The Indian Government is looking at both boosting the indigenous production of Uranium and its import to keep up the operation of nuclear reactors at their rated power. India, as per the vision laid down by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), intends to achieve a ten-fold increase in indigenous Uranium production by 2031-2032.
The Indian nuclear programme has faced a nuclear fuel constraint due to international sanctions on nuclear trade. The nuclear fuel shortage became evident as in 2008, the capacity factor of the home-grown Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) declined to 65 per cent from 90 per cent in 2002-2003.
The Uranium production in India has not kept up with the demand as the Indian nuclear programme is soon going to reach a stage with 21 reactors under construction and 22 reactors in operation. India has been for years working towards building a strategic nuclear stockpile. Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL), a public sector undertaking under the DAE, is engaged in mining and processing of uranium ore in the country. The company is operating seven uranium mines in Jharkhand and one uranium mine in Andhra Pradesh.
Recently India discovered the largest reserves of Uranium in Andhra Pradesh. The state on the eastern coast of India presently has 1.22 lakh tonnes of Uraninum Oxide that is equivalent to 1.04 lakh tonnes of Uranium. The UCIL has already began laying of groundwork for the extraction of the material. An underground mine in Tummalapalle (Andhra Pradesh) has already been constructed.
Technology denials had forced India to extract low grade uranium ores with low uranium content of 0.1 per cent compared to those abroad with a content of 12-14 per cent. This made extraction and processing cost of uranium in the country is very high as compared to other countries. Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada and Russia are the top countries with the largest amount of recoverable resources of Uranium.
Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), Minister of State Prime Minister’s Office, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr. Jitendra Singh told Parliament in the ongoing session that “the government has provided fuel from both indigenous and imported sources in required quantities for operation of nuclear power reactors at their rated power”. The government has laid down a three phase plan for Uranium mining projects.
“As per the vision plan prepared, in order to fulfil the requirement of Uranium to fuel nuclear power plants, the DAE will achieve nearly ten-fold rise in uranium production in next 15 years (by 2031-2032). The uranium mining projects have been planned in three phases,” Dr. Singh said. He further elaborated that by the end of the first phase, the Uranium production is expected to mark a 3.5 times increase of existing uranium production. The first phase will end by the 12th year. On completion of the projects in second phase, uranium production is expected to achieve seven times of existing production. With the completion of phase three projects, uranium production of the country is expected to record ten-fold increase by 2031-32.
Following the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) agreement, which was achieved in September 2008, India also had the opportunity to import nuclear fuel for its IAEA-approved nuclear reactors. Civil nuclear cooperation agreements have been signed with the USA, Russia, France, UK, South Korea, Czech Republic and Canada, as well as Australia, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Namibia. A further nuclear cooperation agreement was signed with the UK in November 2015, with “a comprehensive package” of collaboration on energy and climate change matters involving £3.2 billion ($4.9 billion) in programmes and initiatives related to energy security and energy access. A preliminary agreement was signed with Japan in December 2015, and after six years of negotiations a full nuclear cooperation agreement was signed in November 2016.