KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) - India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) would permit private miners to process beach sand and supply monazite tailings to the government-owned Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) to increase the latter’s capacity to extract thorium and uranium.
At present, private miners were allowed to extract rare earths from beach sand but not process radioactive monazite, which, under the Atomic Energy Act, was categorised as a ‘prescribed substance’ and the sole domain of the government.
Private miners were forced to stockpile beach sand with monazite content higher than 5% at their own cost or put it back into the mine if monazite content was lower.
According to an official in the Mines Ministry, the DAE proposed to make amendments to the Atomic Energy Act so that beach sand miners could hand over the monazite tailings to IREL for further processing into thorium and possibly uranium, if economically feasible.
The DAE hoped to secure supplies of at least one-million tons of thorium from beach sand processed by private miners, and increase the supply of monazite to IREL.
Data from the Atomic Mineral Directorate for Exploration and Research has shown that India’s monazite reserve was estimated at 10.70-million tons. The province of Andhra Pradesh accounted for the largest reserves estimated at 3.74-million tons, followed by Tamil Nadu with 2.16-million tons, Orissa with 1.85-million tons, Kerala with 1.51-million tons, West Bengal with 1.22-million tons and Bihar with 0.22-million tons.
The opening-up of monazite tailings to private miners would ensure a firm supply line to Orissa Sands Complex (OSC), operated by IREL, and to Toyutsu Rare Earths India Private Limited (TREI).
IREL operated four units at OSC in the eastern Indian province of Orissa and produces minerals like ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite, sillimanite and garnet.
TREI, a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho, uses mining waste monazite sand supplied by IREL to extract uranium and thorium aa well as producing rare earths like neodymium, lanthanum and cerium.
The setting up of TREI was part of the series of Indo-Japan strategic dialogues on joint collaboration, of which the development of rare-earth production capabilities to reduce overdependency on China for the raw material was an example.