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Nuke has vast beneficial use

Probably, many are not aware that there are thousands of people in the Philippines that die of cancer without even knowing it.



When the word “nuclear” comes out even during informal conversations, many would perhaps connote it for something destructive, like for instance nuclear bomb explosion or the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 which was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel.

“As far as nuclear technology is concerned, we just want to emphasize the fact that it has many beneficial applications,” Department of Science and Technology (DoST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said during an interview over the Daily Tribune’s “Straight Talk.”

According to him, aside from generating power from nuclear energy, there are also non-energy applications, like for example, nuclear technology is very much used in the area of health.

“Probably, many are not aware that there are thousands of people in the Philippines that die of cancer without even knowing it because it is very expensive to go through the so-called PET (Positron emission tomography) scan where nuclear technology is involved,” De la Peña said.

PET scans can detect early signs of cancer, heart disease and brain disorders, where an injectable radioactive tracer detects diseased cells, the DoST explained.


Priority program

“So, we have made it a priority program under the DoST’s Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) so that we can setup facilities that can enable us to provide this kind of service for the Filipino people,” he said.

This is in collaboration, of course, with several medical institutions, not only those under the DoH (Department of Health) but also private institutions, he added.

“The idea behind this project is to reduce the cost of that kind of test because there is really a high number of people who die without even knowing that they have cancer,” he pointed out.


Irradiation process

“Of course, we also have other applications, particularly in the industry of agriculture, which is the reason why we are actively promoting private sector investments, because our own facilities at the PNRI are no longer capable of meeting the demand due to the irradiation requirements of exporting goods to certain countries,” he said.

Agricultural products, for example, are now required to pass through the “irradiation process” before the goods are accepted by the importing countries.

“Even if we operate our facilities on a 24/7 basis, we can only accommodate so much at this time,” De la Peña pointed out.

Irradiation of foods and agricultural produce with ionizing radiation will eliminate bacteria or insects present in them or stop the germination of agricultural produce.

It is among the physical food processing techniques currently in use, which include drying, heating, pressurizing and freezing.


Government appropriation

According to the DoST chief, the agency has been requesting for government appropriation for expanding the capability of the facility, “but we have to wait.”

“So, what we did is to try promoting it to the private sector, and we are quite successful in the sense that there is now a private company that has started planning in putting up an irradiation facility in Luzon.

But then, we also need that for the other parts of the country, like in Mindanao where we have a very big volume of agricultural produce the are ready for export,” he said.

Aside from disinfecting through the irradiation process, De la Peña said application of nuclear technology in agriculture can likewise provide beneficial results in terms of plant breeding.

“Aside from plant breeding, we are also process certain agri produce that can be used as input in agriculture, like for instance production of seaweed carrageenan,” he said.

“When the carrageenan juice has been extracted and it has been radiated, it produced very good results in terms of enhancing growth of our crops,” he explained.

He added that the input has already been tested in the production of rice and mongo.

“But the problem lies again in the bottleneck at the radiation facility,” De la Peña pointed out.

“DoST can only go up to the pilot scale of demonstration, in other words, we can only show that a particular technology works, but the roll out of new technologies will depend on line agencies, it is the same for health, for agriculture, for energy.

So, we take care of research and development to develop new technologies, conduct pilot testing, and once it is found to be effective, that is the time when we recommend for its roll out, and I will be very happy when our locally developed products will be patronized,” he concluded.