Taking note of thousands of tonnes of food grains that rot every year due to poor storage conditions, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) is developing a machine to sanitise food grains.
The Centre is developing a linear electron accelerator through which would irradiate the food grains with gamma rays. Irradiation would make the grains pest-resistant and increase their shelf life.
“This will reduce the loss the country incurs during storage in a very big way. And it is our ambition,” S K Banerjee, chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, said on Monday. “This is a clear-cut programme from now on to the next five-year plan period. We want to both perfect and stabilise the technology. This will help us achieve food security,” he added.
“It’s time that India starts importing high-energy accelerators and adopting the technology immediately. If we can import cars, why not this,” V K Iya, who led the radioisotopes research group in BARC.
From developing seed mutations for oilseeds and pulses, BARC will now shift focus on rice, wheat and jute.
India is also in the process of exporting to Sri Lanka and Japan with radiation processing units for food preservation. After having donated a cancer tele-therapy machine to Vietnam last year, two more machines will be sent to Sri Lanka and an African country this year.
“India needs over 1,000 radiation therapy equipment. At present, the country has 300 machines; that is one machine for one million people,” said Banerjee. “We need many more.”
Apart from building a proton accelerator and accelerating larger particles such as carbon in the next plan period, the Department of Atomic Energy will set up a high flux reactor for making high specific activity isotopes.
While isotopes are extracted from the spent fuel for radiation processing applications, BARC will now work towards pulling out the Caesium isotope for industrial applications. Apart from Caesium being cheaper than Cobalt-60, the isotope also has a long shelf life.
12th Five Year Plan to focus on radioisotope shortage in India
On Monday, Srikumar Banerjee spelt out the 12th Five Year Plan for the Department of Atomic Energy at an international conference on Isotope Technologies and Applications – New Horizons organised by
the National Association for Applications of Radioisotopes and Radiation in Industry.
He said that the department would now focus on fixing the shortage of radioisotopes in India due to scarcity of nuclear fuel.
Radioisotopes, which are generated through power generation in nuclear reactors, research reactors, accelerators and spent fuel, are used in agriculture, healthcare, industry and even municipal waste management.
“With the increase in our indigenous domestic programme as well as international availability of fuel, we will have enough Cobalt-60,” said Banerjee.
“This will remove our biggest obstruction to provide Cobalt-60,” he added.