Monitoring Uranium mining and milling using commercial observation satellites
2015 ESARDA Symposium, May 19-21, 2015, Manchester, United Kingdom
Lalitha Sundaresan, Visiting Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS
S. Chandrashekar, JRD Tata Chair Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS
Bhupendra Jasani, Visiting Professor, Department of War Studies, King’s College London and Adjunct Faculty, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS
Professor Lalitha Sundaresan presented a paper entitled “Monitoring Uranium mining and milling using commercial observation satellites” at the 2015 Symposium of the European Safeguards Research and Development Association (ESARDA) at Manchester, UK between May 19-21. The paper was a joint effort with Profs. S.Chandrashekar and Bhupendra Jasani.
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Abstract of the Paper
As several states have signed the Additional Protocol to their Safeguards Agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), they will need to declare their nuclear activities in considerable detail, including their operational and shut down uranium mines. This could significantly increase the burden on the resources of the IAEA in carrying out its safeguards procedures.
The IAEA could use space-based high-resolution panchromatic, multi-spectral and hyper-spectral sensors to verify some aspects of uranium mining and milling. Such techniques could reduce the overall costs. The availability of such data cost free on the Google Earth web site and commercially from various imagery providers makes it possible for analysts to make assessments concerning the nuclear fuel cycle activities of various countries of interest. The mining of uranium and its conversion through a milling process into U3O8 (yellow cake) is the first step of a complex conversion cycle that determines how the mined material will be used.
Our study discusses the possible use of satellite imagery for identifying and monitoring uranium mining and milling activities. In the study an attempt is made to answer the following questions:
- Can we identify uranium mines using openly available satellite imagery?
- Can we use various steps in uranium milling operations to identify such mills across the world?
- Are there other extraction processes that share similar features with those for uranium? If so, then are there any special features present or absent in the sequence of operations for their extraction that helps an analyst separate a uranium operation from other operations that share some or all of the features present in the extraction of uranium?
Based on empirically derived observables and signatures from satellite imagery for typical uranium extraction operations we have derived a decision making algorithm for determining whether a particular facility can be categorized as a uranium mill or whether it should be categorized as some other facility.The method has been used to look at some copper mills across several locations and have shown that the decision making algorithm does help us to separate out a uranium mill from a copper mill.