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From potable seawater to cleaner Ganga, the promise of atomic science

Over the years, DAE has notched over half a dozen patents for water purification and desalination to meet what is considered a major requirement in India.

Written by Johnson T A | Mysuru | Published: January 7, 2016 2:09 am
Department of Atomic Energy, indian science congress, DAE water purification project, DAE seawater treatment project, DAE ganga cleaning projects, india news, science news, latest news DAE scientists highlighted applications such as the use of radiation and radioisotopes in agriculture to improve crop varieties, control pests and meet drinking water needs. (Source: Illustration by CR Saskikumar)

When a tsunami devastated coastal Tamil Nadu in 2004, it also wiped out regular supplies of drinking water. New water desalination technologies from the Department of Atomic Energy were deployed to convert seawater into drinking water.

Over the years, DAE has notched over half a dozen patents for water purification and desalination to meet what is considered a major requirement in India. Water purification technologies developed by the DAE are now even promising to clean the Ganga.

At a special session at the Indian Science Congress to showcase technologies that have evolved from massive investments made in the atomic energy sector over the years, DAE scientists highlighted applications such as the use of radiation and radioisotopes in agriculture to improve crop varieties, control pests and meet drinking water needs.

“If you scan the whole country and look at the people working to clean or desalinate water, you will find that the maximum work has been done in the Department of Atomic Energy,” former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee said during the conference.

“DAE has developed several types of indigenous desalination and water purification technologies addressing the unique challenges faced by the country. The know-how of the technologies has been transferred to many entrepreneurs for wider deployment in a commercially viable manner,” said P K Tewari, a leading scientist in the field of membrane technology for water desalination and purification at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

“Our membrane-based water effluent treatment systems have the potential to play a vital role in the cleaning of the Ganga,” he said. “DAE has developed technology and set up the largest nuclear desalination demonstration plant of 6.3-million-litres-per-day capacity for seawater desalination coupled Madras Atomic Power Station,” Dr Tewari told the science congress.

The desalination plant attached to MAPC is based on a “hybrid multi-stage flash reverse osmosis technology” and is producing and supplying distilled water for high-end applications and water for drinking and other uses, he said. Locating the desalination and power plant near each other enables supply of seawater, steam and electricity for desalination.

“Rural adaptability of the technologies has been demonstrated. Field demonstration of the technologies for purification of raw water with bacteria, virus, fluoride, arsenic, iron, uranium and other contaminants had been carried out in different parts of the country. DAE is providing technical support and guidance to clean and develop water bodies,” Dr Tewari said.

According to Fields medal-winning mathematician Manjul Bhargava, India needs scientists focused on solving local problems since many of these are unique.

“A lot of the science that is needed in India is not what is available in the world. The climate is different. The kind of food problems that Chennai had recently are very specific to India,” he said. “We need scientists who are on the ground in India solving the problems that India has, making innovations that are specifically required in India. We need to have that basic knowledge ready when it is needed in situations like floods or when there are societal needs.”

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  1. M
    MyTake
    Jan 6, 2016 at 9:05 pm
    Such proposals should be given tax free advantage for 10-15 years. This will promote growth, jobs, technology and even individual tax returns from their earning. Return will be many fold than what would be "lost" from the businesses given in the form of "tax free" advantage.
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    1. D
      Das
      Jan 7, 2016 at 10:22 pm
      "Made in India", "Progress" and n number of initiatives, slogans and plans will stay just that as both Congress and now NDA regimes do not have been basic understanding of a modern economy let alone more finer aspects. Does Modi or his relevant IT or science minister understand and anyone including media sufficiently heighted or drawn his attention to an elephant in the room regarding much touted “Make in India” plan? The plan is doom to be damp squib unless Modi is made to understand that Indian consumes 100,000 tone of expensive key material used as critical component in range of equipment, ranging from jet fighters, ships to mobiles, washing machine to cars, and India is incapable of making even few hundred kilograms whilst China makes hundreds of thousands of tonnes. Indians like winter jackal have been planning for decades but have done f… all. Jaaney waaley samjh gaeay jo naa samjhey woh dull hain.
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      1. D
        Das
        Jan 7, 2016 at 10:30 pm
        "Made in India", "Progress" and “n” number of initiatives, slogans and plans will stay just that, as both successive Congress and now NDA regimes have not6 had even rudimentary understanding of medium to large modern economies, let alone have in-depth relevant knowledgeable cabinet or civil servants. Does Modi or his relevant IT or science minister understand or anyone else including media have bothered to draw government’s attention to an elephant in the room regarding much touted “Make in India” initiative? No they have not and therefore the plan is doom to be damp squib. It can be saved if Modi government and is underperforming IT and science minsters are somehow made to understand that India consumes 100,000 tone of expensive key raw material used as critical strategic component in almost all modern equipment, such as jet fighters, ships to mobiles, washing machine to cars. Yet despite her size, ambitions and so-called “large” industrial base India is incapable of making even few hundred kilograms whilst China makes hundreds of thousands of tonnes of this key modern scientific wonder. Indians like winter jackal have been planning for decades but have done f… all. Jaaney waaley samjh gaeay jo naa samjhey woh dull hain.
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        1. S
          sclahiry
          Jan 13, 2016 at 12:12 pm
          Seawater desalination is increasingly becoming a vital option for alleviating severe water shortage around the world and especially in developing countries India the DAE has done pioneering work in developing indigenous desalination and water purification technologies.These technologies have been commercialised.A no of plants have been set up in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.The need for an adequate supply of potable water for growing potion is well recognised.To insulate people from vagaries of monsoon, setting up of salination plants would be of much help. Successive failure of monsoon in Marathawada and other places has caused deep distress to people,cattle,etc apart from crop failure.Maharashtra Govt should take initiative in devising programme( in consultation with DAE) to utilise aboundant sea water around Mumbai and coastline for welbeing of its people expeditiously.
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          Adda