Ratan Manilal says that nuclear energy can be a panacea to the water crisis in India.
Sea water can now be made fit for drinking, thanks to new technology developed by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). The new water desalination techniques developed by DAE have been used successfully in Tamil Nadu in 2004 to convert sea water into drinking water. Such technologies can in fact be used to clean the Ganga as well.
Membrane technology for water desalination and purification has been tested at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and it is among several indigenous desalination and water purification technologies, the knowhow of many has already been transferred to many entrepreneurs for wider use in a commercially viable manner.
The support for seawater desalination using nuclear energy (in short called nuclear desalination) has been supported by many countries. In countries such as Japan, India, and Kazakhstan, nuclear desalination has been demonstrated and is seen as a viable option to meet the growing demand for potable water and provide hope to areas with acute water shortages in many arid and semi-arid zones.
The demand for water in the country is increasing rapidly. The existing water resources are diminishing. Ground water in several habitations is contaminated with excess salinity, fluoride, iron, arsenic, microbial contaminants etc. Drinking water with physical, chemical or biological contamination has harmful effects on human beings.
It is estimated that about 70% of health problems can be traced to deficiency in the water quality. Technological intervention has become a necessity for a reliable and sustainable availability of clean water.
Although BARC is primarily involved in the field of research in nuclear sciences, it has as a part of its societal commitment developed these techniques. The technology development and know-how transfer in desalination and water purification is an indication of the high-end research using nuclear energy.
It has also patented these technologies which can lead to development of water purification products such as construction of brackish/ seawater desalination plants from small size range for domestic use to large size range for industrial/ municipal use.
Nuclear desalination is thus a matured technology and can be installed in many nuclear plants to provide fresh water to solve regional water shortage problems. The desalination capacities of the world have been doubling each decade and hence there is a tremendous potential for nuclear desalination. Efforts are now primarily directed towards reducing production cost of desalinated water through innovations and technological enhancements.
Another excellent use of nuclear energy is the treatment of sludge, an industrial waste, converting it for agricultural use. The BARC has helped in setting up a Cobalt-60 Gamma Irradiation Plant at Ahmedabad which is the first of its kind in India and can hygienise 100 tons of dry sludge every day. The hygienised sludge is inoculated with useful bacteria to improve Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium contents of the sludge for agricultural use. The hygienised sludge is being marketed as well.
Sludge is disposed in unorganized manner resulting in environmental pollution and spread of diseases. If the sludge can be treated in effective and economic way to meet the prescribed norms, it can be recycled by safely applying it on land for various applications including agriculture. The high energy gamma radiation from Cobalt-60 can kill pathogens, reduce odours and degrade organic chemical contaminants and thus making sludge safer for use or disposal.
Nuclear energy provides now only about 7% of global energy use; fossil fuels which degrade the environment provide the rest. Nuclear energy has the potential to provide an abundance of greenhouse-gas-free energy for mankind. With its myriad uses, nuclear energy has the potential to play a crucial role in areas beyond electricity generation.