‘Allow Uranium mining only if it benefits State’

By Nawaz Yasin Islam

 SHILLONG: The biggest challenge of this era is to meet the growing energy requirements. The increasing extraction and continued usage of carbon based fuels, the energy resources are fast depleting.

The issues were addressed by Dr Chaitanyamoy Ganguly in a guest lecture titled ‘Prospects and challenges of Nuclear Power and related cycle’ organized by the Department of Physics, St Edmund’s College here on Friday.

Dr Ganguly has held senior executive positions with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna and the Government of India’s Department of Atomic Energy. Currently he is President of Cameco’s India division, one of the world’s largest uranium producers accounting for about 16 per cent of the world’s production from its mines in Canada and the US.

Speaking to this scribe, on the sidelines of the talk, Dr Ganguly stressed on the safety concerns in uranium mining. He said the extraction processes should only be undertaken if people of the State are benefited by it.

“It makes no sense to extract uranium and use it elsewhere to meet energy demands. What do the people of Meghalaya get at the end?” Dr Ganguly stated.

Dr Ganguly said that if uranium is extracted people of Meghalaya should be benefitted.

“We have to generate employment opportunities by involving local engineers to generate revenue for the state and improve the quality of life,” Dr Ganguly said, adding that the installation of a small modular reactor in the State would help it meet its own energy demands and uranium can be used by the local population.

When asked about the stand of NGOs on safety issues that come with the extraction of a radioactive material, Dr Ganguly mentioned that there is a calculated risk involved but with the recent developments and extraction procedures being followed throughout the world today, this may well be negligible.

“Natural uranium isotope which will be extracted emits a rays which has a low penetrative power and can be blocked by the skin. Even if you inhale or ingest it, it passes out without damaging the body,” he assured.

On being questioned about the long term effects and damage to the environment, Dr Ganguly highlighted about the mining process to be followed in order to safeguard the environment.

“The best part about the high grade Uranium in Meghalaya is that the deposits are at the depth of around 35 metres which makes for easy extraction,” he said, adding that a process of ‘in-situ leach mining’ will be followed which involves minimum damage to the earth. In this process, holes will be drilled and acids like Sulphuric Acid will be lowered which will melt the ore reserves and subsequently aid in extraction. This causes no damage to the soil as the deposits are well below the average soil depths being used for cultivation etc.

Dr Ganguly stressed on the use of nuclear energy as a viable option for sustainable energy while focusing on safety issues.

“It is definitely the safest and cleanest form of energy. Apprehensions arise due to its history. Nuclear energy was first found in 1939, and the immediate use was for weapon’s purpose because of its high energy density,” he said.

Dr Ganguly gave the gathering insights on the feasibility of the raw materials involved when he spoke at length on Uranium-235 (the only fissile isotope that is a primordial nuclide or found in significant quantity in nature) and its benefits.

He said, “Unlike other energy sources, here, apart from generated energy, energy sources are created.”

With 437 nuclear power reactors in 30 countries, 14 per cent of global electricity requirements come from this area and is proving to be extremely beneficial. Currently, there are 20 reactors operational in India alone.

Dr Ganguly in his presentation gave an overview of the International uranium industry and buttressed the need for India making appropriate choices in technology selection to draw maximum dividends from its nuclear energy sector.

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