Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research suspends exploration operations for uranium in the Amrabad Tiger Reserve in Telangana

Published : March 16, 2021 18:42 IST

Stones that may contain uranium from the drilling done by AMDER in Gujanal village in Karnataka in 2017. Photo: The Hindu Archives

In a move that will warm the hearts of all environmentalists and conservationists, the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER), Department of Atomic Energy, has decided to suspend “for the time being” plans for a survey and the drilling of boreholes to estimate the uranium deposits in an 83 sq km area of the Amrabad Tiger Reserve in Telangana. The Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government in Telangana, bowing to public sentiment, has decided not to go ahead with the project. Uranium exploration would have required the drilling of 1,000 coring boreholes of two- to three-inch diameter and 3,000 non-coring boreholes of six- to eight-inch diameter.

D.K. Sinha, Director, AMDER, said on February 15: “We have suspended uranium exploration work in Telangana. There has been opposition from the public and the government too has asked that there be no further work on the project.”.

According to estimates, there are around 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of uranium deposits in the region near Nagarjunasagar. But, in 2019, the Telangana government came under severe criticism from environmentalists when it was revealed that the State Board for Wildlife had cleared the proposal in 2016. Following the State’s clearance, the proposal was also given the go-ahead by Central government agencies, including the National Board for Wildlife and the Forest Advisory Committee.

Speaking to the media during a seminar on “Radiation and Environment” organised by the Indian Nuclear Society at the AMDER office in Hyderabad, Sinha said that it was only in Telangana that there was opposition to the exploration for uranium. He was referring to the opposition that had come up in Lambapur and Peddagattu villages of Nalgonda district when the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) attempted to take up exploration for uranium. Said Sinha: “There is cooperation from the people and State governments practically almost everywhere in the country as we have taken up exploration in several States, but in Telangana it is a different story.” Sinha and his fellow speakers at the seminar, mainly scientists, academics and medical professionals, presented papers and stressed that uranium mining was safe.

Sinha pointed out that books containing unscientific and false information regarding uranium exploration were circulated among the public, falsely alleging that uranium mining would be dangerous. Sinha stressed that there was a need to educate the public that uranium exploration “requiring drilling of boreholes as narrow as 52 mm was a usual and safe procedure”. Said Sinha: “If it takes five or 10 years for people to realise that it is safe, we will wait.”

Terming AMDER’s decision to suspend the uranium exploration project “Telangana's loss”, Sinha said there were many other mining-friendly States that welcomed AMDER’s initiatives. He cited the cases of Rajasthan and Jharkhand, where AMDER has taken up uranium exploration projects. According to Sinha, an added spin-off of such projects was that they often threw up evidence regarding the availability of other valuable minerals. In Jharkhand, gold and chromium deposits were revealed during the exploration for uranium.

With Telangana off its radar, the UCIL is keenly looking at expanding its uranium mining project at Tummalapalli in YSR Kadapa district in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. It has also approached local authorities for exploration work with the Kanampalli deposits in Andhra Pradesh.