Tag Archives: Lalitha Sundaresan

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

Creating a Rare Earth Industry in India

Indo-French Workshop, “Challenges in the Processing and Recycling of Rare-Earth (CIPRE)”, Pune, July 19-21, 2016

Lalitha Sundaresan, Visiting Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies 

Professor Lalitha Sundaresan was invited to deliver a talk at the Indo-French Workshop, “Challenges in the Processing and Recycling of Rare-earth (CIPRE)”, organized at Pune from July 19-21, 2016, under the aegis of CEFIPRA (Indo French Centre for the Promotion of Advanced Research). This workshop was organized to strengthen and consolidate Rare Earth research and development in our country. The workshop focus on rare earths separation technologies (primarily solvent extraction), Recycling and Strategy and Road Map. The event was jointly organized by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Institut de Chimie Séparative de Marcoule (ICSM) France, Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) and CSIR-National Metallurgical Laboratory (NML), Jamshedpur. The Abstract was co-authored by Prof Lalitha Sundaresan and Prof. S. Chandrashekar.

Abstract of Talk: India has significant rare earth resources and yet does not figure in the global rare earth value chain. In the global rare earth industry life cycle India continues to remain in the early incubation R&D phase. There are many rare earth based products that could be manufactured in India. Technologies for manufacturing rare earth permanent magnets that are used commercially and also find use in the defense sectors are already available. This talk will focus on the critical RE intermediate products that India should manufacture and emphasises the need for developing an RE industry eco-system in the country.

Public Lecture: Astropolitics and International Space Governance

National Institute of Advanced Studies

Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore-12

 International Strategic and Security Studies Programme


Public Lecture


 Astropolitics and International Space Governance:
Issues and Challenges for the Global Space Community and India



Prof. Eligar Sadeh



Dr. Lalitha Sundaresan


   Venue, Date & Time

Lecture Hall, NIAS | Monday, May 09, 2016 at 11:30 am

About the Speaker:
Eligar Sadeh, Ph.D, is an Aerospace Professional and Educator. He currently serves as President of Astroconsulting International, which empowers space, defense, and environmental programs and projects with the critical technology management skills to optimize outcomes, and serves as Chief Editor of the academic journal Astropolitics. Previously, Eligar held professorships in Space and Defense Studies in the Center for Space Studies at the University of Colorado; Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy; and in the College of Aerospace Sciences, Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota. He also worked for Lockheed Martin Space Systems as an Aerospace Systems Engineer on NASA spacecraft, and served as a Research Associate with the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. Eligar published a number of books and book chapters on space issues, as well as research papers in the academic journals of Space Policy, Astropolitics, and Acta Astronautica. Most recent publications include volumes on Space Strategy for the 21st Century (Routledge, 2012) and Politics of Space (Routledge, 2010), and book chapters and papers covering Spacepower, Regulation of Satellite Remote Sensing, International Space Governance, Satellite Export Controls, and Earth Observation Data Management. Eligar holds Ph.D., Master, and B.S. degrees with subject matter expertise in Technology Management, Program/Project Management, Space Studies, Environmental Studies, International Studies, Science and Technology Studies, Systems Engineering, Engineering Leadership, Bioengineering and Bioastronautics, Remote Sensing, and Astrophysics.

All are cordially invited

RSVP: -080-22185024/5088

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

India’s Rare Earths Industry: A Case of Missed Opportunities

Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 51, No. 3, Jan 16, 2016, pp. 27-33

S. Chandrashekar and Lalitha Sundaresan

EPWThe creation of knowledge in the rare earths domain in India is confined to a few government-run complexes with no major links to commercial industry. With interaction between the research community and industry non-existent, India’s position as a player in the global rare earths ecosystem is bound to be weak. Further, in the absence of a cohesive national strategy for moving the country up the value chain in rare earths into the intermediate and final product space, India continues to be a low-cost raw material supplier to the global rare earths industry.

To read the complete article click here

Rising Powers Respond to North Korean Hydrogen Bomb Test

Rising Powers Initiative, George Washington University, January 14, 2016

Rising Powers InitiativeThe Rising Powers Initiative at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University (GWU) quotes the recent ISSSP, NIAS Report by Arun Vishwanathan, S. Chandrashekar, LV Krishnan and Lalitha Sundaresan analysing the North Korean 2016 nuclear test. The GWU  Policy alert is a round up of how South Korea, China, Japan, India, Russia and Brazil responded to the North Korean nuclear test. The article mentions the link between the Pakistani and North Korean missile and nuclear programme that the ISSSP report had raised and how these developments are a concern for India. 

To read the complete ISSSP Report click here

To read the complete GWU article click here

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