Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s (ONGC) prototype helium plant in Kutralam, India is expected to be launched into action in the next month, according to a senior official associated with the project, and as the first of its kind in the country, will extract helium from natural gas.

The plant in Kutralam, a tourist attraction in southern Tamil Nadu, will initially run on a trial basis but affords the country a great deal of hope for independence in certain areas, while investment for the project is forecast to be around Rs 200-250 crore.

“It will be on a pilot basis to begin with. Once the plant starts regular production, India can produce helium for its nuclear plants. We are presently importing helium from countries like the United States,” the official is reported to have said.

Helium is also used as a coolant in space technology and atomic energy sciences. The Ministry of Science and Technology had set up a special task force in early 2005 to identify India’s helium reserves, with this subsequently asking the ONGC and other expert bodies to explore the oilfield ‘geysers’ for helium and the possibility of setting up a prototype plant. Kutralam was then identified as a potential location for the plant and scientists estimate that the Kutralam oilfields could generate helium gas at a rate of 30,00 Nm3 per hour.

According to government data, India requires about 10,000 normal cubic metre (Nm3) of helium every month for various technological and defence applications and an independent supply could be fundamental for the country in the future.

This is explained as other sources added, “If the US decides to cut down on its helium supplies, the country will be in difficult situation. Hence, India has been making serious efforts to become self-sufficient.”