Separation of monazite from placer sands and strategic needs of India’s Nuclear Doctrine. (Updated)

Indian Rare Earths Limited Objectives

1.2    (i)    To become nationally and globally competitive player in beach sand minerals and to achieve annual production of ilmenite with associate minerals of 8 lakh tons by the year 2012.

Unit Profile
Tel. No: +91 476 268 0701 – 05
Located 10 Km north of Kollam, 85 Km from Thiruvananthapuram capital of Kerala and 135 Km by road from Kochi is perhaps blessed with the best mineral sand deposit of the country.The plant operates on a mining area containing as high as 40% heavy minerals and extending over a length of 23 Km in the belt of Neendakara and Kayamkulam. The deposit is quite rich with respect to ilmenite, rutile and zircon and the mineral-ilmenite happens to be of weathered variety analyzing 60% TiO2. The present annual production capacity of Chavara unit engaged in dry as well as wet (dredging/ up-gradation) mining and mineral separation stands at 1,54,000t of ilmenite, 9,500t of rutile, 14,000t of zircon and 7,000t of sillimanite. In addition the plant has facilities for annual production of ground zircon called zirflor (-45 micron) and microzir (1-3 micron) of the order of 6,000t and 500t respectively.

A K Mohapatra, Head & General Manager
Tel. No: +91 4651 237 255– 57
E-mail: ,
Plant is situated 25 Kms north of Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin), the southern most tip of the Indian sub-continent. All weather major seaport Tuticorin and the nearest airport at Thiruvananthapuram are equidistant, about 65 kms from the plant site. Nagercoil at a distance of about 18 kms from the plant, is the closest major Railway station. MK plant annually produces about 90,000t ilmenite of 55%. TiO2 grade, 3500t rutile and 10,000t zircon in addition to 3000t monazite and 10,000t garnet based primarily on beach washing supplied by fishermen of surrounding five villages. IREL has also mining lease of mineral rich areas wherein raw sand can be made available in large quantities through dredging operation. In addition to mining and minerals separation, the unit has a chemical plant to add value to zircon in the form of zircon frit and other zirconium based chemicals in limited quantities.

Shri D Mohanty, Head OSCOM
Tel. No: +91 6811  257 890 – 95
OSCOM was commissioned at a place called Chatrapur about 150 Kms from the Capital of Orissa – Bhubaneswar and about 320 Km from all weather seaport-Visakhapatanam to exploit the huge placer deposit across a mining area of to produce 2,20,000 ton ilmenite having 50% TiO2 content and associated minerals like rutile, zircon, sillimanite, garnet, etc. The facility was quite unique in the sense that for the first time IREL ventured into dredging and concentration operationat OSCOM. It is quite efficietly engaged in dredging of the raw sand, it’s upgradation, drying and finally separation plant. Ilmenite is primarily exported to customers engaged in production of slag and sulphatable TiO2 pigment.A Thorium plant is in operation since 1992 at OSCOM to produce 240 ton per annum mantle grade Thorium Nitrate.

Tel. No: +91 484 254 5062 – 65
 Unlike the three units of IREL as described earlier, RED is an exclusively value adding chemical plant wherein the mineral monazite produced by MK, is chemically treated to separate thorium as hydroxide upgrade and rare earths in its composite chloride form. It is located on the banks of river Periyar at a distance of 12 Km by road from Kochi. This plant was made operational way back in 1952 to take on processing of 1400t of monazite every year. However over the years, the capacity of the plant was gradually augmented to treat about 3600t of monazite. Elaborate solvent extraction and ion exchange facilities were built up to produce individual R.E. oxides, like oxides of Ce, Nd, Pr and La in adequate purities. Today RED has built up large stock pile of impure thorium hydroxide upgrade associated with rare earths and unreacted materials. Henceforth, RED proposes to treat this hydroxide upgrade rather than fresh monazite to convert thorium into pure oxalate and rare earth as two major fractions namely Ce oxide and Ce oxide free rare earth chloride.
Indian Rare Earth Research Centre (IRERC):
Shri P P Mohapatra, Head (Corporate Research and Safety)
Tel. No: +91 474 2742739
Corporate Research Centre is located at Kollam, Kerala and carries out research in the field of value added products from beach sand minerals, undertakes consultancy projects on mineral separation and flow sheet development, carrying out mineral analysis and caters to the needs of internal and external customers.  It is engaged in various R&D activities such as processing of Monazite by alternate route, processing of nano rare earth materials and other value addition on minerals with the ultimate objective of commercialization. Research centre also coordinates the research activities of RED, Aluva and Technical Services Division at OSCOM, Chatrapur, Orissa.  This Research Centre was earlier known as Mineral Research and Development Centre since 1991 and later renamed as Indian Rare Earths Research Centre from July 2003.  This Centre is also certified with ISO 9001.With the objective of promoting Industrial scale R&D that would be beneficial to its overall program in terms of nuclear and related materials, Indian Rare Earths Limited Technology Development Council (IRELTDC) was constituted in 2006 by the Secretary, DAE with members from BARC, IGCAR, CSIR and other leading Institutions. The Chairperson of this Council is the Scientific Advisor to Director, BARC and Co-Chairperson is the CMD of IREL.  The Head, IRERC is its Member Secretary.

The Research Centre is equipped with various equipments and instruments like magnetic, gravity, electrostatic separators, floatation cells, grinding mills, vacuum filters, mixer settlers, ion exchange columns, particle size analyzer, XRD/XRF, thermal analyzer, ICP atomic absorption spectrometers, UV spectrometers, petrological microscopes, etc. for various analytical and research purposes.

The annual safety audit of all the operating units is carried out every year with the objective of improving the overall safety standards and increasing the safety awareness among the employees.  The Audit Committee, consisting of External experts, Heads of safety from all the units and the Head of the Corporate Safety, recommends for the CMD’s Shield in various categories; Safety, Housekeeping, Environment & Energy.

See also: Economic Minerals Ilmenite (Ti02.FeO) Leucoxene (TiO2) …

See: Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd.

General Description
The mineral monazite is a reddish-brown phosphate containing rare earth metals and an important source of thorium, lanthanum, and cerium. Because of the presence of thorium within monazite, it can be radioactive. Due to the alpha decay of thorium and uranium, monazite contains significant amount of helium, which can be extracted by heating.The sands of Sankaramangalam in Kerala were found to contain several rare earths like Ilmenite, Zircon and Rutile. KMML is involved in the harvesting of these minerals from the seas, which are used as basic raw materials for a variety of industries. The Mineral Separation Unit (MS Unit) is engaged in the separation of Ilmenite, Rutile, Leucoxene, Monazite, Silliminite etc from the beach sand. The MS Unit employs Gravitational, Magnetic and High Tension Electrostatic Techniques for separation of minerals from the sand.

Monazite sands containing monazite, ilmenite, rutile, garnet and zircon. Guarapari, Espírito Santo, Brazil. Keele collection.

The sample comes from the beach at Ustka, a Polish holiday resort at Baltic Sea. Probable composition: quartz, garnet and ilmenite, as Polish shorelines of Baltic Sea are known for deposits of sand enriched with heavy minerals such as zircon, garnet, magnetite, ilmenite, rutile, monazite.



Ilmenite and leucoxene grains. Some grains demonstrate half-completed leucoxenisation process (few examples are annotated). The width of the view is 3.8 mm.

Beach sand containing ilmenite (black), leucoxene (yellow spots on ilmenite grains), quartz , almandine, and zircon. Calvert Cliffs State Park, Soloman Islands, Maryland.




“However, under the guidelines framed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), individual processors of beach sand have to separate and safely keep the monazite content of such sand. No individual or entity is permitted to process monazite in any manner without a licence from DAE. Further, no licences have been given to any private party to process monazite and separate thorium,” said the Minister on November 30, 2011 answering a question in the Lok Sabha.

Assuming that the separation of monazite mineral from the placer sands has indeed been done before exporting the mineral complex, what happened to the monazite separated and safely kept monazite content of such sand?

This is the crux of the problem which has created the opportunities for the Great Thorium Robbery. This robbery has happened because of the absence of adequate measures to provide the technology wherewithal to the enforcement authorities to assess the radioactivity of the exported sand minerals to identify thorium-bearing minerals and to ensure that no thorium-bearing mineral goes out of the country in the form of underinvoiced exports to foreign destinations which may include India’s enemies.

Separation of monazite from placer sand complex

The name monazite comes from the Greek μοναζειν (to be solitary), in allusion to its isolated crystals.

Monazite can be isolated as a nearly pure concentrate by the use of gravity, magnetic, and electrostatic separation.

Monazite, often found in placer deposits, is a reddish-brown phosphate mineral containing rare earth metals. It occurs usually in small isolated crystals. There are actually at least four different kinds of monazite, depending on relative elemental composition of the mineral:

monazite-Ce (Ce, La, Pr, Nd, Th, Y)PO4
monazite-La (La, Ce, Nd, Pr)PO4
monazite-Nd (Nd, La, Ce, Pr)PO4
monazite-Sm (Sm, Gd, Ce, Th)PO4

Monazite is an important ore for thorium, lanthanum, and cerium. Separation of Monazite Rare Earths by Solvent Extraction Julius Bochinski , Morton Smutz , F. H. Spedding Ind. Eng. Chem., 1958, 50 (2), pp 157–160 DOI: 10.1021/ie50578a026 Publication Date: February 1958 The separation of monazite from zircon by flotation A.M. Abeidu Laboratory of Metallurgy, National Research Centre, Dokki, CairoEgypt Magnetic Separation of Monazite and Xenotime
Journal Materials Science Forum (Volumes 70 – 72) Volume: Rare Earth Minerals and Minerals for Electronic Uses Edited by B. Siribumrungsukha et al. Pages 279-300 DOI 10.4028/ Citation: Shinichi Ito et al., 1991, Materials Science Forum, 70-72, 279.

August 2003, Volume 142, Issue 4, pp 255-261 Selective Extraction and Separation of Thorium from Monazite Using N-Phenylbenzo-18-crown-6-hydroxamic Acid Yadvendra K. Agrawal, Shailesh B. Vora

Abstract. A method for the liquid–liquid extraction, separation, preconcentration and trace determination of thorium with N-phenylbenzo-18-crown-6-hydroxamic acid (PBCHA) is described. Thorium is extracted from the dichloromethane solution of PBCHA at pH 4.5 which gives a colourless extract (λmax 375 nm, ε=1.5×104 L mol−1 cm−1, linear range following Beer’s law 0.77–18.48 µg mL−1). The extract is directly inserted into the plasma for ICP-AES measurements of thorium. A linear calibration graph was obtained between 10 and 130 ng mL−1 of thorium. The proposed method has been applied for the separation and determination of thorium in the presence of several ions in monazite sand, rare earths, sand and sea water samples. The thorium-PBCHA complexes are very stable, having the formation constant (log β2) 13.45 compared to lanthanum (log β2) 2.95, cerium (log β2) 2.95 and uranium (log β2) 3.80. Hence, thorium can easily be separated and determined in monazite sand.

Given the separation methods available to isolate monazite, what measures have been taken by DAE (AMD) and IREL to ensure that the individual exporters DO have the capacity to ensure that such separation occurs and to ensure that the separate monazite-containing tailings from ilmenite, garnet, rutile, sillimanite, zircon etc. thorium-bearing placer sands exploited by these exporters are handed over to AMD/IREL for safe-keeping or further processing?

Almost all exporters do not have the technology to separate thorium from monazite, as verified by AERB.

Since placer sand mining activities are ongoing, it can be demonstrated that monazite-mineral-bearing placer sands are being indiscriminately exported flouting all safety and export control norms.

Why has GOI failed in its responsibility to strengthen the capacity of IREL with large scale reprocessing plants (instead of leaning on foreign trading giants like Toyota Tsusho) to process and stockpile thorium (and also conserve other rare earths) in safe locations under Ary command to meet the strategic needs of India’s Nuclear Doctrine?


Cumulative list of blogposts with label ‘Thorium’ (October 13, 2012):

Separation of monazite from placer sands and strategic needs of India’s Nuclear Doctrine.

Nuclear Thorium: Country needs thorium-based fast breeders — Dr. Kalam

Near monopoly position of a company in garnet placer sands

Estimated value of Manavalakurichi placer sands loot in a decade: Rs. 1 lakh crore

Placer sands exports detailed in a Criminal Petition in Hon’ble Supreme Court

Govt. misled Parliament on thorium loot. Thorium a game changer for India’s power needs?

Export profiles of placer sands of Manavalakurichi complex

Rare earth complex of India — containing thorium, the strategic nuclear fuel

India’s nuclear energy through thorium. Powering the world.

Thorium could have powered India

Power of Thorium – two books reviewed. ‘Super Fuel’:Martin. ‘Thorium: energy cheaper than coal’: Robert Hargraves

Thorium UPA’s new coalgate?

How far off is thorium energy? It is producing energy already — in many reactors of India…

India all set to tap thorium resources

India-Canada Nuke pact. “Those days are gone. We’re not so stupid,” Dr. Chaitanyamoy Ganguly, Nuclear scientist. Thorium to transform nuclear power. A pair of MIT students set up Transatomic Power

Cumulative list of blogposts with label “Thorium” (September 27, 2012). National imperative of protecting Rare earths including thorium.

Thorium — a nuclear fuel and iPhone are born of Mother Earth. Govt. of India, conserve and protect rare earths including thorium.

Take steps to protect strategic monazite reserves: Subramanian Swamy to PM

Thorium and imperative of national security – Dr. Swamy’s letter to PM

Thorium as strategic mineral: a greener alternative to uranium. India should protect her thorium reserves.

DAE makes strides towards thorium fuel supplies for AHWR

‘Thorium figures unconfirmed’ – IREL

VVER: Voda Voda Energo Reactor, Water-cooled, water-moderated energy reactor

Protect India’s thorium to transform the world of energy

A future energy giant? India’s thorium-based nuclear plans

India should enforce NSG guidelines for protection of thorium

Nuclear Energy’s Future: Thorium

Q&A: Thorium Reactor Designer Ratan Kumar Sinha

Thorium-fuelled dreams for India’s energy future. How India’s science is taking over the world.

Thorium poster (Source: Thorium Australia campaign)

Protect India’s thorium. Briefings on nuclear technology in India — PK Iyengar, Retd. Chairman, AEC, May 2009

New All-Party UK Parliamentary Group on Thorium

China Takes Lead in Race for Clean Nuclear Power — using thorium.

The issue is India as nuke power. Anti-Kudankulam leaders manipulate innocents – Pioneer Edit

India Ventures Into Rare Earths, To Launch Soon Monazite Processing Plant

Thorium is nuclear fuel and should command immediate attention of GOI to conserve and protect the wealth of the nation.

Thorium key to India’s energy security — Sandhya Jain

Thorium advocates launch pressure group in UK. India plans nuclear plant powered bythorium – Guardian, UK

Feature article: A Thorium Reactor (American Scientist, 2010)

Thorium As Nuclear Fuel

Thoriumgate. 34 blogposts. Seize the moment to strengthen India’s nuclear doctrine and energy future.

Is Thorium the Biggest Energy Breakthrough Since Fire? Possibly.

Are beachfuls of thorium sand a curse? — Rrishi Raote

Why should foreign companies & private parties work in monazite placer deposits?

Karisastha koil, Kundal, Uvari

Thorium for dummies. Thorium reactors – Dr. Y (Federation of American Scientists)

UPA’s Thoriumgate? Toyota Tsusho enters the scene.

Monazite reserves of India 18 Million Tonnes (A review of seabed and placer mining deposits in India by Abhineet Kumar (May, 2011. Dept. of Mining Engineering, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, 2011)

Thorium which can breed uranium 233 is the future energy source for India. Rare earth elements; Indian rare earths — Its genesis and growth (TK Mukherjee, IREL)

Proof that coir was used to export thorium oxide in monazite. Now Toyota is inmonazite processing in India.

Wyoming nuclear task force hears thorium reactor plan

Indian rare earths: genesis and growth — TK Mukherjee, IREL

Who looted India’s missing thorium? — Sandeep Balakrishna

After coal, did India give away Thorium at pittance too?

Great thorium robbery impacting India’s nuclear doctrine and energy security

67 Years Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Destruction

$15 billion hole in ground. Thorium for clean energy

Thorium Reserve in the Country – Narayanasamy informs Lok Sabha

Thorium-fuelled dreams for India’s energy future. How India’s science is taking over the world.

Nuclear materials, suppliers group (NSG) and safeguards

Depletion of thorium reserves from South Indian beaches, impacting India’s nucleardoctrine and energy security: 14 blogposts

Black Monazite sand deposits found on beaches (India)

Thorium fuel cycle – potential benefits for India – IAEA publication (2005)

Thorium: alleged export of sands (August 2007 report)

Key reserve profiles of placer deposits: Chavara and Manavalakurichi (From Ph.D. thesis of Ajith G. Nair, 2001)

Valmiki’s knowledge of oceanography and Mannar volcanic

Mining of monazite (GOI response in Lok Sabha on 30 Nov. 2011)

Indian Rare Earths Limited

VV Mineral: achievements

There’s nuclear gold in this sand. And it’s being sent out with impunity – Tehelka


Scam of the century involving Rs. 1340 billion thorium reserves. Irregularities inbureaucratic processes which led to encouragement of illegal mining of thorium

10-point plan: Nationalise thorium resources of India and institute strategic command for protecting and conserving Nuclear Fuel complexes

Illegal thorium mining in India. Value of India’s thorium reserves: Rs. 1340 billion est.

‘PM must look into illegal thorium mining’;postID=876222689095259079

Uranium Is So Last Century — Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke | Magazine

S. Kalyanaraman


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