India: Uranium Presence in the Punjab Soils

There has been found a heavy concentration of uranium in the soils of Punjab, in the northwest of India. A theory has been put forward that links the uranium contamination to the usage of fertilizers, but analysis of  fertilizer materials from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, showed that DAP and SSP available in Punjab contained 92 and 3 mg uranium per kg fertilizer, which is not a high level. The ¨fertilizer¨ theory has also been struck down by R. K. Sinha, of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), who said that the “usage of fertilizers has no direct link with presence of uranium in underground water of Punjab. Geological studies have revealed that this part of Himalayan region had granite rocks in the subsoil which was the perceptible cause of heavy concentration of uranium.”

R. K. Sinha also observed that “uranium is also present in neighboring states of Haryana, especially in Hisar belt, and Himachal Pradesh, to some extent”.

Dr U. S. Sadana, Head of the Department of Soil Science of the Punjab Agricultural University, informed that that from 38 years long-term phosphorus experiment in Ireland, it was concluded that the use of P fertilizer at normal rates used in agriculture is not a major threat to uranium content in the soil.

Dr. Raj Kumar, Senior Mineralogist, PAU, said that uranium leaching may not be feasible in Punjab soils as solubility of calcium carbonate decreases with increase in temperature, high pH (7.5-9.5) and high bicarbonate concentration found in Malwa region of Punjab. Uranium-phosphate complexes form in the pH range of 4-6 under highly oxidized conditions. Phosphatic fertilizers may not be contributing to the uranium content of underground water as majority of Punjab soils are alkaline in nature (pH 7.5-9.5). These facts imply that the use of phosphatic fertilizers has little effect on uranium status in ground waters.

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