The topic of Uranium, a chemical element used for its nuclear fuel has been popping up in Nepal these days.
Since many people associate Uranium with radioactivity and nuclear weapons it is expected and common to question the association of such an element with Nepal. There are some common misconceptions to clear about Uranium. And instead, explore the potential it holds for Nepal.
What is Uranium?
Uranium is a silvery-grey metal found in the form of rocks underground. People may think it’s dangerous but it is safe to touch.
The skin can block the alpha particles it emits. But, it is safe enough to do so, only in its natural state. We eat Uranium which is on root vegetables like potatoes. Yet, this does not mean the Uranium found in Nepal is eatable. It is dangerous when inhaled or eaten in large quantities.
Uranium has its positive uses and its negative. Highly enriched Uranium is what’s used for fuel. HEU is also not as dangerous to touch but what makes it one of the world’s most dangerous substances is the power it serves to build a nuclear bomb. HEU is harder to detect and hence easier to smuggle. But, lower enriched Uranium has very productive uses like generating electricity.
Uranium In Nepal!
Uranium was first discovered in Nepal back in 2016. The large deposit of Uranium was found in the upper region of Mustang spread over a region 10km long and 3km wide. This finding was confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Preliminary research, confirmed by them had also suggested that the uranium deposit in Upper Mustang could be “of the highest grade.” However, there was no law governing uranium extraction or nuclear technology use in Nepal.
In the absence of such legislation, the government had no means to carry out extraction activities, which can be exorbitantly expensive to undertake.
Hence, they had a hasty push towards endorsing the “nuclear bill” in the parliament.
Proponents cite this gap as their motivation for endorsing the bill. For example, Nepal cannot import any nuclear-related technology necessary for treating cancer patients or to buy technology for nuclear power. The bill allows uranium mining, enrichment and all cycles of the nuclear fuel cycle, import, and export of uranium, plutonium, and its isotopes. It also grants Nepal as a transit for storage of the nuclear and radioactive substances.
Unfortunately, the rushed bill and the idea of uranium mining, in general, were met with doubt and suspicion, and fear. This was also because the bill was made in a gif, without any public discussion on a matter of such hazardous consequence to the labor, the people, and even surrounding countries.
Uranium enrichment is dangerous working. The Nuclear Research Reactor that will be allowed to establish is a green flag for uranium mining which could easily fall into the wrong hands. The economic value for thee is also heavy.
On the other hand, Nepal had attended a virtual interaction organized by the Nepal Russian Science Society. Experts had drawn attention that Nepal was lacking seriousness in managing the deposits. They expressed ways the society and the economy could benefit from proper actions. They also warned about the safety of the miners who would be exposed to harsh emission from all the mining and enrichment.
Although there were many spurs around the Uranium deposit when it got recently discovered, there hasn’t been any major news since. And the construction of nuclear factories has also definitely been done.
The latest news about radioactive materials in Nepal was when 4 people got arrested for trying to sell uranium in late March. This case is the first of its kind, and Nepal Police is investigating it under The Explosives Act 2018. The confiscated uranium was brought in straight by a mine in India, so it is not highly radioactive and life-threatening.