Nuclear technique is being an important application in many sectors such as food agriculture, industry, medical, environmental protection and power production. It is known that there are both advantages and disadvantages of using nuclear energy. However, nuclear energy is being widely used in agriculture which includes food production, animal production, crop production, fertilizer, soil fertility and more.
According to Farm Press, nuclear power is considered cheap to be used in agriculture development. It has been reported that the increasing price of gasoline, electricity, diesel fuel and natural gas is one of the major problems to farmers. Nuclear energy is found to be the cheapest power source for agriculture. For example, nuclear energy can be used in production of nitrogen fertilizer instead of natural gas which has increasing price nowadays. Co-ordinated Research Project (CRP) was carried out on the use of nuclear techniques for optimizing nitrogen fertilizer application under irrigated wheat. It has been found that this technique increases the efficiency of nitrogen fertilizer while reduces environmental pollution.
Other than that, Khanal and Munankarmy (2009) stated that there is possibility to improve health, feeding and fertility of livestock. They further explained that nucleic acid hybridization (nuclear related technique) is a promising technique for disease diagnosis. The conventional approaches of disease diagnosis involving direct detection and isolation consume more time compared to nucleic acid hybridization. Thus, it is said to be very effective in terms of time and sensitivity. Besides that, this technique is also unique because it focuses on the genome of organism instead of its products. According to the study conducted by Khanal and Munankarmy (2009), ionizing irradiation is another nuclear technique which plays a vital role in animal health. Virulence of some parasites can be eliminated using this technique which also helps to produce safer and cost effective vaccines. These methods have increased the rates of growth and milk and meat yield.
Table1.Comparative performance of cows in developing and developed countries
Milk yield / cow
In every 2-3 years
There are some non-isotopic nuclear techniques that are being implicated in agriculture, especially in livestock production (Makkar, 2008). Gamma irradiation is one of the non-isotopic nuclear techniques. This gamma irradiation is an effective technique which enhances nutrient availability in plants that are fed to livestock. According to Makkar, content of plant secondary metabolites in some of the unconventional feed resources, could give adverse effects to the feed of livestock. He further explained that bioavailability of nutrients decreases at high levels of plant secondary metabolites. Thus, it is found that gamma irradiation is an effective technique to inactivate the adverse activities.
Committee On Agriculture has discussed on â€œnuclear techniques in food and agricultureâ€Â. This committee stated that nuclear related techniques help to improve the food production system in terms of stability, resilience and productivity. Biodiversity of crop plants can be increased by radiation induced mutations which change the genetic make-up. For instance, mutation breeding has given more than 3000 crop varieties of some 170 different plant species in more than 100 countries. This includes rice that grows successfully in saline soil and barley that grows at 5000 meters.
Nuclear technique is playing a vital role in soil and water management system. It is important to improve soil moisture conservation measures and reduce wastage of irrigation water which leads to the improvement of water management in agriculture. One of the nuclear techniques that help in soil and water management is Soil Moisture Neutron Probe (SMNP). SMNP is a portable device that is used to measure soil water content at different depths through access tubes installed in the soil profile. Data obtained from SMNP are used to calculate the soil water balance and estimate the total amount of soil water removed from soil evaporation and plant transpiration (Joint FAO/IAEA, 2004).
Fig. 1. Scientists from the United Arab Emirates being trained by the IAEA in the use of the SMNP.
Furthermore, nuclear techniques are also used to identify the source of soil pollutant. This helps farmers or environmental planners to know the specific sources of pollutant and design most appropriate management strategy, so that the impact of pollutants can be reduced. For example, fertilizers and pesticides that are used to improve the agricultural activities can become pollutants if they reach the rivers, streams and lakes. To overcome this problem, fallout radionuclides are attached to soil particles which can track the movement of soil particles from where they originate (Nuclear Technology Review, 2007).
On the other hand, nuclear energy also has disadvantages. One of the major concerns about nuclear energy is there is a chance for severe accident to occur in the reactor. This accident is very dangerous because it releases radioactive materials into the environment. In 1986, there was a Chernobyl accident occurred in Ukraine. It was caused by the flawed Soviet reactor designed coupled with mistakes made by plant operators. As a result, 30 operators and fireman died within three months (Scientific and Technical Committee Euratom, 2001).
Scientific and Technical Committee Euratom has explained on another negative effect of nuclear energy. According to this committee, nuclear energy produces radioactive waste which is very dangerous. There are two types of wastes: short-lived and long-lived wastes. Many countries have safely disposed the short-lived wastes. Whereas, the long-lived wastes which are generated in a very small amount are conditioned and stored carefully without releasing it to the environment. However, the final disposal of long-lived wastes is still an unsolved problem.
As a conclusion, even though nuclear power has disadvantages which are really harmful to the environment and human beings, it should be still encouraged to use it in agriculture. This is because nuclear energy is really needed to improve our Malaysian agricultural sector which is the main focus of our country as our ex-prime minister decided. It is suggested that Malaysian government should encourage creating more researchers on nuclear energy. Other than that, our government can implement joint projects with developed countries, so that more application of nuclear energy can be used in Malaysian agriculture. At the same time, it is very important to be aware of the dangerous of using nuclear energy and always be safe and secured.