Background Radiation Levels in Kerala

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    • The pan-India study by scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has found that in parts of Kerala, background radiation levels are nearly three times more than what’s been assumed.
      • The pan-India study was conducted by scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and measured radiation levels from nearly 100,000 locations across the country.

    What is Background Radiation?

    • Background radiation is radiation emitted from natural sources such as rocks, sand, or mountains.
    • There are two kinds of background radiations:
      • Natural Radiation: These are the radiations that originate due to the radioactive materials present on earth.
      • Cosmic Radiation: These are the radiations that come from the sun, stars, and other celestial bodies by penetrating our earth’s atmosphere.
    • Radiation results from the disintegrating nucleus of an unstable element and these can be from anywhere, including from inside our bodies to the constituents of matter.
    • Gamma rays are a kind of radiation that can pass unobstructed through matter. Though extremely energetic, they are harmless unless present in large concentrated doses. It’s similar to heat from a fire feeling pleasant until a sustained, concentrated burst can scald or worse, ignite.

    Major Findings

    • The study found that the levels of background radiation in the Kollam district (where Chavara is situated) were 9,562 nGy/hr, or about three times more.
    • This computes to about 70 milliGray a year, or a little more than what a worker in a nuclear plant is exposed to.
    • The traces however don’t translate to an elevated health risk as the limits set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are extremely conservative and only reflect abundant caution.
    • India’s plans to increase reliance on nuclear energy meant that it was time to update estimates on the natural background radiation.
    • The last study was conducted in 1986 and computed the radiation to be 89 nGy/hr while the highest radiation exposure was found in Chavara, Kerala, at 3,002 nGy/year.
    • The study has also found a slightly fair correlation between soil classes and absorbed dose rate:
      • Low values of absorbed dose rate in the air were recorded for mixed red and black soils of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
      • High values were recorded in the west-coastal plains of Kerala containing coastal and derived deltaic alluvial soils.

    What are the major implications of the Study?

    • The higher radiation levels in Kollam are attributed to monazite sands that are high in thorium.
    • This is part of India’s long-term plan to sustainably produce nuclear fuel.
    • Southern India has higher levels of radiation from uranium deposits due to the presence of granite and basaltic volcanic rock.

    Nuclear Energy of India

    • India is a country that heavily relies on nuclear energy for its power generation with vast nuclear deposits, and the government has taken numerous steps to utilize this energy source to its full potential.
    • India’s nuclear deposits are primarily found in the states of Jharkhand, Rajasthan, and Meghalaya containing a variety of minerals, including uranium, thorium, and monazite. 
    • Thorium, which is a fertile material that can be converted into nuclear fuel, is found in large quantities in the beach sands of Kerala.
    • India has 23 operational nuclear power reactors in seven nuclear power plants across the country. These reactors have a total installed capacity of 7,480 megawatts (MW). The major nuclear power plants in India are:
      • Tarapur(Maharashtra), Kakrapar(Gujarat),Kaiga(Karnataka), Narora(Uttar Pradesh) and Kudankulam(Tamil Nadu) etc. 
    • In addition to these operational plants, India is also constructing several new nuclear power plants, including:
      • Gorakhpur Haryana Anu Vidyut Pariyojana (GHAVP) in Haryana, 
      • Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra, 
      • Kovvada Nuclear Power Project in Andhra Pradesh.

    Way ahead

    • The study results indicate that background radiation levels in Kerala are high, but they do not pose a significant health risk.
    • It’s important to continue monitoring radiation levels in areas with higher levels of natural background radiation, and to update estimates periodically.
    • Despite these challenges, India remains committed to developing its nuclear power industry, and the government has taken several steps to address these challenges. 

    Source: TH