The government has prohibited mining of atomic minerals by private entities and will grant operating rights to only state-run companies to “safeguard” strategic interest of the country, according to a gazette notification issued on Saturday.

Atomic minerals zirconium, monazite and thorium are found in abundance along several beaches of the country.

Zircon have potential applications in the strategic, defence and hi-tech sectors as it contains an important strategic element, called hafnium, which is used in the field of atomic energy.

Monazite is a mineral of thorium, uranium and rare earths and it has a high percentage of neodymium which has several hi-tech applications.

Zirconium, hafnium and thorium are very important strategic elements used in different stages of the country’s nuclear power programme, and since monazite and zircon occur in beach sand minerals, any loss or pilferage of these minerals at any stage of mineral handling or processing “shall affect the larger national interest”, the notification said.

“In offshore areas and their strategic importance, it is imperative that the mineral concessions in offshore areas be brought at par with the onshore areas in their treatment and therefore, in order to safeguard the strategic interest of the nation, it is expedient in larger national interest to prohibit the grant of operating rights in terms of any reconnaissance permit, exploration license or production lease of atomic minerals” in any offshore areas to anyone, except a government owned or controlled company, it stated.

“The central government hereby prohibits grant of operating rights in respect of atomic minerals in any offshore areas in the any person, except the government or a government company or a corporation owned or controlled by the government, under the Offshore Areas Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 2002,” it said.

The government also “rescinded” any action taken by it earlier in this regard.