Science & Technology: Atoms In The Service of The Nation

"For the full industrialization of the developing countries, for the continuation of our civilization and its further development, atomic energy is not merely an aid, it is an absolute necessity. The acquisition by man of knowledge of how to release & use atomic energy must be recognized as third epoch of human history" – Homi Jehangir Bhabha.

The journey of Indian Atomic Energy programme began in 1954, with the founding of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) under leadership of Homi Bhabha.

  • Since then much has been achieved in the sphere of power of atom which can act as ‘Atoms For Peace’ and can benefit all mankind.

Some of the applications are:

1) Health – Care to Cure
This is one of the most important peaceful use of atomic energy
Presently, helps nearly 6,00,000 patients annually in India in investigation of diseases.

(a) Nuclear Medicine is a medical specialty that uses trace amounts of radioactive substance in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of diseases and conditions in a safe and painless way. This procedure helps in identification of abnormalities in organ function even in very early stages of disease such as cancer, neurological (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) & cardiovascular disease.

(b) Targeted Radionuclide therapy also called molecular radio-therapy.
It involves radioactive drug called as radiopharmaceutical that targets cancer cell and designed to deliver therapeutic doses of ionizing radiation to specific disease sites.
This therapy is widely used in the treatment of neuroendocrine cancers, bone pain palliation, entire gamut of Thyroid problem etc.

(c) Radiation Therapy is a treatment involving the use of high energy radiation either by using special machines or from radioactive substance.
The aim of therapy is to impact specific amounts of the radiation at tumors or part of body to destroy malignant cells.

(d) External Beam Radiotherapy also called tele-therapy. It is most common form of radiotherapy in which the radiation at tumor is given from outside the body.
It can be used to breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer etc.

(e) Brachytherapy is an advanced cancer treatment.
Radioactive seeds/sources are placed in or near the tumors itself, giving a high resolution dose to tumor while reducing radiation exposure in surrounding healthy tissues.
This is mainly used to treat prostate cancer.

2) Food Security – Supplementing the food basket:
India has ever growing population which poses a great demand on food security and this gives a call to technology driven sustainable management of natural resources for achieving food, nutritional, environmental & livelihood security.

(a) Nuclear Agriculture: In this the ionising radiation is used to induce mutation in plant and thus creating a new and improved variety which may show desirable attributes such as high yield, pest resistant, resistance against biotic and a biotic stresses, large seed size, earliness etc. For example: BARC has released different verieties of plant to Indian farmers for commercial cultivation which include groundnut, soybean, cowpea, mustard etc.

(b) Food Preservation (Produce & Preserve): As mentioned above food security is the need of hour for India. Therefore, preservation comes as in other important factor. As one of the main tragedies of Indian agriculture system is that 30% of food produced is lost due to spoilage because of pest attack, moulds or contamination.

Thus, to stop this and to bridge demand supply gap – radiation processing can provide a viable effective and eco-friendly, and also alternative to chemical fumigants and microbial decontamination as they affect human health and environment.

This technique involves exposure of food & agriculture commodities to controlled doses of radiant energy which can:

  • help disinfestations of insects/pests

  • delay ripening and senescence of fruits and vegetables

  • Inhibits sprouting in tubers, bulbs, rhizomes

  • Prevent microbes from spoiling food etc.

3) Energy Security – Nuclear is clean & green: Global warming is making climate change drastically and CO2 levels have reached an unprecedented 400ppm and temperature rise of more than 1ºC has taken over in last 3 decades.

  • So, nuclear energy opens the door for energy security as being a low carbon footprint industry as compared to fossil fuels.

  • Also, India being growing economy and international obligations to control CO2 emission. Therefore, India needs to rapidly ramp up power production using nuclear energy.

  • With 21 operating plants and 12 plants in pipeline; we have poised a period of enhanced growth in this sector.

4) Societal Application – Towards the common Good:
(a) Sludge Hygenisation (From waste to wealth):radiation technology has been used to hygenise the sludge to protect public health and environment and in addition, manufacture the manure with desirable qualities for use in farming sector. For instance: Ahemdabad Municipal Corporation has setup first plant in India and takes 100 tons/day of sludge.

This technology has high potential in helping towards "Swachh Bharat Mission".

(b) Hydrogel-Healing the wounded:
A thin transparent sheet of gel, useful in burn and injury dressing.
Hydrogel provide moist environment and a cooling effect on the wound due to a regulated oxygen supply to wound through a sterile cover.

(c) Water – the Elixir of Life: As water is becoming sequence, but demand is ever-increasing, therefore, isotope hydrology technique enable accurate tracing and measurement of the extent of new and renewable underground water resources at various location.

  • Also it is used for monitoring surface water resources for leakages through dams and litigation channels etc.

  • Technologies of BARC have also developed a membrane for filtration for removal bacterial contamination and for desalination of brackish water as well as sea water.

5) Industrial Application – Support to Manufacturing Sector:
(a) Radiation sterilization of Medical Products: Products such as syringes, cotton, wool, surgical gloves, bandages, ointments, biological preparations such as bone, nerve, skin etc. are sterlised using these radiations.
(b) Radiography: Which emit gamma rays can be used to check welds of new gas and oil pipeline system, which have radioactive sources being placed inside.

Also it can be used to gauge the thickness and density of materials or locate components that are not visible by other means. The benefits of atom and radiation energy as discussed above are leading to economic & societal benefits to nation and will continue to be leveraged for a considerable period in future. These techniques have the potential to bring paradigm shift in whichever sector they are applied.

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