India opens nuclear energy space to private players but for cancer research and other consumer applications only

Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Plant, Bathinda, PunjabUnsplash
  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today announced much-needed reforms in the atomic energy sector.
  • The announcement included two reforms that invite private sector participation in the consumer application of atomic energy, including medical isotopes for cancer treatment and irradiation technology for the agriculture sector.
  • In addition to this, Sitharaman is also looking to tap into the start-up ecosystem to bring innovation in this sector.
Using the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity, India is opening up the atomic energy sector for private sector participation.

While private sector participation in the highly sensitive atomic energy sector might seem risky, the announcements made by Sitharaman relate to the application of atomic energy in the fields of medicine, agriculture and nuclear research.

"Today’s announcement on linking India’s start up eco-system to the nuclear sector through Technology Development cum Incubation Centers is welcome. However, the mechanism should address typical “valley of death” issues which hinder the lab to market journey. Similar experiences in other countries suggest that incentivizing market leading companies to join the R&D efforts may help," said Arindam Guha, Partner, Deloitte India.

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Government turns to the private sector and start-up ecosystem for innovation in the atomic energy sector

The Indian government’s atomic energy reforms look to tap into the bustling start-up ecosystem and the private sector for innovation and research in the atomic energy sector.

While two of the three reforms related to the consumer application of atomic energy, the third reform relates to innovation and research in this sector.

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Here are all the atomic energy reforms announced by Sitharaman:

  • Establish a research reactor in public-private partnership (PPP) mode for production of medical isotopes – this will help in developing affordable treatment for cancer and other diseases.
  • Establish facilities in PPP mode to use irradiation technology for food preservation – this will compliment agricultural reforms and assist farmers.
  • Link the start-up ecosystem to the nuclear sector – technology development cum incubation centres will be set up for developing synergy between research facilities and tech-entrepreneurs.
Public sector companies have a monopoly on atomic energy – until now

So far, India’s atomic energy sector was dominated by public sector companies like the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, Uranium Corporation of India and others.

Now, these announcements will encourage the private sector to invest time and money into atomic energy.
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The first few benefits could show up in the pharmaceutical sector, giving an opportunity to top oncology pharma companies in India like Novartis Oncology, Roche, Celgene among others to develop affordable treatment for cancer and other diseases.

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