Molybdenum mining in India stuck owing to policy issues

India’s plans to tap into the Molybdenum reserves in Tamil Nadu are stuck owing to the lack of a national policy regarding the mineral’s royalty and average sale price, even as the country continues to meet its domestic demand through imports.

India’s import for the refractory material used in making missile and aircraft parts; and in nuclear industry has been 5,572 tonnes in 2013-14 and the imports were mainly from Chile, the US, Thailand and Mexico. According to the Mineral Exploration Corporation Limited’s (MECL) estimates India’s molybdenum ore are about 19.29 million tonnes. Out of these Tamil Nadu has the biggest deposits of about 9.97 million tonnes molybdenum ore, followed by 8 million tonnes in Madhya Pradesh and 1.32 million tonnes in Karnataka.

Tamil Nadu has three blocks where Molybdenum occurs as molybdenite and has been planning to auction these mines for the first time in the mining history of the country. However, it is stuck as the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) has not determined the royalty of the mineral and its average sale price as of now. The molybdenum reserves were found for the first time in Harur Taluk, Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu in 1995.

The national average sale price is used by the state government as the base price for starting the auction. Since it is the first time a molybdenum mine is to be auctioned the average sale price is not available. Also the royalty rates are required, so that the bidders can make calculations to check if mining is profitable for him or not.

The global prediction is that the quest for green energy will fuel the demand for molybdenum as massive amounts of the mineral will be required for nuclear power reactors to strengthen the steel alloys used in the construction of the nuclear power plant. Molybdenum is primarily used in steel industry and its steel allows are capable of withstanding higher temperature and are also corrosion resistant. These two factors are important for nuclear reactors. So according to rough estimations, each of the new reactor will need at least 400,000 pounds of molybdenum for tubing.

With India aiming to construct over 20 nuclear reactors in the coming decades, the importance of securing internal sources of molybdenum cannot be stressed further. However, the government is yet to give the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) the not to exploit the reserves as yet. Not only will this specialty steel used for construction of new nuclear power plants, it is important for refurbishing the old facilities.

“Government of India is aware of the fact that 10.98 million tonnes of resources of Molybdenum Ore is located in Tamil Nadu. However, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has not taken up any project for exploitation of Molybdenum available near Harur Taluk, Dharmapuri District in Tamil Nadu,” the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh told Indian Parliament in the recently concluded Monsoon session.

The incumbent Indian Government has been planning to bring nuclear power plants to North India and the lack of freshwater would mean increased use of salty water. This would require corrosion resistant steel alloy with higher content of molybdenum.

Molybdenum is important not only for nuclear reactors, but for other renewable energy sectors. It is used in oil pipelines, new thin-film solar panels and in wind turbines. In case of oil pipelines, 2.6 million pounds of molybdenum is required for every 1,000 miles of pipe.