Private research and profit-driven innovation can change the paradigm of nuclear medicine, farm irradiation processes and sterilisation technologies in India.
Of all the stimulus-cum-reforms measures announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to resuscitate India's Covid-hit economy, the most unexpected was the one permitting the private sector to enter the atomic energy sector, till now a public sector monopoly. She proposed two reforms to allow the private sector into areas dealing with the consumer application of nuclear energy, namely medical isotopes for cancer treatment and irradiation technology for the farming sector.
Further, India's vibrant start-up ecosystem will be allowed to bring innovation to the atomic energy sector. Since most Indian start-ups have a significant foreign shareholding, this move will also allow select foreign investors to indirectly invest in India's nuclear sector.
We must quickly add that this is not a license to grant private companies unfettered entry into this industry. For example, they still can't set up nuclear power plants, though Anil Kakodkar, former Chairperson of the Atomic Energy Commission of India, believes this, too, will be permitted in future.
This decision is in keeping with the Narendra Modi government's announcement that the private sector will be allowed entry into every single sector of the Indian economy.