Sushant Singh explains the context and significance of the uranium supply deal that was signed Wednesday following talks between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Stephen Harper
What are the basics of the Modi-Harper uranium supply deal?
It is worth $ 350 million. Canada’s largest uranium producer, Cameco Corp, will supply 3,220 metric tonnes of uranium concentrate for Indian nuclear power reactors over five years, beginning this year. Cameco Corp, based in Saskatchewan in the Canadian prairie, produces, according to the company’s web site, about 16 per cent of the world’s uranium.
Why is this deal significant?
It comes at the end of two years of protracted negotiations that followed the 2013 civil nuclear deal between the countries. Canada, among the world’s largest producers of uranium, played a key role in India’s nuclear evolution, having supplied the first Indian reactor CIRUS in 1954. The exports of uranium and nuclear hardware to India were, however, stopped after New Delhi used Canadian technology to carry out a peaceful nuclear test in 1974.
Does India have uranium deals with other countries too?
Yes. With Kazakhstan and Australia. It imports around 40 per cent of its requirement — between 2008 and 2014, imports of uranium totalled 4,458 metric tonnes, 2,058 MT of which came from Russia’s Tvel Corporation, 2,100 MT from NAC Kazatomprom of Kazakhstan, and 300 MT from Areva of France.
Why does India need uranium?
India has 21 operational nuclear reactors and six under construction, which use uranium as fuel. The nuclear component of India’s energy production is currently under 3 per cent at 6,000 MW. By 2032, India expects to have 45,000 MW of nuclear capacity, provided it has assured uranium fuel supplies. At a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described uranium as “not just a mineral but an article of faith (for India), and an effort to save the world from climate change”.
Is uranium concentrate used directly in reactors?
No. Uranium is a naturally-occurring element in the earth’s crust, and mining takes place in locations where it is naturally concentrated. To make nuclear fuel, uranium extracted from mines is first stored as uranium oxide concentrate — a bright yellow substance sometimes referred to as ‘yellow cake’ — which is then enriched into uranium-235 isotope, before being made into pellets that are loaded into the nuclear fuel assembly.
How much uranium does India produce?
The government does not release data on local uranium production, but it is estimated to be around 350-400 MT. Total Indian reserves are estimated at 181,600 MT, mainly in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Meghalaya.