Why scientists want to protect ram setu
Protect and save ram setu
Says scientists and geologists,
Then why protector of Indian culture
Are branded as Hindu terrorists
Thorium is the answer to India need,
Only way for nuclear plants to proceed
Seeing the politicians ludicrous action,
Becoming superpower seems a distant vision
Go to eastern or western shores of India and witness the black, sparkling soil of Kerala, Tamil nadu and Andhra Pradesh, there lies the answer to India rising electricity needs. Thorium, a mineral abundant in these areas, once used as a fuel in kerosene lamps, is widely predicted as the best candidate to solve aspiring India nuclear needs.
Thorium was first discovered by Swedish scientist Jons Jakob Berzelius in 1828 thus making it the 90th element of the periodic table. Found mostly in rocks and soil, he named Thorium after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.
Why scientists want to protect ram setu?
India has more than thirty percent of the world thorium reserves. Thorium is a black mineral commonly found mixed with monazite ore. In India, most of the thorium deposits lie on the coastal regions very close to the site of bridge constructed by lord ram. This has encouraged Indian scientists to join Hindu activists and environmentalist against the government plan to dredge ram setu.
Rising oil prices and strict nuclear treaty with other countries has forced India to develop a nuclear reactor of its own to meet its future nuclear needs. We have sufficient thorium reserves to meet the need of at least three centuries.
Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam reiterated its position of capitalizing on vast thorium reserves. “The thrust is on becoming self-reliant in thorium fuel-based reactors. He said work is in progress and should be completed within six to seven years.” he said.
Geologist believes the ongoing sethusamudram project could exploit half of India’s thorium deposits, mostly along the site of ram setu. On the government proposed move to dredge ram setu, R.R. Gopala-Krishnan, former director of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) complained “Why has no study of ocean currents been done at the site of the Sethusamudram project? You need four things to get this kind of rich, heavy mineral deposit on your beaches: source rocks in the country, rivers to break them down and take the rock pieces to the ocean, the right ocean currents and the perfect deposition belt. We will not be able to hold on to the thorium and titanium in these sands. We need both of these for our nuclear and space programmes. These resources cannot be risked at any cost”
“The bridge stops ocean waves from crossing the Gulf of Mannar, thus causing the deposits to stay ashore”, said S. Kalyanaraman, an independent scientist based in Chennai.
Scientist and experts says “Save Ram setu”
“Ocean currents have been depositing minerals on India’s southern coastline because of the Ram Sethu. These incoming waves rebound in a wide arc around Sri Lanka in a churning motion, and heavy minerals are flung out with the waves and deposited on the southern shores of India. This makes the Adam’s Bridge strategically important for India. We at least need to study the ocean currents and make sure our resources are not affected” said Kalyanaraman.
Even if the thorium is mined off from these coasts, it is very highly probable that thorium will be formed again by the rising sea waves and ocean currents.
Why thorium is important for India?
Till Today, most of the country need is powered by uranium, which is not readily available in India and has to be dependent on nations like US and Australia for its uranium needs. This need has further been impacted by US demand of India signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to import uranium from other countries. When prime minister addressed the nation for the importance of signing the non-proliferation treaty to fulfill it needs of 100 tonnes of uranium then many scientists including APJ abdul kalam stressed openly to make India create its own nuclear reactor instead of placing a begging bowl to USA and other NSG countries to acquire uranium for our nuclear reactor
Main source of thorium would be monazite which is found not only in the coastal regions but also in the inland regions of Ranchi, Gujarat, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Continuous increases in petroleum and coal prices in recent years have raised the price of electricity generation. Currently, coal is used for 68% of the electricity production. Not only coal contributes to pollution, it is also limited and by the current utilization rate, our coal reserves would be extinct by the end of the century since our per capita electricity consumption is expected to double to reach 5000-6000 kWh by 2050.In such a situation, thorium based nuclear reactor is like a boon for developing country like India where more than 30 % of the population lives below poverty line. Using thorium as a nuclear reactor, India plans to increase its share of nuclear electricity from 3 % in 2010 to 25% by 2050. Thorium will soon replace uranium as an ultra sage and ultra cheap nuclear fuel. Not only it is abundantly available in earth crust but also is 200 times the energy density.
Not only India can meet his energy demands for the next few centuries using thorium resources in fast-breeder reactors but also has the potential to increase their GDP by exporting thorium-based fast breeder nuclear reactors to other nations, especially developing nations in the Middle East, Africa and East Asia. Since the Indian nuclear reactors are cheap, safer, and very competitive, many countries would be eager to trade with India.
Abundant thorium reserves of India
Thorium is a very common element in nature. Thorium is generally very well distributed, occurring at 10 parts per million roughly homogeneously throughout the crust. Given the vast deposit of thorium in Rama Setu, Rameshwaram is said to be the richest coast of the world.
Monazite is reddish-brown phosphate sand found in granites, sand stones and igneous rocks but the richest concentration are in places concentrated by sea waves and ocean currents like the east and west coast of India.
Two third of the world total monazite reserves of 12 million tones are in heavy sands deposits of the east and south coasts of India. Quite often, they are mixed with other minerals like rutile, ilmenite, and zircon, as they are in India, South Africa, Australia, and USA. This means depending upon the varying percentage of thorium in these sand complexes, Indian thorium reserves constitute 30% of world's thorium reserves.
TABLE-1: Statewise Reserves of Ilmenite and other associated Heavy Minerals
| Zone|| State|| Av. Total Heavy Mineral (%)|| Reserves in Million Tonnes|| |
|| || || Ilmenite|| Rutile|| Zircon|| Monazite|| Garnet|| Sillimanite|| |
Eastern|| Orissa & Andhra Pradesh|| 10-35|| 111|| 3.98|| 4.93|| 2.64|| 63.91|| 51.25|
Tamil Nadu|| Tamil Nadu|| 7-39|| 87|| 4.46|| 7.63|| 1.34|| 21.52|| 18.78|
Kerala|| Kerala|| 7-64|| 75|| 4.85|| 5.22|| 1.13|| 0.97|| 12.09|
Others|| Maharashtra, Bihar & Bengal|| -|| 5|| 0.20|| 0.47|| 1.44|| -|| 1.74|
World thorium reserves 2010 estimate
United States|| 440,000|
South Africa|| 35,000|
Other Countries|| 90,000|
World Total|| 1,660,00|
Is thorium based Reactor safe?
Thorium is a very stable element. Radioactive waste generated by thorium is considerably less compared to uranium. Thorium is considerably very less radioactive than conventional fuel uranium.
India recently demonstrated world's first prototype of thorium based safe reactor. Calling it as safe is still in controversial; India believes it to be a safer fuel. "The basic physics and engineering of the thorium-fuelled Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) are in place, and the design is ready," said Ratan Sinha
When asked about the impact of thorium on environment then Sinha said, “Mining of beach sand for monazite does not spoil the beach as after ore is removed, the balance sand is returned. Use of thorium blanket is already functional in Kalpakkam nuclear power plant. This fast breeder reactor allows plutonium to be used for dual purpose, first as a nuclear fuel for another reactor; and as a nuclear-tipped weapon for strategic security of the nation.”
Mining of monazite ore
What Indian experts say about thorium nuclear plant?
Since few decades, Scientists have been actively regarded thorium as the answer of India rising nuclear requirements. They repeatedly asked for funds to develop a technology which will make India a self-sufficient nuclear nation.
According to P.K. Iyengar, former chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission and a close associate of Homi Bhabha(father of India’s atomic programme), India can address its nuclear needs with thorium. In the meantime till the technology is ready to convert thorium to uranium, we can extract uranium from mining ore in Andhra Pradesh and nagaland which has at least 100 tonnes of uranium. Iyenger believes in self-reliance instead of signing a deal with US, similar to Non-Proliferation Treaty. Thanks to the nuclear ban imposed by other countries, Indira Gandhi envisioned creating its own nuclear reactor at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam which is functioning since the last 27 years. This site has been converted to a fast breeder reactor with a vision of extracting uranium from thorium which will generate 500MW of electricity. When bombarded with a neutron, fission between plutonium and uranium generate a huge amount of light and heat which is used to generate electricity.
Iyengar claims the Indian scientist found out the way to create uranium and plutonium out of thorium. Adding to this, Sandeep Saxena, expert from Nuclear Power Corp. of India said “No other country in the world has managed to create a prototype to make this kind of reactor so far.”
In an email interview, Ex-scientist cum President Kalam said. “The country has got the capability to realize power through thorium-based reactors within five-seven years. We should continue our R&D and ensure that we are self-reliant in nuclear fuel for power generation.” Kalam also said “India also has the technology to extract thorium from the sand. There are three extraction plants in Kerala and another one is being set up in Orissa. But first they must secure thorium, a process that has grown thornier as its value and properties become more apparent.”
Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, former Atomic Energy Research Bureau (AERB) chief said
"Thorium is a core of Bhabha future plans which the government does not seem to be serious of but the former PM Jawaharlal Nehru was very disturbed on thorium being shipped off to France before Indian independence. May be French realized the potential of thorium back then.”
Ram setu-World’s most ancient man made structure
Advantage of thorium based reactor
Thorium is more abundant in nature than uranium. It is fertile rather than fissile, and can be used in conjunction with fissile material as nuclear fuel. Thorium fuels can breed fissile uranium-233.
Extracting thorium from monazite involves a complex process of leaching it with sodium hydroxide at 140°C followed by few processes to precipitate pure thorium.
How thorium reactor works
One more advantage of this reactor is that it would produce about 6, 00,000 liters of desalinated water an day, which is sufficient to provide mineral water to whole staff. SC Chetal, director of IGCAR, said “Thorium is rated as a clean fuel because of its low radio-toxicity. The long term sustainability of the indigenous nuclear power programme in India depends to a great extent on large-scale utilisation of the vast thorium resources for breeding uranium and recycling the same in self-sustaining closed fuel cycle in thermal breeder reactors.
Compared to uranium, Thorium reserves available on Indian shores are safe unless not smuggled since thorium is available in nature in a single isotopic form - Th-232 - which decays very slowly. Hence it would not evaporate or would disappear as its half life is three times the age of earth.
India is ahead in thorium based reactor
Many countries like France, china and Japan has been lobbying since decades to create a nuclear reactor for successfully transforming thorium into uranium. But scientist of Bhabha atomic research centre (BARC) made it possible in three stages. First stage was the heavy water reactor that uses uranium as a fuel. Right now, India has 17 such reactors. Second stage was involvement of fast breeder reactors, two of which are operational in kalpakkam and the third one in Gujarat. These fast breeder reactors use mixture of plutonium and uranium (70:30) as a fuel. Stage 3 represents thorium-based breeder reactors which will use thorium as a fuel to breed to fissionable uranium. Kakrapar nuclear reactor of Gujarat has already started using thorium instead of depleted uranium to achieve power flattening across the reactor core.
India has an advantage here because thorium reserves of India are easily accessible compared to reserves of other countries. Thorium is readily available in India whereas in other nations, reserves are embedded in rocks which would require elaborate processes to filter out thorium. One kg of thorium will be filtered from one ton of rock material by such nations.
India recently demonstrated world's first prototype of thorium based safe reactor.
Progress of thorium nuclear plant
With more and more countries eyeing thorium based safe nuclear reactors; India needs to safeguard its vast thorium reserves by banning the export from its reserves.
1947- Disturbed by the incident of thorium smuggled to France, Jawaharlal Nehru decided to ban thorium export.
Illegal mining of monazite ore in British era
1948- Jawaharlal Nehru immediately formed Department of Atomic Energy and his one of the first decisions was to ban export of thorium.
1955-A new company called IREL was setup to extract uranium and thorium from monazite based on the technology provided by the Societe des Products Chemiques des Terres Rares (now Rhodia Inc). This company was also given the task of setting up a thorium plant to convert concentrated thorium to pure thorium nitrate, and chemical used in gas mantle making. Till1998, IREL supplied thorium nitrate to various gas mantle industries and nuclear research based organizations from this plant. In 1998, this plant was closed s it has outlived its life
1980- Thanks to the nuclear ban imposed by other countries, Indira Gandhi envisioned creating its own nuclear reactor at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam.
In 2007, Minister of Science & Technology Prithviraj Chavan announced that India has extracted 30,000 tons of thorium for the third stage of the nuclear power plant
On 2-December, 2009, Prithviraj Chouhan, said “Complete replacement of uranium by thorium in existing Indian Reactors is not feasible without a major change in design. However, thorium has been used in a few bundles of Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors earlier. Large scale use of thorium is planned in the 3rd stage of the Indian Nuclear Power Programme.”
In July 2012, R K Sinha , chairman of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) said “the only problem with Thorium is that it can't be used directly as a fuel and it has got its own limitations too. This is the reason why the AEC is working hard to develop the next generation reactors that can use thorium as a fuel.”He further stated the importance of such reactor has one of the largest thorium reserves; about 0.63 million tones and that too of good quality. So it makes sense to have such reactors that consume 12 tonnes of thorium annually to generate 300 MW of electricity.”
What Foreigners says about India thorium nuclear plant
Strong supporter of thorium reactor, Baroness Worthington of Weinberg Foundation said "Given India's abundant supply of thorium it makes sense for them to develop thorium reactors."
Estimated 2,25,000 reserves of thorium in beaches of Kerala and Orissa
Angela Saini, in an article for Huffington Post said “no story quite captures India's remarkable power to think long-term quite like that of thorium. Quietly researching this fuel for decades, Indian scientists have waited for just the right moment to build their first thorium-powered nuclear reactor. If the rest of the world believes India to be a sleeping elephant that is finally rising, then this tale reveals just how much more there will be to see when the elephant is fully awake.”
Kieran Ball, a UK-based journalist, expects India to become a world leader in safer form of nuclear leader. According to her, advantages of thorium outweigh all the traditional nuclear field, the only disadvantage is the high cost involved in creating a reactor that would convert thorium into uranium. With more and more countries getting rid of their uranium power plants after the nuclear incident in Fukushima last year, India is likely to become the world leader in safer generation of electricity.
Australian expert on nuclear weapons, Marko Beljac said “The fast breeder reactor is a special reactor. While the idea behind the fast breeder is to produce more fissionable material than is consumed, the challenge is to be able to control the chain reaction”.
Now you may question “Why the hell world is still using uranium?” Well the answer is nuclear reactor was formulated to create nuclear weapons and not to generate electricity. Plutonium is needed to create nuclear weapons and since thorium reactor does not produce plutonium, many nuclear hungry nations are reluctant to use thorium.”
In spite of various scientists lobbying on thorium reserves and urging the government to call off the proposed setu samudram project, Centre is still reluctant to do so. This project is aimed at benefitting the primary companies interested in shipping off the country thorium reserves to other countries. VHP claims this project to be a big scam for illegal mining of thorium reserves. Despite of stiff opposition from environmentalist, geologists, scientists and social activists, government decision of not backing off from setu samudram project seems to be very fishy and a big scam. To dig out more, we will see the politics behind ram setu movement in next article.