The Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) has begun implementing a plastic waste management program using nuclear technology to address the country’s huge plastic waste threat.
The program “Nuclear Technology for Plastic Pollution Control” called “NUTEC Plastics” is an initiative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that was launched in 2021 to help the governments of their member states integrate nuclear energy to combat plastic pollution.
Professor Samuel Boakye Dampare, the director-general of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, said at a stakeholder engagement workshop in Accra that the program is currently being implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI).
It aims to tackle plastic pollution through recycling using ionizing radiation technology to reduce the economic cost of waste management and improve quality assurance to fill the gap faced by the industry in producing high-quality recycled materials within the loop is economic framework.
The director-general said that although GAEC has existing technology that uses gamma rays (a nuclear technology) to irradiate agricultural, medical and other industrial products to preserve and extend shelf life, knowledge of how to treat plastic waste is expanding a virgin territory that the commission was ready to explore.
He said the Commission had submitted a proposal to MESTI and the Minister of Food and Agriculture to assist in setting up similar gamma and electron beam radiation technologies in some key regions of the country and asked for financial support from the private sector through public-private partnerships.
He recognized the IAEA’s role in the successful implementation of the program, whose expert, Dr. Chantara Thevy Ratnam, who was on a mission to the country to share her expertise on the use of radiation technology in polymer recycling will also be working with senior plastics officials and stakeholders.
dr Ratnam, the IAEA expert on NUTEC plastics, commended Ghana for its determination in implementing the programme.
She said the IAEA’s efforts have sought to encourage the integration of radiation technologies into global efforts to combat plastic pollution, improve recycling and also create opportunities to harness the technology’s huge socio-economic benefits.
Sharing some knowledge of radiation processing for polymer modification, she said that this ensures unique high-tech products and assured the continued commitment and support of the IAEA in the field of technical assistance to Ghana’s program.
dr Fidelis Ocloo, the associate director of the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI), responsible for the NUTEC plastics program, provided some statistics that predicted that by 2025, without intervention, the oceans would contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish, and by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
“It is estimated that 52,000 tonnes of raw plastics are produced annually in Ghana and this number is expected to increase significantly with the downstream development of the fairly new petrochemical sector.”
“However, more than a million tons of plastic waste is generated annually, suggesting that domestic production accounts for only five percent of plastics in the country,” he said.
He said that with an established National Plastic Action Partnership and National Plastics Management Policy, the conditions are in place to create a whole new industry for plastics re-engineering, recovery and recycling, preventing environmental and community pollution and creating many new jobs created the green economy.
Efforts to protect Ghana’s environmental resources from the threat of plastic pollution and to wisely utilize its vast untapped natural resources to improve people’s socio-economic situation have become more critical, he said.