In an era where nuclear and radioactive elements are known both for good and wrong reasons, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) says it is time for Rwanda to lay a legal framework on safety, security, safeguard and liability of somewhat controversial substances.
The Ministry of Infrastructure tabled a draft law before Parliament, last October, which seeks to regulate radiation elements in Rwanda, including nuclear energy.
The plenary examined and adopted the relevance of the Draft Law Governing Radiation Protection and it was sent to the Standing Committee on Economy and Trade for examination.
However, during a consultative meeting to deliberate on radiation protection yesterday, MPs questioned why the legal framework had taken long to be in place yet radioactive elements have for so long been in use in the country.
Several legislators tasked Germaine Kamayirese, the minister of state for energy, water and sanitation, and Patrick Nyirishema, the director-general of RURA, to examine the damages that have already been done by radioactive substances to the public.
Other legislators said that before the law is passed, more efforts should be put in sensitisation campaigns to protect masses from involuntary exposure to radioactive substances.
“Have you made a study to even establish at which percentage ordinary Rwandans know about the existence and dangers of these dangerous rays?” MP Constance Rwaka Mukayuhi asked the minister.
While some of radioactive materials such as X-rays are used for medical reasons, several people are exposed to these dangerous materials on a daily basis; they are used in metal detectors at almost every public building for security purposes among other places.
Experts have blamed the rise of cancer, bareness among other health conditions, to increased exposure to radioactive substances.
Remy Wilson Bana, an expert in radiation medical physics, could neither deny nor agree. Bana said until a law governing radiation is adopted, Rwanda will not be able to access some tools that are used to measure the magnitude of these claims in the country.
MP Ignatienne Nyirarukundo expressed reservations on the Bill, arguing that the Government “first exhausts the legal framework that limits the usage of hazardous radioactive metals before pushing for the protection of the materials.”
MP Eugene Barikana warned of the dangers, saying: “I bet no one is safe from their negative health implications then? Last weekend I took my child to hospital for scan and for the first time in my life, one doctor told me to move away from X-ray because it was dangerous. I didn’t know that yet I have escorted several patients to the scan room. Now you can imagine.”
Minister Kamayirase admitted that, despite some below par measures to protect the usage of radioactive materials in Rwanda, the exposure has not been worse as perceived.
“Our regulations on radioactive substances have not been the best but it doesn’t mean that the exposure has been worse. However, the new law will help us with extra measures to regulate these materials,” Kamayirese said.
RURA’s Nyirishema also assured legislators that not all radioactive materials are dangerous to humanity, making a case for non-ionizing and ionizing substances.
“Rays that are used in metals detectors—which are used by people—are not as dangerous compared to the where people place bags for security checks according to the research findings,” Nyirishema said.
Earlier this month, a group of Rwandans underwent a training course on the international legal framework for nuclear security, assistance programmes, and regulatory frameworks for the security of radioactive material.
The five-day programme, according to Nyirishema, was designed to equip participants with technical know-how to help ensure that radioactive materials do not fall into the wrong hands.
The training, conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency, attracted more than 40 participants from various institutions.
It was expected to go a long way in enabling a broader understanding of what radiation protection is all about such that it could inform policy in future should the need arise, according to Kamayirase.
Speaker Donatille Mukabalisa yesterday noted that explanations were necessary to inform parliamentarians on their task to examine the bill governing radiation starting next week.