Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 18:35 UK

India arrests for 'uranium theft'

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Photo by Anirban Roy
Local objections have stopped mining from officially starting

Police in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya say they have arrested five people on charges of smuggling uranium ore.

Only one packet of unprocessed uranium was found on them, but the police say the gang could have stolen more.

It is not clear how much ore the group had, or what it planned to do with it.

The arrests are at an embarrassing time for India, just days after the Nuclear Suppliers Group ended a ban on civilian nuclear trade with the country.

Indian officials had worked hard to persuade members of the group, which governs global trade in nuclear components, that its nuclear industry was in safe hands.

Uranium is the basic fuel for nuclear weapons, but it has to go through complex processes before it it is sufficiently enriched for use.


Police are not sure whether those detained were part of an organised global enterprise, or simply some amateurs, trying to make some quick money.

The seizure was made in the village of Mairang on Monday when police detained four people, including a village headman, for stealing a quantity of uranium.

A fifth man surrendered to the police on Tuesday after police carried out a search of the area.

"We seized a packet, just one packet, containing uranium ore from a village headman. It has the seal of India's Atomic Minerals Division, so we are taking this very seriously," said M Kharkrang, police superintendent of West Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya.

Mr Khakrang said they were looking for the son of an employee of the Atomic Minerals Division - , which looks after the country's uranium mines - who is alleged to have stolen the packet from Domiosiat.

"The young man is still absconding," he said.

In May this year, police in Meghalaya arrested five people for stealing uranium ore.

Others have been arrested in the past for trying to smuggle uranium out of the state.

"But we don't know yet whether this is an organised racket. It could well be and we may have not yet found the kingpins," Mr Khakrang said.

Proposed mines

Early in the 1990s, India's Atomic Minerals Division discovered huge deposits of uranium at Domiosiat and Wakkhaji in the West Khasi Hills.

The Indian government announced in January it wanted to open cast mine 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore annually in the area.

But mining has been unable to start so far because of objections from local tribes people who fear radiation contamination.

Officials say the proposed mines contain 16% of India's known uranium deposits.

India is desperate for enriched uranium to boost its nuclear power generation.

It recently signed a controversial accord with the US under which it will receive civilian nuclear fuel and technology. The deal now awaits approval from the US Congress.

Indian uranium decision condemned
03 Jan 08 |  South Asia
Tribes dig in to fight uranium
05 May 03 |  South Asia
India's nuclear muscle
11 Jan 03 |  South Asia
Indian state approves uranium mine
14 Nov 00 |  South Asia
India finds big new uranium deposits
05 Jan 00 |  South Asia

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific