Walter Nyamukondiwa Kariba Bureau
Food and water testing for cancer causing radiation elements in imported foods will begin this year as the Government has already set up a Gamma Spectrometry Laboratory in Harare which is expected to assist in monitoring.
The tests will measure the amount of naturally occurring radiation elements to ensure they are within acceptable limits.
This comes as facilities to test cars imported from Japan for radiation contamination have been set up at Beitbridge, Chirundu, Kariba, Victoria Falls and Nyamapanda border posts among others. The facilities will also test foods.
Roll out of the services started at Beitbridge Border Post before expanding to Chirundu and Kariba where radiation detection equipment has since been installed and personnel to oversee the process are now stationed. Services are also at Victoria Falls, Plumtree and Nyamapanda border posts.
A significant number of vehicles imported from Japan and other Asian countries coming through Tanzania are cleared at the Chirundu and Kariba border posts.
Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, there have been concerns over radiation contamination of the vehicles with elevated ionising materials.
Previously, the country has been relying on tests carried out in the exporting country, Japan but the Government on November 27 gazetted Statutory Instrument 281 of 2020, compelling the testing of vehicles imported from any country that will have experienced nuclear disaster.
Radiation Protection Authority of Zimbabwe (RPAZ) chief quality assurance officer, Mr Innocent Mayida, said local water sources and local authorities would be expected to send in samples of the water they treat to establish the level radiation contamination.
This is also in line with new international regulations.
“As the Radiation Protection Authority of Zimbabwe there are areas where we do food monitoring.
“We have laboratories. We are taking advantage of the roll out of the vehicle screening at ports of entry to ensure that we will be able to conduct monitoring of foods imported into the country for naturally occurring radiation.”
The Gamma Spectrometry laboratory will assist in food and water analysis to establish the levels of naturally occurring radiation elements.
“With the rise in cancer cases in the country, the Government is looking at all the things that may cause cancers currently and in the future. That is why new equipment is being brought into the country,” said Mr Mayida.
About 1 500 people die from various cancers every year, with 5 000 new cases being recorded every year.
On secondary vehicle screening, he said, it was a response to an outcry from the public who were concerned that they could be exposed after importing vehicles from Japan.
“Testing for radiation on vehicles has always been happening but on a voluntary basis.
“It is now a statutory requirement and there will be a nominal cost to be paid,” he said.
At least 1 000 vehicles were on a voluntary basis before the latest development.
Between 300 and 500 vehicles pass through the country’s borders every day.
Radiation is found in the health sector including radiotherapy through X-ray machines and Computer tomography (CT scans), industry including mining and manufacturing.
“In the health sector we do the regulatory process which includes inspection, licensing and setting up of radiation safety standards.
“In the mining manufacturing industry they use small nuclear gauges which use radiation technology for their processes.
“Generally there is an increase in ionising radiation material in the country,” said Mr Mayida.
Asked on whether the addition of another process at the ports of entry would not lead to congestion and delays, Mr Mayida said they had found a way of making it seamless through fitting into already existing processes.
The radiation report is ready within five minutes of inspection.
Importers of light motor vehicles and minibuses pay US$10 for contamination inspection, buses, heavy vehicles, haulage trucks and trailers pay US$20.
A further US$50 or US$100 is needed if decontamination of vehicles is needed.