Overseas Uranium Hunt Intensifies

The Telegraph, Kolkata edition | Oct 6, 2008

New Delhi, Oct. 5: The government has gone into overdrive in helping Indian companies acquire stakes in overseas uranium mining entities, at a time when India has forged closer ties in nuclear energy with the US.

Indian mining firms, both state-owned and private, are being helped by Indian embassies abroad to identify and buy uranium mines.

An informal message has gone across that India needs to have uranium mines, and the government will guarantee purchase of the radioactive mineral by the Nuclear Power Corporation, which runs 17 reactors and is setting up five more.

Sources said Reliance Industries had entered into an agreement with Uranium Exploration Australia (UXA), though the country is still resisting the export of the mineral.

RIL Australia, a subsidiary of Reliance, has bought a 49 per cent interest in four of UXA’s exploration licences in the state of South Australia and four of UXA’s exploration licence applications in Northern Territory. The exploration programme, of which 49 per cent will be funded by Reliance, will cost about Australian $19.4 million.

Jindal Steel & Power has bought stakes in Canadian firms which mine uranium in Mongolia. The Jindals have purchased the Mongolian assets of Vancouver-based Bluerock Resources and Uranerz Energy for $2.6 million.

State-owned Oil India Limited plans to enter into a tie-up with Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) for mining in the country. The energy exploration firm has found uranium while searching for oil and gas.

Before these companies made their moves, little-known Taurian Resources had won a contract in Niger giving it exclusive rights over 3,000 sq km of the Sahara desert. The Arlit region, in the Sahara, is estimated to hold at least 30,000 tonnes.

India is also in talks with Gabon, Niger and Namibia for uranium supplies.

The deals would involve assured supplies, coupled with, in some cases, Indian companies picking up stakes in mines. India may also enter into civilian and military co- operation pacts with the African countries. Namibia holds about eight-to-nine per cent of global uranium resources.

State-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation has entered into an agreement with UCIL to buy uranium equity abroad and hunt for domestic resources.

Senior government officials said Indian companies were being encouraged to buy stakes in uranium mines to ensure continued fuel supply to the country.

Private companies are buying stakes as they are hopeful of the government allowing them in nuclear power generation.

According to the Planning Commission, the deal with the US will enable India to add 15,960MW to its capacity by 2017, taking total capacity to around 20,000MW.

Most plants are operating at half their capacity because of the unavailability of uranium. India plans to have 18 to 20 new nuclear power plants over the next 15 years.

At present, plants can be set up only by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, and uranium mining done solely by UCIL.

Private entities such as the Tatas, Reliance Power, the Essar group, the Vedanta group and the GMR group are awaiting amendments in the Atomic Energy Act to make conditions favourable for private investment.