India eyes stake in Russian uranium field
Sunday, June 20, 2021 2:55 PM

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Anil Sasi

New Delhi, June 20

India is evaluating the option of picking up stake in one of the world's largest uranium fields in Russia.

The possibility of a minority equity stake in the Elkon field in Russia's Yakutia province, which is estimated to hold 344,000 tonnes of uranium or about 5.3 per cent of the world's recoverable reserves, is being seen as a step towards securing long-term supplies for the country's nuclear capacity, a Government official involved in the exercise said.

Russia's state-owned mining firm ARMZ Uranium Holding Company has the licence to the Elkon field, in which a stake was offered in the course of bilateral negotiations during the Russian Prime Minister, Mr Vladimir Putin's, visit to India earlier this year.

ARMZ Uranium Holding, which also has licences for uranium fields in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, had earlier said it is looking for a strategic partner to help it develop the Elkon mine.

The Yakutia province, also called the Sakha Republic, is situated in the North-East of the Russian Federation and occupies one-fifth of the total territory of the Russian mainland.

Geological exploration

Once a decision is formalised, state-owned Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) is expected to be roped in for technical negotiations. Russia, which holds about a tenth of the world's uranium reserves, is aiming at emerging a major supplier to the Indian nuclear power industry. It has been agreed at the bilateral level that the two countries will work on the creation of a joint venture for geological exploration and production of uranium.

The possibility of setting up a Russian-designed nuclear fuel fabrication facility in India is also under consideration, as has been provided in the Inter-Government Agreement on Cooperation in the use of Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purpose signed by the two countries.

The accord also provides for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in India under international safeguards.

Fuel supplies

Russia had entered into an umbrella agreement for supply of 2,000 tonnes of nuclear fuel to India starting late last year. Russian state-owned firm TVEL Corporation has been deputed to supply about 210 tonnes of uranium during 2010-11.

During the last fiscal, about 120 tonnes of natural uranium and 58 tonnes of enriched uranium were received from Russia.

The roadmap agreement with Russia also paved the way for intensifying bilateral co-operation on the nuclear front by providing for the setting up of the fifth and sixth units at the Koodankulam site in Tamil Nadu as well as outlining a construction plan for the third and fourth units at the site.

Russia is in the fray to build up to 16 reactors in India.

Private sector

While UCIL has been slow off the blocks in cashing in on the uranium deal abroad, the private sector has been quick to grab opportunities to invest in uranium fields overseas.

Jindal Steel & Power (Mauritius) Ltd, in 2008, had bought the entire stake in a uranium asset in Mongolia jointly owned by Canadian firms Bluerock Resources Ltd and Uranerz Energy Corp (TSX:URZ') (TSX:URZ) (AMEX:URZ) for $2.6 million. Mongolia has about 2 per cent of the world's uranium reserves. Little known Mumbai-based firm Taurian Resources had bagged exclusive rights for exploration and mining of uranium in the Arlit region of Niger, which is the fifth largest supplier of uranium globally. China is already a big investor in Niger, with Chinese firms having bagged a series of exploration licences in the past in the African country.



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