KAJANG: The role of nuclear science in ensuring Malaysia's food security is largely unknown, says Nuklear Malaysia director-general Dr Abdul Rahim Harun.
Speaking at the golden anniversary celebration for Nuklear Malaysia, an agency under the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, he said nuclear technology had many applications in agriculture, ranging from improving plant breeding to pest control to studying plant nutrition.
"For example, nuclear technology has been used to contribute to the creation of the IS21 rice variety," said Abdul Rahim at the event held at Nuklear Malaysia's headquarters here Monday (Sept 19), which featured Science, Technology, and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba as the guest of honour.
Nuclear technology was also used in the sterile insect technique (SIT) to create sterile male pests before they were released to mate, and females that mate with these sterile males would not produce any offspring, thus leading to a lower pest population over time.
On rice production, the IS21 rice seeds were unveiled to Malaysian farmers last November by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who then implored Nuklear Malaysia and other related institutions in agriculture such as the Agriculture Department, Agriculture Ministry, Mardi, universities such as Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara, and other related agencies to come up with rice varieties that could withstand extreme climatic events, such as drought or flooding, while also being resistant to pests and diseases.
The effort also included input from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Japan Nuclear Energy Agency, under the auspices of the Asian Forum on Nuclear Cooperation.
Following closely on the heels of the IS21 is the IS22 rice variety, which was now awaiting certification from the Agriculture Department before being allowed to be planted in Malaysia.
Nuklear Malaysia and its partners had been working for the past few years to come up with IS22, which was produced by irradiating the MR219 variety with gamma rays in order to induce mutations with desirable traits, such as drought and flood resistance, among others.
"Nuklear Malaysia has always been proactive in utilising nuclear technology for plant breeding in order to adapt to an era of extreme climate conditions, and I want to congratulate the agency for its many achievements," he said in his speech.
Dr Adham also argued that there was a great need to dispel the notion that nuclear technology was dangerous or hazardous.
"In fact, nuclear technology is very useful when handled properly. In regard to this, there is a need to explain to the Malaysian Family in simple language about nuclear's manifold role - not just in agriculture - in our nation's development," he said.
Last year, a Nuklear Malaysia expert in nuclear techniques for non-destructive testing of civil structures assisted IAEA in the reconstruction of Beirut, which was rocked by a massive blast at its port in August 2020.
The seeds of Nuklear Malaysia have their origins in the Centre of Application of Nuclear Energy (CRANE), after then Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr Ismail Datuk Abdul Rahman mooted the idea that Malaysia should play a role in the development of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes.
On Sept 19, 1972, Malaysia officially embarked on its nuclear power programme, focusing on manpower development for a nuclear power programme to provide another option for energy, following the global oil crisis in the early 1970s by the setting up of the Tun Dr Ismail Atomic Research Centre (Puspati).
On June 28, 1982, Malaysia's first research reactor, reached criticality (operational readiness).
In 1983, Puspati was then placed under the Prime Minister's Department, where it was known as the Nuclear Energy Unit.
In 1990, it was moved to be under the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, where it was known as the Nuclear Research Institute of Malaysia before it was rebranded as Nuklear Malaysia in 2006.