KATHMANDU, June 10 (Xinhua) -- A team from the Department of Mines and Geology (DoMG) has found a large deposit of uranium in Upper Mustang in Nepal, which borders China, when carrying out a ground radiometric survey for the material in the region.
The survey included geological mapping and collecting rock chip samples for lab tests from a 100 square km area in the Himalayan region.
"We can confirm the presence of uranium in the region but we cannot assess the quantity or the grade of the deposit," Sarabjeet Prasad Mahato, director general of the Department of Geology and Mines, told Xinhua on Tuesday.
Mahato added that the department will need additional time to come up with its final conclusion about the quality of uranium as they are still in the exploration phase.
Uranium is a metallic chemical element that is extremely energy dense, and is the only commercially available fuel source for nuclear power plants. According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear energy is used to generate around 11 percent of the world' s electricity.
"Nepal could contribute a share of the uranium used in the peaceful nuclear industry worldwide," Mahato said, adding the energy scenario in the country could change over the next decade.
From an economic viewpoint, extracting uranium and assessing its quality is extremely costly. Experts said that a country like Nepal would need support from the government and the technological know-how from international agencies.
Nepal has geared up to survey for uranium mines in its remote mountainous north more than two decades after preliminary studies suggested the mineral is present in 25 locations across the country.
It took long to get the project rolling as Nepal lacked a testing laboratory as well as skilled manpower to inspect the country in search of the radio-active mineral.
"The International Atomic Energy Agency is supporting Nepal since 2008 and we have recently been able to start setting up a nuclear research center at Tribhuvan University," Dr. Binil Aryal, head of the Department of Physics at Tribhuvan University, said in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.
According to Aryal, uranium has become a political issue in Nepal with the government still very cautious about its extraction and commercialization.
"Limited research has been carried out in several Himalayan ranges not only because of lack of infrastructures but also due to the government secrecy regarding uranium deposits in our country. Every political party seems highly sensitive about this issue," Aryal said.
The discovery of uranium in Tinbhangale of Makwanpur district in Nepal, for example, has been a source of controversy for residents who migrated to the area since the mid-60s. Although the link between exposure to uranium and higher incidents of cancer and other diseases in the region has not been proved yet, the experts said there is a connection.
Nepal currently has no nuclear plants where uranium could be used.