Illegal Sale of Uranium | 11 May 2021

Why in News

Two people were arrested under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 for possessing uranium without licence and selling it illegally.

  • On testing, the sample was confirmed as natural uranium by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).

Key Points

  • Uranium:
    • About:
      • Uranium occurs naturally in low concentrations in soil, rock and water. It is a hard, dense, malleable, ductile, silver-white, radioactive metal.
        • Uranium metal has a very high density.
      • When finely divided, it can react with cold water. In air it is coated by uranium oxide, tarnishing rapidly.
      • It can form solids solutions and intermetallic compounds with many of the metals.
    • Applications:
      • Energy Production: The main use of uranium in the civilian sector is to fuel commercial nuclear power plants for generation of nuclear energy.
        • This requires uranium to be enriched with the uranium-235 isotope and the chain reaction to be controlled so that the energy is released in a more manageable way.
      • Making Atomic Bomb: The first atomic bomb used in warfare was an uranium bomb.
        • This bomb contained enough of the uranium-235 isotope to start a runaway chain reaction which in a fraction of a second caused a large number of the uranium atoms to undergo fission, thereby releasing a fireball of energy.
      • Used as Shield against Radiation: Depleted uranium is also used as shield against radiation in medical processes using radiation therapy and also while transporting radioactive materials.
        • Though itself radioactive, uranium’s high density makes it effective in halting radiation.
      • Used as Counterweights in Industry: Its high density also makes it useful as counterweights in aircraft and industrial machinery.
      • Radiometric Dating: The isotope uranium 238 is used to estimate the age of the earliest igneous rocks and for other types of radiometric dating.
      • Fertilizer: Phosphate fertilizers are made from material typically high in uranium, so they usually contain high amounts of it.
    • Health and Environmental Impacts:
      • Impact on Health: Potentially depleted uranium has both chemical and radiological toxicity with the two important target organs being the kidneys and the lungs.
      • Impact on Environment: Uranium mining facilities produce tailings that generally are disposed of in near surface impoundments close to the mine.
        • These tailings pose serious environmental and health risks in the form of Radon emission, windblown dust dispersal and leaching of contaminants including heavy metals and arsenic into the water.
  • Uranium Deposits In India:
    • In India, Uranium deposits occur in the Dharwar rocks.
    • It occurs along the Singhbhum Copper belt (Jharkhand); Udaipur, Alwar and Jhunjhunu districts of Rajasthan, Durg district of Chhattisgarh, Bhandara district of Maharashtra and Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh.
    • Significant quantities of reserves have been recently discovered in parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana between Seshachalam forest and Sresailam (Southern edge of Andhra to Southern edge of Telangana).
  • Legal Framework in India:
    • In pursuance to entry at serial No. 54 of List I (Union List), the Parliament has passed ‘The Mines & Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDR Act)’.
      • However, with respect to minor minerals, the rulemaking powers have been delegated to the States through this Act.
      • Since Uranium is a major mineral, it is managed by the Union Government under provisions of MMDR Act.
    • The policy and legislation relating to Major minerals are managed by the Ministry of Mines, but Uranium being an atomic mineral is managed by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
      • The Atomic Energy Act, 1962 seeks to provide standards of controlling radioactive substances and plants and measures to prevent radiation accidents, retain public safety, assure cautious disposal of radioactive wastes, and so on.
    • Many of these mineral deposits are found in rich forest reserves and thus approval of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change becomes necessary.

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre

  • Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha conceived the Nuclear Program in India. Dr Bhabha established the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) for carrying out nuclear science research in 1945.
  • To intensify the effort to exploit nuclear energy for the benefit of the nation, Dr Bhabha established the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET) in January 1954 for a multidisciplinary research program essential for the ambitious nuclear program of India. AEET was renamed Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 1966.

Source: IE