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.”