Interests of pharma cos to be ascertained for research reactor: AEC chief

Venkatachari Jagannathan-

With Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday announcing setting up of a dedicated nuclear research reactor in the public-private-partnership (PPP) mode for making medical isotopes, the next step is to talk with the pharma industry to gauge their interest, said K.N. Vyas, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

The other step is to work out the modalities like any amendments to law to be made to allow the private sector in the nuclear reactor sector.

“Now that the Finance Minister has talked about a dedicated research reactor in the PPP model for making medical isotopes or radiopharmaceuticals, the industry will look at the proposal seriously. Perhaps the announcement was made as a part of the Central government’s goal to provide health for all,” Vyas told IANS in an interview.

Queried about the capacity of the research reactor that would be set up, Vyas said: “India has built research reactors with capacity between 40 MW and 100 MW. But the capacity for a dedicated reactor for radio pharmaceuticals will have to be arrived at after talking to the industry.”

Similarly, the investment needed per MW would also differ as the last research reactor built by India was way back in 1984 and the new costs will have to be worked out and a private partner has to be found, Vyas added.

According to him, the costs for research reactors may be different from that of reactors that are being built for power generation.

According to him, there is a variety of radiopharmaceuticals made in India and some are also imported.

Ruling out hiving off an existing research reactor under the proposed PPP mode, Vyas said: “The reactors were set up at specific locations and free access cannot be provided to all. A private investor would like to have free access to a reactor set up under the PPP model.”

Finance Minister Sitharaman also announced a PPP model for setting up of irradiation units for agriculture produce to complement the agricultural reforms announced earlier and also to assist the farmers.

“There are about 20 such units that are functioning in the country. Irradiation is useful in extending the shelf life of the agricultural produce. A lot of food gets wasted in the country,” Vyas said.

Here too, the nuclear sector has to approach the private industry to measure their interest.

“Interest in such centres is picking up as Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are looking at having such centres,” Vyas said.

Sitharaman also said the idea is to link India’s robust start-up ecosystem to the nuclear sector. She said Technology Development-cum-Incubation Centres will be set up for fostering synergy between research facilities and tech-entrepreneurs.