Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dateline: 600 Feet Below Ground Somewhere in India

Several years ago, after safely returning to the surface from my 5th reporting visit to the coal-mines of Eastern Europe, I decided that as far as the mining industry is concerned I had very much "been there, done that". Unlike the poor men who have little alternative but to grind out a living down some of the deadliest pits in the world, I was there by choice. And from then on, I chose not to return to some of the most cramped and potentially deadly working environments on the planet.

So, it was with some trepidation that I travelled to Jadaguda, 900 miles south-east of Delhi, at the invitation of the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL).

It's the operator of India's uranium mines - and the folks at UCIL were good enough to allow us to record a significant chunk of "Beyond Fear" 600 feet below ground in one of their mining complexes.

Never having visited a uranium mine, I wasn't sure what to expect. It's not like a coal-mine at all: you can't actually see the uranium, which has to be detected through various radiation tests before the mining engineers can be told where to deploy their drills.

Once deployed, they mine around 2500 tons of rock from the cavernous, spacious tunnels that have been dug in the ground here. That rock is then pulverised; the powdered rock is turned into a slurry; and it's from that slurry that the uranium is derived.

Ramdendra Gupta, the head of UCIL, used to work in India's deepest gold mine. He transitioned to the uranium industry because, he says, it has "growth potential."

It certainly does. As India's population grows and its economy rises, the country has a desperate need for new sources of power. Currently, the country's nuclear power stations only supply 3 per cent of India's electricity. Mr. Gupta wants to see that figure rise seven-fold.

The Bush administration wants to help him get his way.

The proposed US-India nuclear agreement will permit co-operation with India's civil nuclear program, and allow the country to import supplies of uranium, even though it's one of only 4 states that fails to honor the Non Proliferation Treaty. (North Korea, Pakistan and Israel are the other three).

Critics of the deal say it will doom the global non-proliferation regime, and that the US is being inconsistent by permitting India to develop its nuclear program - both civil, and military - while insisting North Korea and Iran cannot develop theirs.

Indian officials tell us their country's democratic fiber is strong, and that as a rapidly-rising power in the region, they both need a nuclear program, and can be trusted with them. The redoubtable Mr. Gupta also points out that UCIL has been mining uranium here since the 1960s, and that India's nuclear program will continue whether the deal with the US goes ahead or not.

You'll hear more of his views in "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain Role" - the first American radio program to have been recorded, in part, down an Indian uranium mine.

--Simon Marks

1 comment:

Aryavrat said...

Good article but some Corrections.

"it's one of only 4 states that fails to honor the Non Proliferation Treaty"

India never signed NPT.

You don't expect a country to honor an agreement which it never signed.

Let me explain this to you in a more simple way, so it gets to your head:
Would you say, USA failed to honor CTBT, because it never ratified it?

Thank you.