With the department of atomic energy (DAE) submitting a list of around 70 atomic mineral blocks, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala may shortly auction these deposits containing rare earth elements such as monazite.
The plan is an integral part of the National Democratic Alliance government’s strategy for India’s resource security, wherein the respective state governments will bid out blocks which contains monazite below the threshold value.
The ministry of mines on 18 July notified the Atomic Minerals Concession Rules, 2016, allowing for auction of specific mineral deposits such as monazite, ilmenite and rutile, which are not used for atomic energy production, but have high economic value.
“We have received a communication from DAE that it has identified around 70 blocks spread over an area of 1,400 sq. km along the country’s coastline, which can be auctioned by the states,” said a senior government official on condition of anonymity.
These blocks are located in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, he added.
InfraCircle on 18 August reported about the mines ministry seeking help from DAE in demarcating areas containing specific atomic mineral deposits.
Rare earth elements are used in modern technological devices such as smartphones, solar panels, wind mills and hybrid car components, with China having a monopoly in rare earth element production.
A second government official, who did not want to be named, said the states will now be asked to expedite the auction process of these mineral blocks.
According to information available on the ministry of mines website, beach sand minerals are considered as economic heavy minerals and include ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet, monazite, leucoxene and sillimanite. Most of these minerals are found together, with their individual contents varying from deposit to deposit.
Experts believe that India is well-positioned in terms of rare earths and there will be interest among investors for these deposits.
“In case of rare earths, a degree of certainty in terms of reserves will be key for beach sand mining even though there are limited number of entities in this segment and huge capital is required for sand processing,” said Dipesh Dipu, partner at Jenissi Management Consultants, a Hyderabad-based energy and resources sector consulting firm.
After China, India has good reserves of rare earths in sandy beaches, which can be harnessed for local consumption as well as for supplies to other countries, Dipu added.
Queries emailed to the ministry of mines and DAE on 22 August remained unanswered. The state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala couldn’t be immediately contacted.
As per the National Mineral Exploration Policy 2016, the government reserves beach sand mine deposits, containing more than 0.75% monazite in the total heavy minerals, for state-owned companies. At present, concessions for atomic minerals are awarded by DAE and related agencies.