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Faced with Growing Demand for Services, Philippine Nuclear Research Institute to Upgrade Irradiation Facility

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Demand is booming for services of the Philippines only gamma irradiator. Located at the Philippines Nuclear Research Institute in Quezon City, the irradiator is mostly used for microbiological decontamination of spices, herbs and dried vegetables and for the sterilization of medical devices and packaging materials. Its ongoing upgrade and capacity enlargement are supported by the IAEA. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)

Quezon City, Philippines – Much of the Philippines’ spice and herbal products industry relies on the country’s only gamma irradiator for microbiological decontamination, but the facility at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) can no longer cope with the increased demand. PNRI is working to upgrade the facility, with the help of the IAEA, and is lending support to the private sector and the government’s National Development Company to establish a commercial facility in the near future.

“Irradiation is the most effective method for the decontamination of our products and not having the necessary access to the facility at PNRI will hurt our business,” said Jojo Orolfo, Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Farmtec Foods Inc, one of the 91 clients of PNRI’s irradiation facility. Farmtec Foods manufactures dehydrated shrimp products that are used as snack flavouring in the food industry, and makes deliveries of its products to PNRI’s gamma irradiation facility in Quezon City near Manila weekly. But lately, Farmtec’s access to the facility has been limited, as PNRI has an increasing number of clients to satisfy, while at the same time the radioactive source that produces the gamma rays is decaying and can supply a decreasing amount of radiation.

“We are primarily a research institute, and what the industry needs at this stage is a commercial operation,” said Carlo A. Arcilla, PNRI’s director. “With a high capacity irradiator available, a lot of the country’s agricultural produce could become more competitive abroad.”

Irradiation with gamma rays, a form of penetrating electromagnetic radiation produced during the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei, kills microorganisms and is used to decontaminate spices, seasonings, dehydrated vegetables and cosmetic raw materials. It is also used for the sterilization of medical devices and packaging materials.

Its use on a large scale could help grow the country’s banana exports – increasing the shelf life of the fruits without the need for chemicals. “It would expand export markets to beyond our immediate neighbourhood,” Arcilla said. “Imagine the extra revenue the country could make.”

The upgrade

Through a technical cooperation project, PNRI is working with the IAEA on the upgrade of its facility, including the purchase of a new, more powerful radiation source. With the support of this project, PNRI is also working on establishing a full automation system to enhance the safety and throughput of the facility.

But this alone won’t solve the larger capacity issue. Last month, PNRI convened a meeting of stakeholders from both industry and various government agencies to discuss a scheme, under which the government’s development agency could set up the facility, which would over time be handed over to the private sector to operate. “PNRI is ready to support this initiative with expertise and advice,” said Luvimina G. Lanuza, Head of Irradiation Services at PNRI.

PNRI staff used the meeting to gain a better understanding of users’ needs and gathering relevant statistics on the contribution of gamma irradiation services to the country’s industrial and economic development, Lanuza said.

The meeting was attended by IAEA experts, who – under a new technical cooperation project that covers several Asian countries – advise PNRI on how to develop the strategy, approach and economic assessment for the sustainable operation and services of its facility.

“We are very grateful to the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme for providing us  assistance in both technical and R&D management aspects of this gamma irradiation project,” Arcilla said.

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