Agri Business

DAE arm searching for businessmen to set up facilities for irradiation

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on March 12, 2018

Jan Schneckenhaus

Setting up such facilities has good scope in view of food safety requirements

The Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology (BRIT), an arm of the Department of Atomic Energy, is trying to encourage entrepreneurs to set up irradiation facilities.

Irradiation is the modern method of sterilising fruits or vegetables of insects.

Providing irradiation services is good business as there are only 15 such facilities in the country. It is woefully inadequate given the sheer size of the country.

Three of the 15 facilities are owned by BRIT, which operates them on a not-for-profit basis. These facilities are reference plants for high, medium and low dose radiation – high for sterilisation of medicines and syringes, medium for the likes of spices, pet food and cosmetics and low for onion, potatoes, to prevent them from sprouting.

Expansion plans

The remaining units are owned by industries and entrepreneurs. AK Kohli, Chief Executive of BRIT, says the Board is working towards raising the number to at least 50 in another five years. BRIT also provides radio-active isotopes for industrial applications such as non-destructive testing, testing for leaks in pipes and cracks in columns and radio-medicine. The board earns ₹80 crore annually.

Setting up irradiation facilities for third party use is good business, says Kohli. It seems so going by the experience of Universal Medicare Ltd, which owns two such facilities in Gujarat. Eight years ago, the company set up its first unit of a capacity of 1,000 KCi (kilo curies, which is a measure of radiation) at a cost of ₹6 crore. Today, the business fetches profits of ₹5-6 crore a year, Patel told BusinessLine. Radio-active substances ‘decay’ about one per cent a month. So these units will have to keep adding “pencils” (in which form isotopes such as Cobalt 60 or Iridium 192 are supplied). It costs ₹65 lakh for 100 KCi.

Quality control

In future, food safety requirements will make irradiation mandatory, says Kohli. Exports of foods to the developed countries will surely require irradiation and the mangoes that go to the US pass through an inspection. Irradiation also enhances shelf-life of foods, so farmers can store them till they get better prices. “You can process 20 tonnes of onions per hour and it will cost 20 paise a kg.”

Published on November 18, 2014

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