December 15, 2012 Pioneer Edit
Thorium oxide pellets from BARC.
See: http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.in/2012/12/parliament-kept-in-dark-on-thorium-loot.htmlParliament kept in the dark on thorium loot
Mineral wealth looted
Government must stop illegal export of thorium
The large-scale loot of scarce mineral resources from the beaches of southern Tamil Nadu is shocking, to say the least. But what makes the theft even more outrageous is that this illegal export of natural resources which has already cost the country crores of rupees has happened with Government officials looking the other way. While it may be too late to retrieve what is lost, the Union Government must take immediate steps to clamp down on this illegal trade. It also must monitor the country’s exports more closely. The sea beach along Manavalakurichi in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu has one of the world’s largest deposits of ilmenite, garnet, zircon and rutile — heavy minerals that hold the key to India’s energy security in the near future. More importantly, the beach also has monazite that contains thorium, which the Indian scientific community believes could eventually replace uranium as fuel for nuclear reactors. If that happens, India would no longer have to depend on uranium imports but could mine thorium from its own beaches to run its nuclear plants. However, given the alarming rate at which monazite is disappearing from our beaches, the country may not have much of this mineral left by the time power plants switch from uranium to thorium.
In fact, between 2002 and 2012, more than 2.1 million tonnes of monazite are believed to have gone missing from the Indian coastline —although anybody who has seen the boats ferrying bags of sand to ships anchored off the coasts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari will agree that the actual figure is possibly much higher. The beach sand mining cartel in Tamil Nadu is reportedly run by a local businessman who holds 96 of the 111 garnet mining licences, and all 44 licences to mine ilmenite, among others. Interestingly, in 2006, most of the heavy minerals found in beach sands, such as ilmenite, garnet, zircon and rutile, were removed from the ‘atomic minerals’ list. Consequently, minerals that could previously only be mined by one public sector undertaking — Indian Rare Earths Limited — have now become available to private mining agencies. However, even in this case, monazite was excluded for its thorium value. According to guidelines framed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, those who processed beach sand were expected to separate monazite from the rest of the content and return it to the Department of Atomic Energy. But, not a single grain of monazite sand has been returned to the Department till date. To make matters worse, nobody within the Government really knows how much monazite is mined by the private operator and how much of it is shipped to foreign shores. Apparently, the figures that the private operator is required to report to the Government are all part of a “gentleman’s agreement”, according to officials at Indian Rare Earths Ltd, who say they have no choice but to believe “what they tell us”. To complicate matters further, scientists believe that heavy mineral deposits often contain high levels of radioactive elements, and separating the two can be difficult. On its part, the Government is content in the belief that only delisted minerals are being exported by private companies while monazite is firmly under its control. That’s not apparently true.
Kudos to Pioneer for the well-documented expose of the great thorium loot. Mining in placer sand complexes by private parties should be banned. All existing licences should be cancelled. Shah Commission recommendations on iron ore and manganese mining should apply mutatis mutandis to placer sand minerals to safeguard nation’s mineral wealth. Paramilitary forces should be entrusted with the task of safeguarding placer sands along the coastline, containing minerals of national importance. DAE should re-introduce system of certification of radioactive monazite in placer sand mining operation and transport. Culprits involved in the great thorium loot should be brought to book. Will GOI and State govts. take immediate, firm, decisive steps when the whole world is waking up to thorium as the wonder nuclear energy fuel?
Cumulative list of blogposts with label ‘Thorium’ (December 15, 2012):