Gamma rays: N50bn tech fa­cil­ity wastes away

Daily Trust - - FRONT PAGE - Alex Abutu

The multi bil­lion naira Gamma Ir­ra­di­a­tion Fa­cil­ity (GIF) es­tab­lished by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to pro­vide suc­cour to farm­ers against food stor­age and pre­vent post-har­vest losses has gone co­matose at the Nu­clear Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre (NTC) Sheda Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Com­plex (SHESTCO), Abuja.

The fa­cil­ity, built at a cost of over N50 bil­lion and in­au­gu­rated by former Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo shortly be­fore leav­ing of­fice, never worked as ex­pected as it had re­mained un­der lock and key since its in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2006.

Dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion, the fa­cil­ity was de­scribed as one of the most mod­ern com­mer­cial ir­ra­di­a­tion plants in the world and the only one of its kind in the West African sub-re­gion.

The fa­cil­ity was es­tab­lished to treat over 20 met­ric tons of prod­ucts daily in­clud­ing agri­cul­tural prod­ucts to elon­gate their shelf live and make them ac­cept­able at the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

Gamma ir­ra­di­a­tion is a tech­nol­ogy that is used in the preser­va­tion of food crops and other agri­cul­tural prod­ucts; it is a process by which prod­ucts like yams, toma­toes, man­goes, or­anges and other food prod­ucts are passed through a ray called the Gamma Ray. When food crops are passed through this ray, it ster­il­izes the food crops against mi­cro­bial in­fec­tion. The ray also main­tains the qual­ity of the food prod­uct against spoilage thereby curb­ing post-har­vest losses.

“If a crop is passed through this ray, it will make the crop to last for more than six months or one year with­out mi­cro­bial in­fec­tion or re­duc­tion in the qual­ity of the prod­uct. In yam, the tech­nol­ogy in­hibits sprout­ing and main­tains the qual­ity of the yam for the pe­riod of stor­age,” said Engr Se­gun Ade, an Abuja-based engi­neer.

The fa­cil­ity was ex­pected to gen­er­ate N7. 245 bil­lion yearly but since its com­mis­sion­ing, farm­ers have not been able to ac­cess it and reap the ben­e­fits in­her­ent in the tech­nol­ogy as it has been left co­matose at the SHESTCO.

The tech­nol­ogy is not only ben­e­fi­cial to farm­ers alone, med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers can also ben­e­fit from the gamma ray tech­nol­ogy; the tech­nol­ogy can be used for ster­il­iza­tion of med­i­cal, clin­i­cal and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts and equip­ment when they are passed through the ray.

A source at SHESTCO who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity told Daily Trust that since the tech­nol­ogy was ac­quired, it has never been put to use and the fa­cil­ity is in co­matose state. “Since the com­mis­sion­ing of this fa­cil­ity by the Obasanjo gov­ern­ment, there were work­shops that brought farm­ers, bev­er­age com­pa­nies and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies to­gether to see how they can ben­e­fit from this tech­nol­ogy but since then, the tech­nol­ogy has not been put to use due to man­age­ment prob­lem. I’m talk­ing to you now, the fa­cil­ity has been aban­doned and is co­matose for sev­eral years now. The worst part of the prob­lem is that the cobalt 60 source is de­cay­ing grad­u­ally, this means that the cost ben­e­fit analy­ses of ac­quir­ing this fa­cil­ity has not been put into use ef­fi­ciently and this is a colos­sal loss to gov­ern­ment and the end users who are farm­ers and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies,” the source said.

Ex­perts said the fa­cil­ity was suf­fer­ing from min­is­te­rial and ad­min­is­tra­tive pol­i­tics as its move­ment from SHESTCO, an agency un­der the Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy to the Nige­ria Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion un­der the Pres­i­dency was an­other rea­son why the plant was grounded.

The fa­cil­ity was built by SHESTCO but cur­rently man­aged by NAEC, a sit­u­a­tion that cre­ated mis­giv­ings be­tween the two or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Among al­le­ga­tions mak­ing the round are that of a man­age­ment agree­ment with Siemens, which Nige­ria was pay­ing N150 mil­lion monthly as it was said to have vast ex­pe­ri­ence in the man­age­ment of ir­ra­di­a­tion plants.

SHESTCO, Daily Trust found, was es­tab­lished as a tech­nol­ogy cen­tre. With physics ad­vanced lab, they have biotech­nol­ogy and ge­netic en­gi­neer­ing lab and chem­istry lab as well as the Nu­clear Tech­no­log­i­cal Cen­tre lab which are sup­posed to serve as sup­port units for re­search for the GIF. Dur­ing Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever the GIF was re­moved from SHESTCO with­out fol­low­ing due process.

“Un­der Good­luck Jonathan, the GIF was moved from SHESTCO to Nige­rian Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion (NAEC) be­cause of gov­ern­ment sub­ven­tion but the en­abling law es­tab­lish­ing SHESTCO was not amended. The move­ment was done with­out re­course to the en­abling law es­tab­lish­ing the cen­tre; mean­while, other an­cil­lary fa­cil­i­ties like the elec­tro-me­chan­i­cal work­shop still re­mained un­der SHESTCO,” the source added.

Chair­man of NAEC, Dr. Franklin Era­pamo Osai­sai, told Daily Trust that the chal­lenges fac­ing the fa­cil­ity had noth­ing to do with mis­man­age­ment or in­com­pe­tence.

Osai­sai said that the fa­cil­ity was down, but not shut, due to tech­ni­cal chal­lenges in­clud­ing the de­cay of the Cobalt 60, the nu­clear fuel that the fa­cil­ity re­lied on for ir­ra­di­a­tion.

“By 2006 when the fa­cil­ity was in­au­gu­rated, the Cobalt 60 source strength had de­cayed con­sid­er­ably with less than 5 years’ life span. This is not some­thing we can do on our own, we are work­ing with our tech­ni­cal part­ner, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA), on this to en­sure we up­grade the source be­fore we can un­der­take in­dus­trial ap­pli­ca­tion,” he said.

Other chal­lenges the fa­cil­ity is fac­ing, ac­cord­ing to the chair­man, are in­ad­e­quate power sup­ply which left the agency to rely on gen­er­at­ing sets any­time the fa­cil­ity is op­er­ated.

He ac­knowl­edged that the fa­cil­ity would not be able to meet the na­tion’s over­all ex­pec­ta­tions es­pe­cially in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, adding that the ini­tial de­sign was to have the fa­cil­ity repli­cated in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try.

He de­nied hav­ing any tech­ni­cal agree­ment with any com­pany for the man­age­ment of the plant say­ing that the agency’s staff were well trained to man­age­ment the fa­cil­ity.

The fa­cil­ity, ac­cord­ing to Daily Trust in­ves­ti­ga­tion, was de­signed with full ca­pac­ity uti­liza­tion, to en­gage hun­dreds of Nige­rian sci­en­tists and cre­ate em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties but noth­ing of the sort has taken place since in­cep­tion.

An­other source who also spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity noted that the na­tion was “los­ing bil­lions of naira due to un­der­uti­liza­tion of the ir­ra­di­a­tor as most prod­ucts which have great ex­port value can be ir­ra­di­ated and pre­served to meet in­ter­na­tional quar­an­tine re­quire­ments for greater eco­nomic ben­e­fits”

As the op­er­a­tors’ trade blame on why the fa­cil­ity lies co­matose, it is im­por­tant to note that less than a decade ago, the N50 bil­lion fa­cil­ity was said to be one of the best in the world but can that still be said of it to­day?

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