Meghalaya police check if they have seized uranium

May 3rd, 2008 - 5:39 pm ICT by admin  

Shillong, May 3 (IANS) The Meghalaya police Saturday said they were investigating if the powdery substance seized here earlier this week was actually enriched uranium. Five people were arrested by the police for allegedly possessing a kilogram of a powdery substance suspected to be uranium which they tried to sell for a whopping Rs.2.6 million.

A police spokesman said they seized packets from four youths late Thursday with the packets bearing a printed inscription of the Indian Atomic Energy Department (IAED).

“On specific information that the youths were in possession of some suspicious powdery substance, a team of police personnel disguised as customers struck a deal for buying the uranium at a price of Rs.2.6 million,” senior police official Vivek Syiem said.

One more youth was arrested later and the five were booked under the Explosives Act and remanded to seven days’ police custody.

“We are not sure what the powdery substance is. We have sent the packet for forensic examination to ascertain if it is uranium or something else,” the official said.

Police officials are in touch with the atomic energy officials based in Shillong.

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

IAED officials in Shillong were not immediately available for comment.

Police arrested two youths last year in Assam’s main city of Guwahati with a similar consignment with almost the same inscriptions like the seizure made Thursday.

According to surveys by IAED, there could be up to 375,000 tonnes of uranium in Meghalaya’s Domiasiat area - by far the largest and richest sandstone-type 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 Ltd (UCIL) was forced to wind up mining in the mid-1990s following violent opposition from villagers and other pressure groups in Meghalaya who alleged emission of radioactive uranium was posing serious health hazards.

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

Meanwhile, union Power Minister Jairam Ramesh, currently on a visit to Meghalaya and Assam, said India had only half the nuclear fuel it needed, a situation that might severely affect its power projects.

“The shortage has become a life and death issue for India and the power projects cannot expand. If uranium is mined in Meghalaya it would help the country to fight this shortage,” the minister told journalists in Guwahati Saturday.

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