Indian Rare Earths Limited

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Last Updated: September 1, 2003
Other Name: IREL
Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra
Subordinate To: Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)
Size: 8 facilities
Facility Status: Operational

The Department of Atomic Energy's (DAE) public sector endeavor, Indian Rare Earth Limited (IREL), is engaged in the mining and processing of mineral sands containing titanium, zirconium, thorium, and other elements. IREL was incorporated in 1950 under the joint ownership of Travancore and the Government of India. In 1963, the entire company was nationalized under the DAE. IREL's three mineral sand separation plants at Manvalkurichi (Tamil Nadu), Chavara (Kerala), and OSCOM-Chhatrapur (Orissa) produce "industrial metals, namely ilmenite, rutile, monazite, zircon, sillimanite, and garnet." These industrial metals are further processed yielding elements used in the nuclear fuel cycle. Zircon is processed into zirconium for India's nuclear program, eventually used as a neutron absorber in nuclear reactors. Ilmenite and rutile both yield titanium, while monazite contains thorium and cerium. IREL also manufactures other rare earth products such as rare earth chloride and thorium hydroxide. A value addition plant at the OSCOM site produces synthetic rutile, and the Microzir Plant at Chavara produces fine zircon powder used in the ceramic industry. At IREL's Manavalakurichi Plant, "zircon is chemically treated to zircon frit which is supplied to the Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad for further processing."

At the Alwaye facility, the Rare Earths plant produces earth chlorides, while the Rare Earths Division (RED) of IREL processes monazite for the separation of thorium concentrate among others. Following the monazite separation process, some of the thorium concentrate produced by RED is sent to the Thorium Plant of OSCOM for production of mantle grade thorium nitrate. Thorium Hydroxide, which can be used as fuel for a future generation of thorium nuclear reactors, is also produced by IREL Thorium; it can be irradiated to form U-233, a fissile material almost as good as plutonium. Almost 100,000Mt of thorium is present in the monazite-rich sands of Kerala state, which the Rare Earths Plant in Alwaye converts into thorium cake. A "PRYNCE Plant" was established by RED at Alwaye for the production of "very pure neodymium oxide for making industrial magnets."

IREL Performance and Achievements

  • Total ilmenite production reached an all-time high of about 380,000 tons in fiscal year 1999-2000.
  • Total sales turnover during 1999-2000 reached approximately $47.8 million and foreign exchange earned through export sales reached approximately $17.4 million.
  • IREL signed a joint venture agreement with AUSTPAC Resources NL to put up a demonstration plant at OSCOM capable of producing 10,000 tons per year of high grade synthetic rutile using a new technology.
  • IREL will receive approximately $2.33 million from Egypt for the establishment of a mini-pilot plant for monazite processing.

Sources:
[1] Andrew Koch, "Selected Indian Nuclear Facilities," Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), 1999, www.nonproliferation.org.
[2] "Annual Report 2000-2001," Executive Summary, DAE (Government of India), www.dae.gov.in.
[3] "Indian Rare Earth Limited," Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), 4 February 2002, www.dae.gov.in.
[4] "Nuclear Fuel Cycle," Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), 31 January 2002, www.dae.gov.in.

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