category as 54,470 t U, without assignment of a cost range, though.
From 1967, the government owned Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) has been producing uranium at Jaduguda (also spelled Jadugoda, Jadugora) in the Singhbhum (East) district of Jharkhand state (formerly part of Bihar state) - an area inhabited by the tribal Adivasi people. The underground mine is located about 150 kilometers west of Calcutta and is working a vein type deposit with an ore grade in the 0.042% - 0.051% U range.
The deposit is accessed with a 640 meters deep shaft. The deposit has been explored to a depth of 800 meters and is open below this level. An auxiliary blind shaft is under development to access ore at depths between 555 and 900 meters below the surface. It appears, however, that with increasing depth of the mine, the cost becomes too excessive even under Indian circumstances, and UCIL is now speeding up the development of other deposits.
The Jaduguda uranium mill processes not only the ore from the Jaduguda mine, but also ores from the nearby Bhatin, Narwapahar, and (since Novembver 2002) Turamdih mines. Moreover, operations at Bandurang will begin in a few months. In addition, the mill processes pre-concentrates from the uranium recovery plants at the Rakha, Surda and Mosaboni copper mines (uranium as a by product of copper production). The mill has a capacity of 2,100 t ore per day, and a production capacity of 175 t U per year. According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), it produced 230 t U in 2002, though. According to some reports, the existing Jaduguda mines can supply uranium only until 2004.
An independent health survey conducted in 2000 by Sanghamitra and Surendra Gadekar showed a high incidence of congenital deformities in the vicinity of Jaduguda: There were 60 people with congenital deformities born near Jaduguda as against just 10 in otherwise similar villages. This result has been raising fears in the areas considered for new uranium mines (see also WISE News Communique 542.5238: "The Jadugoda case"). Though UCIL claims that the cases are not linked to uranium mining, the company has not made public a health survey it conducted on the residents. High incidences of tuberculosis, skin, lung cancer and other diseases also have been reported near Jaduguda.
Domiasiat project, West Khasi Hills district, Meghalaya state
With a uranium contents of 7,819 t U and an ore grade of 0.085% U, Domiasiat is - under Indian circumstances - „a relatively high-grade, medium-tonnage deposit", located in the Cretaceous sandstones of Meghalaya state in northeastern India, 130 kilometers south of Shillong. The deposit falls in a very high rainfall area and is almost inaccessible for half the year. The ore body is spread over a large area in two distinct blocks with the deposits just 45 - 50 meters below surface. UCIL plans to have two large open-cast mines in the area. The mill will have a capacity of 1,370 t of ore per day, and it will produce 160 - 200 t U per year, for 22 years.
Opposition from the local Khasi tribe so far has been preventing UCIL from developing the mine at Domiasiat. The Khasi district council says it owns the land, and the state government - or the federal authorities - cannot acquire it. The district council had granted permission for UCIL to "conduct exploratory surveys" but not to undertake commercial mining. But the company's temporary lease for exploration was recently withdrawn by the Meghalaya state government. One senior UCIL official said: "Every time we turn up at the uranium mines, the tribes people chase us with bows and arrows and swords." "They call us the agents of death and threaten to kill us if we try to mine uranium." For anticipated radiation hazards, the mine project is opposed also from NGOs such as the Meghalaya People's Human Rights Council.
According to the Atomic Energy Act of 1962, the Government of India would be in the position to override local governments in nuclear issues, however, UCIL Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) Ramendra Gupta meanwhile has confirmed that the proposed mining of uranium ore would not be started until the people of the area welcome the project. "We will start the project only after we convince the people that the project is in their interest," he said, and "The project will only be started with public approval".
Lambapur -- Peddagattu project, Nalgonda district, Andhra Pradesh state
With 11.02 million t of uranium ore reserves, containing 4,800 t U at an ore grade of 0.044% U, the Lambapur -- Peddagattu deposit is a „medium-sized deposit of moderate-grade" - under Indian circumstances. The near-surface deposit was discovered during the early 1990s, adjacent to the unconformity contact between basement granites with overlying Proterozoic Srisailam Quartzite close to the northwestern margin of the Cuddapah basin, 120 km southeast of Hyderabad.
An underground mine is projected for Peddagattu, while open-cast mining will be carried out at Lambapur. The uranium mill is proposed to be set up in the Dugyal and Mallapuram villages (18 kilometers away from the mines), with a capacity of 1,250 t of ore per day for 20 - 25 years and an annual mill production of 131 t U. UCIL plans to acquire 526.65 hectares for the mines and 318.25 hectares for the processing plant.
The new mines at Lambapur and Peddagattu will be located along Adivasi habitations. Mining will be conducted over 400 hectares of the Rayaram reserve forest. The Rajiv Gandhi-Nagarjunasagar Tiger Reserve is less than 6 kilometers from the proposed mining area, though no industrial activity shall be permitted within 25 kilometers of a notified sanctuary, according to the Indian Wildlife Act.
The uranium mill will be just 3 kilometers away from the Azmapuram reserve forest and just one kilometer from the Nagarjunasagar dam which supplies water for irrigation while the Akkampalli reservoir is 4 kilometers away, which is the off take point for Hyderabad's new drinking water supply scheme.
Public hearings held on 19 August 2003, demonstrated the deep division the mining project has caused in the villages: those supporting it are hoping to get considerable compensation for lands taken over by the project and to get jobs. They also welcome the expected development of the area in terms of better roads (there is no motorable road to Peddagattu), phone connectivity, electricity, and so on. Those opposing the project, led by the Movement Against Uranium Project (MAUP), a coalition of various NGOs, fear the consequences of exposure to radiation.
The Andra Pradesh Pollution Control Board had originally planned to organize only one single hearing at Peddagattu village, which is located on a remote hillock in Nalgonda. Seemingly, UCIL and state government officials wanted to keep attendance to the bare minimum so that they did not have to field uncomfortable questions. But the board was forced to hurriedly arrange another hearing on the same day in the relatively accessible Pedda Adiserapally, after the Andra Pradesh High Court intervened in the matter.
Strong protest marked the meeting at Peddagattu, where the officials failed to come up with satisfactory answers to people's queries on health hazards. The hearing at Pedda Adiserapally saw the presence of a large police force.
UICL has tried to influence the public opinion in favor of the project. It sent seven representatives op local villages to the Jaduguda mining area and some of them became 'spokespersons' for the UICL. However, opponents doubt whether these people have gone to Jaduguda at all. They reportedly saw lush green fields and all round development in Jaduguda, which is hardly to believe. UICL also published pamphlets denying any hazard from the mining industry and UICL's project EIA summary would be full of "half-truths, blatant lies and be generally shoddy".
UCIL for instance made incorrect claims on the environmental impact of mining low ore grade uranium: "while that in the mines of other countries like Canada is 2-12 per cent. This translates into lower risks (to human health and the environment in Andra Pradesh)". With these kinds of untrue claims, UCIL denies the fact the low grade ore needs tremendous amounts of ore being mined and milled, leaving huge quantities of waste tailings. Mines, Minerals and People has calculated that after 20 years of mining about 7.5 million metric tons of potentially radioatice waste would be produced.
While the struggle of the opponents to the new uranium mine projects is ongoing, a new menace is looming now also for the region of the existing mine in Jaduguda: in July 2003, the Government of India has agreed to the state of Jharkhand's proposal to set up a „minor" (whatever this may mean under Indian circumstances) nuclear power plant in the state. Jaduguda was the most likely site...
[t U = metric tons of Uranium]
Sources: several articles from The Shillong Times, The Assam Tribune, The Times of India, The Hindu, Indo-Asian News Service, The Telegraph (Calcutta), Deccan Herald, Outlook India, Nucleonics Week, Down to Earth, OECD/IAEA; Email from Centre for Resource Education (India), 18 August 2003
Contact: WISE Uranium