Kolkata, April 17: The exploitation of bugs to extract and process uranium from low-grade ores can help India generate fuel for nuclear reactors in a sustainable and eco-friendly way, an expert said here on Friday.
India will import 3,000 tonnes of uranium from Canada in the coming five years as per a deal inked between both countries during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to the country. [Modi's Canada visit: Uranium deal clinched, 13 agreements inked]
"The quantity of uranium which we require is insufficient in India because we have got low grade ores and the quantity of uranium is very low inside that," Abhilash, a scientist at the National Metallurgical Laboratory, Jamshedpur, told IANS here.
NML is a CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) institute.
"We need more amount of fuel that's why we have signed agreements with Australia, Canada and other countries so that we can take uranium and use as fuel. Micro-organisms can solve the problems of uranium extraction from low-grade ores in India," Abhilash said.
He said that by harnessing micro-organisms to leach uranium (a process called bioleaching) from ores, India can ensure indigenous uranium production to feed the planned nuclear reactors.
"We can use our own resources and it is sustainable. We use the bacteria available in the mines," the scientists said here on the sidelines of a conference here.
Explaining the process, Abhilash said the particular species of bacteria can be harnessed to convert the uranium in the ores to a usable form called 'yellow cake'.
"We have the ore which contains iron and uranium both and this bacteria, growing proficiently on iron, takes the iron which is soluble and converts it into further soluble form like an oxidant. This helps in converting uranium to another form of uranium which is in solution."
"What industry does is that... they precipitate it and make yellow cake which is radioactive. This ore is not radioactive. So they pack it and send it to Hyderabad. In Hyderabad, we have Nuclear Fuel Complex," he said, adding that the technology is eco-friendly.
Established in 1971, the Nuclear Fuel Complex is a major industrial unit of Department of Atomic Energy, for the supply of nuclear fuel bundles and reactor core components.
"This technology also can be a parallel technology for those kind of raw materials where we have extracted uranium ore in the solution, we can purify it and give the yellow cake to the Complex," he said.
However, the "single demerit" of the process is that private players cannot have access to this technology.
"We can't have private players working in this technology. We only need Indian government because uranium being a strategic material we can only have the government's participation," he said.
Abhilash said the procedure has been applied to two tonnes of ore so far and the scientists are now scaling it up.