Ateneo Physics Faculty Ramon de los Santos underwent training at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI)

Ramon de los Santos giving a speech at PNRI

Ramon de los Santos giving a speech at PNRI

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Ramon de los Santos, Instructor of the Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University, underwent a training on Nuclear Technology for University and College Faculty at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) last April 23 to May 25, 2012. Below is an interview of Ramon by the Ateneo Physics News:

1. What did you do there?

It is a training especially designed for college and university faculty. We were taught the basics of nuclear science and technology. PNRI do this annually. This is their 45th annual training session. In the training, we were merged with high school teachers, which are the majority of the participants. There were 15 high school faculty and only four college faculty.

In the first week of classes, most of the lectures cover the basic principles of nuclear science: particle physics, nuclear chemistry, nuclear reactions, and types of nuclear reactors. Eventually, we are introduced to several researches they do inside the institute, such as on the applications of nuclear science on agriculture and polymer—the materials science part of research. There were also studies on air quality. I think they have collaboration with Manila Observatory regarding particulate matters. Their focus is on air quality research involving nuclear science.

The first week is really information overload. It is like enrolling 12 units of graduate courses in summer. Every day there were four lecture sessions. Sometimes during the week, there is one session of laboratory. But it is fun. I miss chemistry and nuclear chemistry. I really enjoyed the topic on nuclear fission.

Philippine Nuclear Research Institute in Diliman, Quezon City

Philippine Nuclear Research Institute in Diliman, Quezon City

2. Did you also do experiments?

We also had several experiments wherein we were asked to submit laboratory reports. We have basic experiments on the Geiger-Muller counter and the ever famous half-life of short-lived radioactive materials. We had hands-on experience with different radioactive materials, such as Iodine-131, Cesium-137, and the likes. We visited the institute’s Cobalt-60 irradiation facility. It is some sort of a semi-commercial facility which caters to several multinational companies with products such as spices, shrimp powders, ginger powders. Cobalt-60 irradiation is primarily for sterilization. The advantage is that the products can be treated in their final packaging form.

In one of our experiments. We planted irradiated mongo seeds at different doses of radiation, and observe how different doses of radiation affect their growth. On the fifth day, we had an experiment on irradiation of mango fruits which we were asked to taste a week after. We daily observed the physical changes on the ripening of the mangos compared to those which were not irradiated. On the seventh day, we tasted both sets of mangoes. The irradiated mangoes manifested a ripening delay; those which were not treated ripened first. But there was no significant difference in taste.

One topic was on industrial radiography. This is on the usage of radioactive materials to test the integrity of welded metals, which is normally done in large-scale industries. This topic is related to a case study, which I was asked to report at the end of the seminar. The focus of the case studies was mainly on some radiological accidents that happened few years ago around the world, either radiological or nuclear, such as the Fukushima disaster. The aim of the case studies is to determine the lessons learned. In my case study, the radiological accident happened in Peru in 1999. An industrial radiography process was employed to repair an industrial pipe in a hydroelectric power plant; however, there were some negligence or lapses on the part of the radiographer. The camera’s radioactive source was accidentally picked up by a welder, who then placed it at his pant’s right back pocket. The radioactive material stayed there for few hours before it was found. The radiation’s effect started as a small lesion like a burnt skin, then it became infected, and in the end he was amputated.

Ramon de los Santos (third from the left) doing laboratory work at PNRI

Ramon de los Santos (third from the left) doing laboratory work at PNRI

3. Are you not afraid handling radioactive materials?

Initially, we were assured that we will be handling radioactive materials that are safe. Most of them are only used as standard radiation check sources. For the case of Iodine-131, the lab technician prepared the samples before we can use them. Iodine-131 is liquid and there maybe some spill-off. We were not allowed to personally prepare our samples. When the samples were given to us, they were already inside containers.

4. Will you be able to apply your training in your physics classes in Ateneo?

The plan was to integrate lectures and some experiments on nuclear science and technology in Ps 12 General Physics for the Life Sciences, which is the second physics course of the Biology and Life Sciences. But I still need to check first the equipments that we have. Sir Ivan Culaba said that we have Geiger-Muller counters, an alpha source, and even some check sources, too.

5. Was there a graduation ceremony?

At the end of the seminar, there is recognition for the topnotchers, and I was the class topnotcher. I have some pictures. As the topnotcher, I was asked to give a speech regarding my impression on the training and its content. I told them I initially have no idea what PNRI does. After I went there to last February to inquire on the training requirements, I met on my way home my former dorm mate in UP Baguio graduate school. He worked in PNRI, so I asked him what he does there. He told me he works at the PNRI Cobalt irradiation facility. He is the one who irradiate the spices. That is main function of the irradiation facility. He also said, there are other research groups in the institute.

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP)

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP)

5. Did you visit the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant?

We went to a field trip but it is not officially part of the training. There is a regular field trip of the employees and there are few available slots for the participants. Last June 1 we went to Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). Before the lectures, the speakers mentioned the BNPP. There were many questions. The Philippines is still spending on it even if it is not operational. What I know, if ever it would be rehabilitated, the government has to spend one billion US dollars, because there are many obsolete parts to replace. After four years, the plant can already be used.

The impression on our field trip to BNPP is that I am just going to a tourist spot. But it was fun. We have a tour inside the power plant. But there were no radioactive sources; they sold them. The radioactive sources were acquired in 1980s, then sold in1990s. I am not sure about the figures. They were initially bought for 60 million bought, then sold for 25 million. I am not sure whether in pesos or in dollars. In the power plant, there is no more nuclear fuel source. We entered the innermost parts of the plant. They said there are many who goes to field trip at BNPP. The place is beautiful. Very strategic. Before the plant was put up in the Philippines, it took them 11 years to find a location. The location not earthquake-prone. It is also high. Based on the highest recorded height of tsunamis in the Philippines, they chose a location 18 meters above sea level. The highest recorded tsunami was way below the 18 meters.

Going there is also beautiful. It is like winding roads of Baguio, but not sharp and lined with many trees. I loved the the fresh air, the lush vegetation, and sight of the sea.

6. Is the BNPP similar to that in Fukushima?

The lecturers mentioned that the design of BNPP is different from that of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, which was destroyed by tsunami. The Fukushima plant uses boiling water reactor. In the case of BNPP, it uses pressurized water reactor that has many containment layers for the reactors inside, which provides more security or shielding features. And given the BNPP’s location of 18 m above sea level is high, it won’t be reached by 10-m high tsunami waves similar to that of Fukushima.

Last year there are many attended participants in the training when the accident is still fresh. Now the number of participants is few. In the evaluation, there is a part where you would recommend someone you know to undertake the same training. I wrote there my former co-faculty in UP Baguio.

Nuclear Reactor at at Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

Nuclear Reactor at at Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

7. Any insights or parting words?

Everything is new to me. I have taken no nuclear science subjects before I took the course. I enjoyed the topics on nuclear chemistry, the nuclear equations, and the training runs. Though we were not influenced to be pro nuclear technology, but on my part, I realized that we need to adopt nuclear technology. The time will soon come, if not now, that we will realize that we need a nuclear power plant in the Philippines. There are side comments of lecturers regarding how the people in our country were misinformed regarding nuclear technology and its benefits. I agree with that. There are many hospitals using radiation treatments involving radioactive materials, but it is not a big deal for us. But once we open up a nuclear power plant, there is a violent reaction. But they said there is someone in Congress who promotes the rehabilitation of the BNPP and the establishment of other nuclear power plants in the country. I don’t know about the updates. That is why, in my speech, I told about how in one of of the first lectures we were asked on who among us that when nuclear is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the nuclear bomb. I was the first one to raise my hand. At the end of my speech, I said that if am going to be asked again same question, I can now say several answers not just nuclear bombs. Nuclear science has many applications and benefits. If given a chance, what I can say or do is an informed decision. My speech was in Tagalog and impromptu—something like that. Before I know nothing about PNRI and nuclear science. Now I know something.

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

One Response to Ateneo Physics Faculty Ramon de los Santos underwent training at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI)

  1. Pingback: Ateneo Physics Faculty Ramon de los Santos underwent training at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) « Quirino Sugon Jr.

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