Broad basing its atomic sector cooperation with India, an affiliate of Russian state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom State Corp has picked up a 51 per cent stake in Tamil Nadu-based Gamma Tech India Private Ltd. to jointly implement a project that aims to set up a network of radiation sterilisation centres across India. The centres to be developed by Rusatom Overseas JSC will offer food decontamination and sterilisation of medical products by ionizing radiation, including sterilisation of medical products such as latex gloves, decontamination of fruit, berries and other products exported from India to developed countries.
The centres will be constructed in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and the first pilot centre is planned to be established in Tamil Nadu. This is the first such major intervention by a foreign government nuclear utility in India, one of the largest food producers in the world with about 600 million tonnes of food products generated every year. The approval by the Indian nuclear regulator — the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India or AERB — for the irradiation equipment design and the construction of the first irradiation centre has already been obtained.
“Currently, the project is in its pre-investment phase with the internal corporate procedures being undertaken, after which the investment phase of the project will start,” Ksenia N Loskutova of the strategic communications unit of Moscow-based Rusatom Overseas JSC said in response to a query from The Indian Express.
Loskutova stated that in the first stage, it is planned to construct one pilot irradiation centre with two facilities that will provide services of food decontamination and sterilisation of medical products. “The project is currently at an advanced stage: the memorandum of understanding with the AERB has been signed, the approval by the AERB of the irradiation equipment design and irradiation centre construction has been obtained among other permits. The pilot centre will occupy an area of approximately 2 hectares at the Chezhianallur Village near Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu,” she stated in an email response.
Currently, Rosatom Overseas is about to finish the construction of two radiation sterilisation centres in Russia. “When the radiation sterilisation centres in India become operational, we will get a great example of competitive product solution by Rosatom State Corporation in terms of specialised radiation centres not only in our country but also abroad,” Dzhomart Aliev, CEO of Rusatom Overseas, said. A query sent to Gamma Tech on the issue did not elicit a response.
Radiation sterilisation is a physical process of irradiation of medical products by ionizing radiation. Products are subjected to irradiation in specialised radiation technology facilities where gamma-rays (gamma-rays of Co-60 or Cs-137 isotopes) or electron accelerators are used. When electrons go through the material substance, most of their energy is spent on ionization, which results in destruction of micro-organisms and a reduction in the number of pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
The process of radiation sterilisation is the final stage of production of single-use medical products. These technologies can be used in agriculture, as well as for municipal solid waste sterilisation and in the petrochemical industry. Over 42 countries in the world including the US, the UK, Canada and France have given clearance for radiation processing of food.
The Government of India has permitted the use of radiation technology in preservation of food items such as potato, onion, rice semolina, wheat flour, mango, raisins, dried dates, ginger, garlic, shallots (small onions) as well as meat and meat products including chicken.
The Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has done extensive research and development work on preservation of food by radiation and has been involved in setting up the first demonstration plant for radiation processing of onions and potatoes at Lasalgaon in Nasik, Maharashtra. The same plant is also proposed to be used for low dose radiation processing of other foods with alterations in throughput and source utilisation efficiency.