Potentiality of the area is huge; it will be one of the top 20 of the world's reserves: Atomic Minerals Directorate

Huge deposits of natural uranium, which promise to be one of the top 20 of the world's reserves, have been found in the Tummalapalle belt in the southern part of the Kadapa basin in Andhra Pradesh.

The Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD), which explores uranium in the country, has so far discovered 44,000 tonnes of natural uranium (U3O8) in just 15 line km of the 160-km long belt.

P.B. Maithani, Director, AMD, is confident that “the potentiality of the area is huge” and that it will be “one of the top 20 of the world's deposits where more than 60,000 tonnes of uranium is available.” He is sure that the uranium deposits will occur over the entire length of 160 km of the Tummalapalle belt with a “depth consistency” of about 400 metres. The uranium resources found so far can sustain a generation of 5,000 MWe of nuclear power.

Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, described the discovery as “very large although it is not a rich ore.” He added that “there is a possibility of further extension” of the ore on either side of Tummalapalle. About 4,000 tonnes of uranium deposits have also been found at Gogi in Gulbarga district of Karnataka. “Gogi is not a large deposit but it is a rich ore,” said Dr. Banerjee.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), meanwhile, is pressing ahead with the commissioning of a mine at Tummalapalle. It will have a state-of-the-art decline in a few months. A mill to process the uranium into yellow cake will start production at Tummalapalle next year. The yellow cake is converted into fuel bundles and fed into the nuclear power reactor. Both the AMD and the UCIL belong to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

Special type of occurrence

Mr. Maithani said: “The continuity and tonnage of the Tummalapalle deposits is very high although the grade is medium.” The AMD earlier worked in the area and found more than 14,000 tonnes of U3O8. After developing the leachability of the natural uranium ore and tackling other issues, the AMD started drilling again in the area. “We expect that the continuity will be there up to 160 km. There may be some barren sites in between. But geologically, they are the same — the same rock is above and below the ground,” he said. He was sure the belt would yield more than 60,000 tonnes of U3O8. He called Tummalapalle “a special type of occurrence and you don't get this in any other part of the world. It is strata-bound.”

“The nuclear energy programme of the country can be definitely tailored as per the availability of resources we have seen so far in just two blocks – Tummalapalle and Kanampalle. But there is a continuation at Motuntulapalle, Muthanapalle, Rachakuntapalle and so on. These are situated adjacent to Tummalapalle blocks. We are confident that sizeable resources can be added from this area,” said Mr. Maithani.

The AMD earlier found uranium deposits in Nalgonda district and it was confident that it could locate reserves in the adjoining Guntur district, where its men were working now.

About 4,000 tonnes of U3O8 deposits were discovered in the Bhima basin at Gogi in Karnataka. Gradewise, the Gogi ore was richer than the Tummalapalle ore but it did not continue over a long distance. “But we may get a number of Gogis with similar fracture/fault-controlled uranium-mineralisation setup in the nearby areas,” Mr. Maithani said.

“Fracture-controlled mineralisation of uranium has been found at Rohil in Sikar district in Rajasthan and the grade of the ore is similar to that of the Gogi ore. The Rohil belt is 130 km long and there is continuity of occurrence of uranium ore. The Rohil belt may yield between 5,000 tonnes and 10,000 tonnes of uranium,” he said.

In Meghalaya, about 10,000 tonnes (at Domiasiat) and 8,000 tonnes (Wakhyn) of deposits were discovered several years ago. But the UCIL was unable to mine them because of socio-economic problems, said S.K. Mathur, Scientific Officer, AMD.

India has 19 operating Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) that use natural uranium as fuel. It is building more PHWRs of 700 MWe capacity each.