Tag Archives: Bhupendra Jasani

Discriminating Uranium and Copper mills using satellite imagery

Remote Sensing Applications: Society and Environment, 20 January 2017, pp. 27-35

Lalitha Sundaresan, S.Chandrashekar, Bhupendra Jasani

Identifying uranium mills from high resolution commercial satellite images has assumed significance in recent years because of non-proliferation concerns. Studies have shown that it is difficult to identify Uranium mills through remote sensing methods that use only spectral signatures. In this communication we suggest an approach that relies only on spatial signatures of the equipment used in the extraction process as an alternative. Since the extraction of Uranium and Copper have many similar features especially where Copper is extracted from low grade ore or from copper tailings, there could be ambiguity in identifying a Uranium mill from high resolution commercial satellite images. In this paper we suggest some improvements to the methodology outlined by us in our earlier work. In addition to the other features used to separate Uranium and Copper mills we bring in the dimensions of common equipment used in both processes as an additional dimension to improve the robustness of our classification. This technique is applicable only where the extraction is done in a mill and not where Uranium is extracted by in situ leaching methods.

To read the complete article click here

Monitoring Uranium Mining and Milling using Commercial Observation Satellites

ESARDA Bulletin, No. 53, December 2015, pp. 73-82.

Lalitha Sundaresan, Chandrashekar Srinivasan and Bhupendra Jasani

ESARDA Bulletin CoverAll the states that have signed the Additional Protocol to their Safeguards Agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will need to submit description and information specifying the location of their nuclear fuel cycle activities, including their operational and shut down uranium mines. While satellite imagery is useful for monitoring changes in the declared nuclear facilities, there has not been much discussion of using this imagery to monitor the early part of the nuclear fuel cycle namely uranium mining and milling. The availability of satellite 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 (yellowcake) is the first step of a complex conversion cycle that determines how the mined material will be used. Our study discusses the use of satellite imagery for identifying and monitoring uranium mining and milling activities.

To read the complete article click here

Strengthening Intelligence Gathering, Surveillance and Reconnaissance are of Vital Importance

National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)

International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)

Press Release – For Immediate Release

“Strengthening Intelligence Gathering, Surveillance and Reconnaissance are of Vital Importance”

The International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), a unique programme at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in IISc campus released four related reports on Small Satellites, Space War and Identification of Uranium Mill sites.

The four reports were released today by Dr Baldev Raj, Director of the NIAS and critiqued by Prof YS Rajan and Vice Admiral RN Ganesh. Introducing the reports, Prof Rajaram Nagappa highlighted the focus of them and their utmost importance to India’s national security. Dr Baldev Raj releasing the reports underlined the importance of the National Institute of Advanced Studies based in Bangalore but providing vital inputs and concrete recommendations to India’s security. He mentioned with pride that the NIAS is truly interdisciplinary and a cradle of good research work.

L to R (Dr. YS Rajan, Prof S. Chandrashekar, Prof Baldev Raj, Prof Rajaram Nagappa, Prof. Lalitha Sundaresan)

L to R: Dr. YS Rajan, Prof. S. Chandrashekar, Prof. Baldev Raj, Prof. Rajaram Nagappa, Prof. Lalitha Sundaresan

Dr Baldev Raj also reminded the primary objective of the NIAS founded by Dr Raja Ramanna and JRD Tata – in terms of engaging in a larger debate within and outside. “These reports are a part of that dialogue” underlined Dr Raj. He said, he has always always been fascinated by the ISSSP; he appreciated its scholars undertaking independent research work and also being successful in working together

The report titled “The Promise of Small Satellites for National Security,” authored by Prof Rajaram Nagappa provides a survey of small satellites that can be employed for military ISR requirements. The report also examines satellite and launch history of ISRO and concludes while ISRO has demonstrated technological capabilities, there is a lack of capacity in the country to meet the military space requirements. The report also carries a survey of small satellite launch vehicles and determines a launch vehicle capable of placing a small satellite of 350 kg mass in an orbit around 500 km can be configured using available rocket/missile stages in the country. The advantage of using readily available and flight-qualified stages is that the development time can be effectively reduced. For generating a faster turn around of the small satellite launch vehicle and satellites, increased industry involvement is essential.

Vice Admiral Ganesh commenting on the report said, “despite the constraints, the ISRO has gone ahead and undertaken a commendable job relating to both satellites and rockets.” According to him, the primary military requirement is for communications – imagery, surveillance, electronic warfare etc.

According to the report, one needs more frequent revisits, especially as mobile platforms like ships and other transport systems may have to be tracked.  As one would like to track such objects at night or under cloud cover conditions, one has to use optical imaging satellites as well as radar imaging satellites to get good imagery under all conditions. Electronic intelligence satellites (ELINTs) have antenna arrays to monitor electrical radiation from emitting sources. This will help in locating such sources (ships, radar stations and other such installations). The report also stresses the importance of technology. Nano-satellites in the mass range of 1-10 kg or micro-satellites in the mass range 10-100 kg or small satellites 100-1000 kg can be designed and employed for such applications. Small satellites will perhaps be more suited for the purpose of ELINT, optical and radar imaging to meet the 24×7 ISR requirements. A constellation of 15-18 satellites will be required. More satellites in the constellation can further reduce the time gap between revisits.

The second report titled “Space, War and Security: A Strategy for India” authored by Prof S Chandrashekar, presents a critical appraisal of Indian capabilities to monitor and use the space environment for various military tasks. These include Command & Control, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance as well as a number of other space functions such as navigation and weather services. It makes a strong case for a new strategy that integrates these components into a coherent national strategy that is relevant for the country at this point in time. The formulation and implementation of such a strategy will also need a significant enhancement in capabilities to build and launch satellites. These are identified in some detail. India also needs a significant augmentation of its ground based radar and optical tracking facilities in order to monitor the happenings in space on a real time basis. Finally the report addresses the need to re-organize and restructure our entire national security complex to be aligned to this new global reality.

Two more reports, titled “Identification of Uranium Mill sites from Open Source satellite Images” & “Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures” authored jointly by S. Chandrashekar, Lalitha Sundaresan &  Bhupendra Jassani focus on the use of openly available satellite imagery for the identification of Uranium mills.

Its authors explained “using a sample of known Uranium mills from across the world a set of keys has been derived. These keys link observables in the satellite image (Google Earth image) with equipment and materials related to the processing of Uranium ore. Based on these features and their sequencing in the process a step by step algorithm for the identification of a Uranium mill has been worked out.”

ISSSP Reports Release Function

National Institute of Advanced Studies

Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore-12

International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)

Reports Release Function


Promise of Small Satellites for National Security
Space, War and Security – A Strategy for India
Identification of Uranium Mill Sites from Open Source Satellite Images
Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016 at 4:15 pm, Lecture Hall, NIAS




4:00 – 4:15: Coffee/Tea
4:15 – 4:20: Welcome and Introduction of Reports by Prof. Rajaram Nagappa
4:20 – 4:30: Release of ISSSP Reports by Prof. Baldev Raj, Director, NIAS
4:30 – 5:00: ISSSP Reports: A Critique  by Vice Admiral R N Ganesh & Prof. Y S Rajan
5:00 – 5:30: Response by the Authors



Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures

Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures

Authors: S. Chandrashekar, Lalitha Sundaresan, Bhupendra Jassani

To read the complete report click here

To cite: S. Chandrashekar, Lalitha Sundaresan, Bhupendra Jassani. Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures. NIAS Report No. 35-2015. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, December 2015, available at http://isssp.in/estimating-uranium-mill-capacity-using-satellite-pictures/

Estimation of Uranium Mill SitesThe International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gathers and analyses safeguards relevant information about a State from:

  • a. information provided by the State party to the safeguards agreement;
  • b. safeguards activities conducted by the Agency on the ground;
  • c. open sources and third parties.

The IAEA’s analyses consists of validation of information provided by the States against information collected by the Agency under (b) and (c) including that obtained from commercial satellite imagery. Information may differ depending on whether it is acquired under a comprehensive safeguards agreement (CSA), CSA and under the Additional Protocol Agreement (APA) or that obtained on a voluntary basis.

Under the Additional Protocol Agreement, signatory states are required to provide IAEA inspectors information on all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle that include uranium mines, processing facilities, fuel fabrication & enrichment plants, nuclear waste sites as well as any other location where nuclear materials may be present. The IAEA Verification measures include on-site inspections, visits, and as well as ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

This has vastly increased the amount and type of information that States will have to provide to the IAEA. At the same time, the burden of verification has also vastly multiplied as far as the IAEA inspectors are concerned. The IAEA is therefore likely to find itself in a situation where physical verification of the declared nuclear facilities will become increasingly difficult.

Monitoring and evaluating undeclared facilities especially those related to the early parts of the nuclear fuel cycle such as uranium mining and milling also become a very important component of the verification activities. Development of newer methods and technologies that can strengthen verification protocols would therefore be very useful.

Though several studies have addressed the usefulness of satellite images for monitoring various parts of the nuclear fuel cycle4 not much work has been carried out to assess their utility for monitoring Uranium mining and milling operations.

While India is a declared nuclear weapon state the activities of her neighbours in the nuclear realm are shrouded in secrecy. This situation is often made more complicated by a lot of ambiguous information pouring in from a number of sources especially from the west. It is therefore difficult for a strategic analyst or policy researcher to make a meaningful assessment of the uranium production capacity of a country since there is very little reliable data.

Image processing specialists within the country have also not made any efforts to develop suitable algorithms that describe in detail how satellite images can be used to identify Uranium mines and mills. From a practical viewpoint there are at least two aspects of a mill operation that require attention from image analysts.

The first aspect is of course to clearly identify a mill site as a uranium mill site Several studies in the West have demonstrated that satellite images can be used to identify uranium mill sites at least to a limited extent. Building on this work, a more recent study used features associated with the various processes used for the extraction of Uranium that are visible in a satellite image for the identification of a Uranium Mill and this has been dealt exhaustively in an earlier NIAS report.

Once a mill has been identified as a Uranium Mill, it is also important to see whether methods can be developed to estimate the production capacity of such a mill. This report focuses on methods that can be used to estimate the production capacity of a Uranium mill after the mill has been identified as a Uranium producing mill. 

To read the complete report click here

Identification of Uranium Mill Sites From Open Source Satellite Images

Identification of Uranium Mill Sites From Open Source Satellite Images

Authors: S. Chandrashekar, Lalitha Sundaresan, Bhupendra Jassani

To read the complete report click here

To cite: S. Chandrashekar, Lalitha Sundaresan, Bhupendra Jassani. Identification of Uranium Mill Sites From Open Source Satellite Images. NIAS Report No. 34-2015. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, December 2015, available at http://isssp.in/identification-of-uranium-mill-sites-from-open-source-satellite-images/

Identifying Uranium Mill SitesOpenly available satellite imagery now provides a possible way to monitor nuclear fuel cycle activities. The early detection of new Uranium mining and milling operations and the routine monitoring of existing mines and mills using such imagery could make a valuable contribution to the oversight and monitoring function of organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

A review of the existing literature suggests that Uranium mines do not offer special spectral or spatial signatures that uniquely identify them in a satellite image. However the various processes involved in the conversion of Uranium ore into yellowcake, offers interesting possibilities for the use of satellite imagery.

A sample set of 13 mills across the world were selected for investigation. For each of the mill sites detailed process flow sheets were built up using information available in the public domain. Satellite imagery especially Google Earth (GE) Images were then studied to generate a set of interpretation keys. These keys link the operations in the mill sites to the observables in the satellite image. The shapes and sizes of the features seen and their position in the process chain provided a set of signatures that could be used to identify a Uranium mill.

Analysis of 13 Uranium mills across the world revealed the following:

  • The most commonly visible feature in the satellite image is the Counter Current Decantation (CCD)
    unit which is used to remove all suspended solids from the leached liquor.
  • The leaching operation which precedes the CCD operation provides a number of features that can be seen in the satellite image. These include leaching tanks, autoclaves, pug leaching setups, presence of smoke or steam emanating from buildings, chimneys of acid plants, chimneys linked to hot leaching, sulphur heaps, sulphur storage tanks or acid storage tanks. One or more of these features were observable in all 13 mills.
  • A solvent extraction or an ion exchange step or a Resin in Pulp step follows the CCD operation. While the ion exchange columns are easily identifiable in a satellite image, solvent extraction processes are not obvious. However, in some of the mills in our sample, repetitive patterns of buildings along with co-located solvent storage containers help to identify the solvent extraction process.
  • It is difficult to identify features that are unique to the last step of the extraction process-precipitation and drying. Wherever Ammonia is used as a precipitating agent ammonia tanks which have a characteristic shape provide a readily identifiable feature.

While the CCDs, leaching and ion exchange processes have clear spatial signatures, the other processes do not always provide robust signatures. Many other minerals such as Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Rare Earths (RE), Vanadium and Phosphorus may share similar extraction processes and provide similar signatures.

Our methodology for identifying a Uranium mill therefore had to be modified. If we could find features linked to the process steps in the extraction of these minerals that are different from the process steps of Uranium we would then be able to separate out Uranium mills from other mills that share some of the process steps.

Copper mills are the most likely candidates for mis-classification. The processing of copper tailings coming out of froth flotation or of low grade ores may exhibit the leaching – CCD – solvent extraction sequence that is seen in a Uranium mill. However the differentiating factor for the extraction of copper is that after solvent extraction it goes to an electro winning facility instead of a precipitation facility. The typical signature provided by an electro winning facility can therefore be used to separate out a Uranium mill from a copper mill.

Copper Tailings Plants are also often associated with large mainstream copper mills. Such copper mills are on an average four to five times larger in size. They also use froth flotation units and smelters that are easily identifiable in a satellite image. These can be further used as differentiators between copper and Uranium mills. Analysis of the Nchanga Copper Mill and some other copper mills confirms the logic of these discrimination features.

The application of this classification logic to the Olympic Dam Mill that produces copper with Uranium as a byproduct once again confirms the robustness of these discriminating features.
Zinc and Managanese may also use an acid leaching step – CCD – solvent extraction sequence as a part of their extraction process especially while processing the tailings. However, since the final operation will involve electro winning instead of the precipitation step which is characteristic of Uranium, such mills can also be differentiated from a Uranium mill. Scale, smelters and froth flotation units can also be used as additional discriminators.

The extraction of Rare Earths (RE) from RE containing ores also involves acid leaching. In the current scenario where RE concentration levels are on the higher side and made even higher through steps like froth flotation the absence of a CCD unit and the presence of multiple solvent extraction facilities should enable one to separate out a RE facility from a Uranium mill.

Mills that process ores containing both Uranium and Vanadium can be confused with a dedicated Uranium mill. However the presence of more than one solvent extraction sequence will enable one to separate out a combined Uranium Vanadium mill from a stand-alone Uranium mill.

Through the systematic application of this logic an image analyst will be able to identify a Uranium Mill as a Uranium Mill. By eliminating Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Rare Earths, Vanadium and Phosphorus extraction operations the probability that the CCD – Acid Leaching sequence that is seen in the satellite image is indeed Uranium is significantly enhanced. A decision tree created out of these empirical findings provides an easy-to-use algorithm for the identification of a Uranium mill from satellite imagery.

To read the complete report click here

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

esardaProfessor 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.

To read the complete paper click here

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:

  1. Can we identify uranium mines using openly available satellite imagery?
  2. Can we use various steps in uranium milling operations to identify such mills across the world?
  3. 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.

Commercialisation of Space: Opportunities and Challenges

Commercialisation of Space: Opportunities and Challenges, NIAS & Pentagon Press, 2014, ISBN 978-81-8274-800-2, pp.xxii+320, INR 2,295/-

Editors: Bhupendra Jasani and Ram Jakhu

Cover Front FINALWe are living in an era not only dominated but often driven by new and emerging technologies. Today, there is indeed no aspect of human life that is untouched by technologies in some form or another.

Space technology is a classic example of an emerging capability that has a multitude of applications in both civilian and military segments. In the area of global navigational systems, satellites perform multitudes of tasks while orbiting both near and far orbits round the Earth. While remote sensing satellites are used to map the Earth’s surface, communication satellites enable the successful operation of extensive global communications of various types. As the new capabilities bring in new opportunities, they also bring in their wake new challenges, particularly when the applications involve both commercial opportunities and security concerns.

The conference at King’s College London in which a group of experts, not only in remote sensing and communications satellite technologies but also in legal and ethical matters related to these capabilities, has been timely. It is hoped that this volume will give an informed basis to continue the debate on the opportunities and challenges relating to the commercialisation of space.

Table of Contents
Preface ix
Acknowledgements xi
About the Editors xiii
About the Contributors xv
List of Abbreviations  xvii
List of Figures and Tables xxi
Part I: Overview 3
Part II: Observations Satellites 51
Part III: Communications Satellites 83
Part IV: Space Transportation and Tourism 103
Part V: Legal and Ethical Issues 131
Part VI: Conclusions 195
Appendix A: Powerpoint Presentations 203
Appendix B: Selected Outer Space Related International Treaties,
Resolutions and Codes
Index 314
About the Editors

jassaniProfessor Bhupendra Jasani has an MSc in Nuclear Physics and a PhD in Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Medicine. His main interests are nuclear non-proliferation and the militarisation of outer space. In 1990, he joined the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, University of London, where he is currently a visiting professor. He has participated in a number of European Commission projects under the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme, in which he coordinated treaty monitoring and early warning of conflicts and natural disasters projects using commercial remote sensing satellites. He was a member of the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Agenda Council on Space Security between 2011 and 2014. He is a member of the Adjunct Faculty, Faculty of the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India.

RamJakhuDr. Ram Jakhu is Associate Professor, Institute of Air and Space Law, Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, Canada. Dr. Jakhu has over 30 years of experience in space-related fields. He was the first director of the Master of Science in Space Studies at the International Space University, Strasbourg, France. He also served as the Director of the Centre for Research of Regulated Industries of McGill University and the Research Director of the Space Security Index Project. He is the recipient of the International Institute of Space Law’s Distinguished Service Award for significant contribution to the development of space law. Dr. Jakhu is a member of the Space Security Council of the World Economic Forum, a Fellow of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS) and the Chair of its Legal and Regulatory Committee. He served on the Board of the International Institute of Space Law for fourteen years.

Conducting Academic and Policy Research related to National and International Security Issues
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