Senior scientist of Indian National Science Academy Bikash Sinha has urged the department of atomic energy to focus its resources on the decades-old helium extraction project in Bengal and Jharkhand to avert a crisis when the US stops exporting the inert gas next year.
Speaking to TOI, Sinha — who is a former Homi Bhabha professor at the DAE and past director of Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics and Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (VECC) — said the helium reserves at Bakreswar in Bengal and Tantloi in Jharkhand needed to be tapped to meet domestic needs in a range of critical applications, including MRI devices and brain scan. It is also needed at nuclear power stations for safety and in the space programme.
“A sense of urgency is needed to expedite the helium extraction project. To our knowledge, India has a rather large helium natural reservoir in Bakreswar and Tantloi. Due to geological fault, the original helium stored there just after creation of the solar system has stayed on, although some amount has escaped from the surface. There is enough helium to not only meet India’s requirements, but also probably for export if required,” Sinha said.
Professor SN Bose had five decades ago apprehended there would be a crisis in helium availability for research institutions and industry in India, and had convinced the government to set up a helium extraction project in 1973.
Debasis Ghose, a former senior scientist at VECC and consultant in the helium project, says extensive mapping of the locations indicated a conservative reserve of 513.7 crore cubic metre of helium, way beyond India’s annual requirement of 6.56 crore cubic metre.
VECC, NIT Durgapur and atomic minerals division of the atomic energy department are engaged in mapping sources of helium.
A research project titled ‘Helium Recovery Scheme’ was started at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) in 1971 under the stewardship of its then president Satyendra Nath Bose. By 1973, a field laboratory was constructed and an experimental helium extraction facility set up. Interest in the project waned when the cost of helium from the Bakreswar springs turned out to be three times more expensive than the imported helium in the 1970s.
Sinha and Ghose contend that technological advances made in India in oil and gas extraction in the past several decades can evolve to help reduce the helium extraction cost. India currently imports about 65.66 million cubic metre helium per year (93.8 lakh cylinders) costing Rs 55,154.4 crore.
Source: Times of India