The Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA) has listed Niger Delta states and Jos in Plateau State as some of the areas with the highest level of radiation exposure in the country.
It said the people are exposed to natural sources of ionising radiation, such as in soil, water, and vegetation, as well as in human-made sources (x-rays and medical devices), but it also has the potential for health hazards if not properly used or contained.
Acute health effects such as skin burns or acute radiation syndrome can occur when doses of radiation exceed certain levels and even low doses of ionising radiation can increase the risk of longer term effects such as cancer.
Speaking during a one-day workshop for journalists on nuclear safety and radiological protection in Abuja, the General Manager, Nuclear Safety, Physical Security and Safeguards, Dr. Nasiru Bello, explained that materials used in building could be a source of radiation in certain areas.
He noted that Jos is a major hotspot for radioactive materials because of the activities of miners who dig up the soil which residents would eventually use in building houses, stressing that this can last for decades without being detected.
According to him, “For us, the rest of Nigerians, the highest form of exposure is the way we live; build our houses, the kind of food and fish we eat. There are some areas in Nigeria that we know from research that their radiation level is a bit higher.
“The one that comes to mind mostly is Jos, Plateau State. So, if you are eating vegetables, including carrots and others, you need to know because they grow it around such area, and you should expect to have something above what we are experiencing in Abuja.
“There are also some hotspots in Nigeria. For example, we hear stories about the Niger Delta. And it’s because of the way people live. For example, in Jos, when the miners finish minning, our people will carry the sand which have been dug out and use it to build their houses.
“They say it’s very strong and requires small cement, but you find out that it contains ionising radiation and when you are confined to such rooms, you will experience high level of radium gas, which affects lungs and by extension respiratory problems.”
He posited that though generally, everywhere in the world, people are exposed to some level of ionising radiation, In Nigeria, it is mostly brought about by building materials like tiles and water closets which have above the normal level that exists.
In addition, the practice of going into the sea to drill sand for building in the Niger Delta, the organisation said, could also be a source of radiation in the region.
“The bad thing is that it doesn’t affect one immediately. You can live in the house for 40 years, but when you have retired and you are supposed to be resting, you go to the hospital and they diagnose you of cancer that. Overtime, the person develops health issues,” he stressed.
Bello stated that there are two basic forms of ionising substances, including the ones that penetrate the skin easily and affect the genetic structures, and the non-ionising ones, which are not part of the laws setting up the NNRA.
The authority also assured Nigerians that in collaboration with the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and security agencies in the country, it would soon begin building capacity on ways to ensure that nuclear materials do not get into the hands of terrorists.
On his part, the Assistant General Manager, Legal Services, NNRA, John Adamu, noted that although nuclear components could be used in the oil and gas industry, ensuring the integrity of building structures, among others, it could also be dangerous in the wrong hands.
“There’s one key aspect that we need to build capacity on. What is trending now is for terrorist groups to fund nuclear activities. It might look safe, but their intention is to cause damage. To detect terrorism funding, we must build capacity with the NFIU and other government agencies,” he stated.
He disclosed that the Russians, who worked on the Ajaokuta steel project, left over 260 radioactive materials, which have now been securely isolated.
Adamu said: “We searched for all of them, took them to a safe place and reported to the government, and the government is talking with its Russian counterparts because we don’t keep waste.”