From improving yields to fighting cancer, India deploying nuclear technology in varying fields

India is known to have been taking giant strides in improving its power shared generated through nuclear reactors, but the country has also deployed nuclear technology in non-power applications on a large scale – both for industrial and societal purpose.

The nuclear technologies have helped India by increasing the shelf life of various fruits like Litchi and Mango, in increasing the agriculture yield, in solid waste management and in fighting cancer.

“The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has developed host of spin off technologies, such as NISARGRUNA (solid biodegradable waste resource management) and Advance Knowledge & Rural Technology Implementation (AKRUTI) programs. Also, developed technologies for water treatment and purification at low cost by means of unique membrane based technologies have the potential for effective decontamination of water in rural and urban sectors to provide safe drinking water,” Chairman Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary to the Government of India, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) Dr. Sekhar Basu told Nuclear Asia.

The sewage treatment technology developed by BARC subjects the dried sludge to crushing and exposure to 10 kGy radiation dose. This kills the pathogens in the sludge and makes it safer for use. In the next step, BIO-NPK (Nitrogen Phosphorus Potassium) microorganisms are sprayed on to it to make it bio-fertilizer. The use of such bio-fertilizer provides organic carbon and other nutrients to the soil. The process also helps in recycling of the waste material to useful Bio-fertilizer.

A 100 ton/day capacity facility has been constructed at Ahmedabad under Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.

Using radiation induced mutations and/or hybridization, 42 crop varieties encompassing 10 different crops like groundnut, mungbean, black gram, pigeon pea, soybean, cowpea, mustard, sunflower, rice and jute have been developed, released and notified for commercial cultivation in different agro-climatic zones in the country. “These varieties are endowed with improved characters such as higher yield, earliness, large seed size along with resistance to biotic and abiotic stress. BARC and its units has entered into several technology transfer agreements with private parties in the areas of Nuclear instrumentation, Industrial applications, Medical applications, Environmental applications and health care,” Dr. Basu added.

DAE is involved in R&D and introduction of radioisotopes for cancer therapy as well as diagnostic purposes. Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology supplies 75 different radioisotopes for medical agriculture and industrial applications and serves over 50 per cent of country demand of radioisotopes. The Tata Memorial Centre is an aided institution of DAE with a comprehensive cancer care centre.

The DAE has been working on Affordable Cancer Diagnostics & Treatment Services for everyone. The following initiatives such as Commissioning of Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital in Sangrur, Punjab, the DAE taking over two hospitals – Dr Bhubaneswar Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) in Guwahati (Assam) and Indian Railway Cancer Research Institute in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh). Construction has been initiated for three Cancer hospitals at Varanasi (Mahamana Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya Cancer Centre), Visakhapatnam (Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital & Research Centre) and Mullanpur (Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital Research Centre), Punjab. A National Cancer Grid has been set up that facilitates 137 cancer care centres across the nation to adopt protocol based treatment.

About 120 nuclear medicine centres and more than 400 radioimmunoassay (RIA) laboratories are benefitting from the indigenous radioisotope products (about 75 varieties) and serves more than 10 lakh patients annually. Seventeen radionuclide based drugs for diagnostic, therapeutic and palliative treatment for cancer deployed and 10 more are in pipeline.

Further, India has developed and started commercial production of world’s first of its kind Glass Vitrified Cesium pencil, extracted from high level liquid radioactive waste for blood irradiation application. Dr. Basu said that seven such blood irradiators have already been supplied to hospitals.