KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) - India has identified 7 860 km2 in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) as a first-generation mine site, based on detailed survey and analysis, despite the fact that the extraction of metals from polymetallic nodules in the ocean bed has not yet been proven economically viable, India’s Science, Technology and Earth Sciences’ Minister S Jaipal Reddy said.
India’s polymetallic nodule programme was oriented towards the exploration and development of technologies to harness the nodules from the identified mining site in the CIOB and included four components, namely survey and exploration, environmental-impact assessment, mining technology development and metallurgical technology development, Reddy said.
The 75 000 km2 area comprising the CIOB had an estimated polymetallic nodule resource potential of 380-million tons containing 4.7-million tons of nickel, 4.29-million tons of copper, 0.55-million tons of cobalt and 92.59-million tons of manganese, the Minister said.
Environmental studies for mining of the deep-sea polymetallic nodules have been conducted by India through remotely operable submersibles with the capability of operating at a water depth of 6 000 m, and have successfully operated at a depth of 5 289 m when assessing conditions in the CIOB.
Remotely operable in-situ soil testing equipment was also developed for obtaining detailed geotechnical properties of the mining area at the CIOB and tested successfully at 5 462 m water depth.
A pilot plant with the capacity to processi 500 kg/d of nodules had been commissioned for the extraction of copper, nickel and cobalt at the plant of Hindustan Zinc, and a second plant for processing 500 kg of nodules for production of ferrosilico-manganese ore had been commissioned at a National Metallurgical Laboratory site, the Minister said.
The China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association was also engaged in carrying out exploration activities in polymetallic deep-sea nodules.
India has expressed concern over China extending strategic and commercial interests in the Indian Ocean through deep-sea mining on several occasions, and the latest response of establishing its own first-generation mining site in the CIOB was aimed at countering these concerns.
In July this year, the Indian government made a statement before Parliament that “countries like China have taken to deep-sea mining with strategic purpose and they were maintaining their presence in high seas, undertaking deep-sea mining. India is keeping a constant watch and would take all necessary measures to safeguard its own strategic and commercial interest in the region”.
India’s National Security Council has also been involved in the process with the latter coming out with a policy paper advocating a more aggressive deep-sea mining programme on the Indian Ocean bed.