Stakeholders from across the region are participating in a five-day workshop examining the need to improve the regulatory infrastructures for radiation safety, and the security of radioactive sources.
Speaking at the opening of the forum at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, on Monday June 11, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Anthony Hylton, welcomed the discussion, and emphasised that establishing an appropriate regulatory infrastructure for the control of the use of radioactive sources is critical to the development of Jamaica and the region’s technological infrastructure, and the infrastructure that underpins economic growth.
“Without sustained economic growth, we would all perish, hence the broader significance of ensuring that we put in place the regulatory management and control capacity to adopt technology, notwithstanding the capacity for this technology to generate radioactive material,” he said.
The Minister pointed out that the use of technology that contains radioactive sources in regional economies is increasing, with the ongoing revolution in science and technology, and its adoption cross various sectors.
“It is therefore very vital that we grasp the full meaning and significance of this technology as a platform for the development of our business sector,” he said, noting that there are a number of issues that are critical to how radioactive sources impact society.
He said these matters have often been at the centre of major controversies among various interests.
The Minister noted that, for example, the use of radioactive sources in production has been a major point of contention in the United States. He explained that in 2008 the US Food and Drug Administration decided to allow fresh produce suppliers to eradiate some fruits and vegetables, in order to destroy food prone bacteria, such as eccoli and salmonella, which for decades have caused widespread illness among consumers.
Mr. Hylton pointed out that the use of radioactive products, such as some full spectrum fluorescent lamps that are promoted as producing ultra violet UV radiation, is of concern, as there can be adverse effects of UV radiation, such as sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer.
He said globalisation implies creating a value chain that ties together production and distribution across national borders, and the movement of goods and services. “Bringing our regulatory environment for radioactive sources in line with global standards is therefore both a necessity and an imperative for our countries,” he asserted.
The Minister highlighted that in Jamaica, there are several industries that require radiation sources to support their production processes, such as the health sector, which involves the use of radiography and radiotherapy equipment to support the delivery of patient care.
He pointed out also that port operations rely on the use of X-ray and cobalt machines for the detection of contraband, and providing border security, while in the mining sector, high tech equipment, which generate radioactive material, are used for operations; and agriculture relies on the use of radioactive sources for the management and control of pests which affect crop yield.
Mr. Hylton said several considerations must be taken into account in regard to radioactive sources, such as ensuring an economically sustainable production infrastructure, as it relates to the cost of energy. “Nuclear energy is a cheap source of energy and should be contemplated for the future energy regime,” he added.
The Minister argued that the imminent ban on the use of methyl bromide for the sterilisation of crops for export, may make it necessary to introduce radiation to improve the shelf-life of local products. Also, he said the Government is considering the re-introduction of nuclear medicine technology in the public sector.
He said the widespread proliferation of technology with radioactive sources, has significant economic implications, as the potential costs associated with the use of dangerous radioactive material is considerable. Therefore, he said putting in place adequate infrastructure for the management and control of the use of technology with the capacity for radioactivity, is a national priority.
The workshop is being facilitated by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), in association with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organisation.
It seeks to: provide information on the necessary elements of a sound regulatory infrastructure for radiation safety and security; present relevant international safety standards and security guidance documents; and prepare an action plan for developing radiation protection capabilities in the participating countries. The workshop also covers illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive material and related IAEA activities.
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Senior Reporter