Five arrested in Meghalaya on charges of smuggling uranium

September 11th, 2008 - 1:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Shillong, Sep 11 (IANS) Five people in Meghalaya, including a tribal village headman, have been arrested on charges of smuggling uranium. A police spokesperson said the arrests were made Wednesday after a packet containing some powdery substance was found with a village headman at Mairang in West Khasi Hills district, about 40 km from here.

The packet bore a printed inscription of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Samples of the seized packet have been sent for laboratory tests.

“We seized the packet from the possession of the village headman and took him to custody and later arrested four other people in the same case,” said district police chief M. Kharkrang.

“We are on the lookout for some more people,” he added.

Police are in touch with DAE officials based in Shillong.

“If the forensic results prove that the powdery substance is enriched uranium and stolen from the DAE then it is a very serious matter,” another senior police official investigating the case said.

DAE officials in Shillong were not immediately available for comment.

In May, five people were arrested for allegedly possessing a kilogram of uranium which they tried to sell at a whopping Rs.2.6 million with almost the same inscriptions like the packet seized Tuesday.

According to DAE surveys, there could be up to 375,000 tonnes of uranium in Meghalaya’s Domiasiat area - by far the largest deposits available in the country.

The ores are spread over a mountainous terrain in deposits varying from eight to 47 metres from the surface in and around Domiasiat, 135 km west of Shillong. After initial operations, the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) was forced to wind up mining in the mid-1990s following violent opposition from villagers and other pressure groups who alleged that the emission of radioactive uranium was posing serious health hazards.

Uranium is an important mineral ore for the nuclear industry, with experts saying the untapped reserve at Domiasiat could be a potential resource for India’s nuclear programme.

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