Radionuclides: A Layman Quandary

    • By,
      Anshika – Student, Kautilya

Since the genesis of the world, the composition of matter has been a harmonious pool of elements and their differential types. These coexist in a potpourri of compounds exhibiting different properties and scattered throughout usage and industries.

Lifeforms are predisposed to absorb materials from the environment. These absorption measures function without sieving the elemental soup and occur through pathways in lifeforms, which may be external or internal. Amidst the vast inferences of these elements exist those termed Radionuclides (or Radioactive Elements), whose properties prove disastrous for lifeforms. Their direct consumption being even more detrimental.

Radionuclides are not a concept of today’s time and age. Their low-level contamination has been observed throughout junctions scattered around the world. These reports may be traced as far back as the Roman times when concepts such as industries existed in the local household settings. These elements consist largely of around 1300 forms, originating from natural sources but largely anthropogenically produced.

The question thereby arises to quantify the general mapping of these Radionuclides against the trend of the global historical quotient. Following that are the mitigating factors from the perspective of states to formulate legal implications that control the propagation of these elements at an industrial scale and laws that curate specific departments that regulate and check the imports and market outflow of commodities. On a primary note, Radionuclide prevalence and creation almost always occur through industrial practice.

In a top-down approach, regulatory limits for radioactivity are in place to prevent potential health hazards that might occur due to the consumption of contaminated food by the public. To observe the larger trend of academic discussions in this field, the ringbearer has been the State of Japan, known largely in the field of radiation studies due to the Fukushima-Daichi tragedy. The Fifth Montevideo Programme for the Development of Periodic Review of Environmental Law under the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) controls the larger ambit of these regulations internationally.

The programme functions jointly with multiple other international collaborations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), under which Nations function independently to formulate their own locally substantiated plans. The US government, in 1998, under the WTO Appellate Body, released an import prohibition of certain Shrimp and Shrimp products in countries of South Asia (inclusive of India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Thailand). The ban was contested by the appellees under the appellant’s claim of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and contentions with the scavenging of materials by these nations violating basic international regulations set in place. Incidents of this manner are largely unfocused by the media and general academic discourse.

More national incidents include the 2004 M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. Case, wherein environmental degradation due to mining activity in an area up to 5 km from the Delhi-Haryana border was explored. What is interesting to observe and corroborate is the fact that the existence of Radionuclides is never an isolated event that wholly requires the foundational discourse to be based on the same, but rather a byproduct of state measures.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India is primarily responsible for managing internal checks and balances for the nation’s local data on radionuclide prevalence. Functioning alongside its vertical of the Committee on Safety Research Programme (CSRP), it has evolved a robust procedure for safety review and issue of consents at various stages of setting up facilities in line with the best international practices and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines.

The procedure for the safety regulations follows examination under a Multitier review based on the radiation hazard potential (which is also carried out for radiation facilities). Proposals having greater radiation hazard potential undergo a second-tier safety review by the Safety Review Committee for Application of Radiation (SARCAR) and finally by the Board of AERB.

Whilst the greater backdrop for these institutions has been set up. Layman’s knowledge of radioactivity detection is still wholly lacking in the local Indian setting. Countries like the USA corroborate soil contamination checks before individuals move into construction procedures. As a comparison backdrop, such checks are largely absent in a National setting like India. It probes discussion over the general nuanced permeation of such facilities and seepage into common jurisdictional structures like land registrations to allow such facilities to be used for the public’s benefit.

In conclusion, it is our understanding that the constant mingling of matter has consistently produced a mix of elements, each with its characteristics, utilized across various industries. While international collaborations and national initiatives strive to monitor and regulate radionuclide prevalence, challenges persist. The public’s awareness and understanding of radioactivity detection remain inadequate, particularly in regions like India, where comprehensive soil contamination checks are lacking. Moreover, incidents such as the 2004 M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India case underscores the ongoing need for broader discourse and proactive measures to safeguard against the adverse effects of radioactive materials on environmental and human health.

As we navigate the complexities of radioactivity, it becomes increasingly clear that ensuring public safety requires not only regulatory measures but also ongoing vigilance, cooperation, and education at all levels of society. By addressing gaps in detection, regulation, and public awareness, we can better mitigate the risks associated with radionuclides and foster a safer environment for all.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.