IAEA Technical Co-operation Activities in the 1990s

Examples of Projects Supported by the IAEA

In fulfilling its role as a catalyst for technology transfer, the IAEA uses a variety of mechanisms, tailored to the subject area, the needs of the Member States concerned and the financial resources available. These mechanisms include the provision of equipment, laboratory support activities, expert services and training, the organization of co-ordinated research programmes, the preparation and issue of technical publications and the dissemination of information worldwide. It also supports national planning by organizing sectoral assistance programmes and arranging project formulation and evaluation. The use of these different but complementary approaches is illustrated by the descriptions of nuclear techniques as applied in specific projects given below.

It should be emphasized that the IAEA is carrying out over twelve hundred technical co-operation projects in nearly ninety countries. These projects cover the areas of nuclear power; nuclear fuel cycle; radioactive waste management; food and agriculture; human health; industry and earth sciences; radiation protection; the safety of nuclear installations; and safeguards. The examples given below serve only as illustrations of a wide range of activities.

Ensuring Adequate Radiation Protection and Waste Management Infrastructures

The IAEA has over the years encouraged and promoted the use of radioactive sources and radiation devices in medicine, industry and research. However, it is fully aware that effective national radiation safety and waste management infrastructures are prerequisites for efficient and safe technology transfer. Mindful of its responsibilities in this regard, the IAEA has developed a number of ongoing activities - co-ordinated at the national, regional and interregional levels - that are aimed at upgrading national infrastructures to adequate levels. These activities have already helped countries to set up appropriate governmental bodies, have provided extensive training opportunities and have contributed the supply of up-to-date equipment.

Through its support programmes, the IAEA is aware of current safety issues and the current safety infrastructures in its Member States. With this information, an integrated strategy of assistance has been developed. This strategy involves an ongoing assessment of existing infrastructures, the establishment of country specific action plans drawn up in direct co-operation with its Member States, and a continuous monitoring and reassessment of progress.

In order to ensure that the use of radionuclides will always produce overall benefits, care must be taken with the management of the wastes generated in their applications. Increasingly, the IAEA is stressing the need to consider how wastes will be managed before an application begins. Purchasers of radionuclide sources are encouraged to make sure, whenever possible, that suppliers will take back the sources for disposal at the end of the period of use.

For several years the IAEA has provided advice and information on waste management to its Member States through expert missions, training courses and the production and dissemination of guidance documents. Particular attention has been given to the problem of keeping track of radiation sources in Member States, and of providing inexpensive waste treatment methods and storage solutions. The problem of intermediate level storage is being increasingly related to the scope of the activities in individual Member States.

Water Resources Assessment

The IAEA has been actively involved in the development and application of isotope techniques in hydrology for more than three decades and is internationally recognized as one of the leading institutions in this field. Of particular importance has been its support for work on water resources assessment and development. Two projects are described below.

In Venezuela, a rapid increase in the population of the city of Caracas has led to a deficit in the domestic water supply of nearly 20%. Local authorities are investigating the potential of the Valle de Caracas aquifer to provide additional water for domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes. A second objective of the investigation is to lower the present groundwater level in the region. The assessment of groundwater dynamics and quality by means of geochemical and isotopic methods (including tracer experiments) will provide key information for the identification of the best areas for drilling additional wells. Basic data will be obtained on the sources and mechanisms of groundwater recharge, the time span for renewal of groundwater and the vulnerability of the aquifer to pollution. This information will be used by local authorities to make decisions on the exploitation of the aquifer and how it can best be protected from future pollution.

In Africa, water scarcity in many countries in arid and semi-arid zones is of great national, regional and international concern. Water resources development, therefore, is a high priority. A project commencing in 1995 seeks to apply indispensable isotope hydrology techniques in combination with other investigations to practical problems for the development and optimum management of groundwater resources in nine African countries. Areas in each country have been identified where adequate assessment of scarce water resources is crucially needed for the water supply for large population centres or development activities. The project is expected to yield important hydrological data which are essential for water and development authorities in planning medium and long term sustainable development based on rational management of water resources. The project also aims to strengthen regional and local capabilities in the integration of isotope hydrology projects within water resources assessment and development programmes. The project will last for four years.

Eradication of Insect Pests

The sterile insect technique (SIT) is a non-polluting method of insect control and eradication. It is based on the procedure of releasing radiation sterilized male insects into an infested environment. When these insects mate with females in nature, no offspring are produced and in this way the infestation can be reduced or eliminated. The technique is highly effective and has been used on a large scale against the New World Screwworm in Mexico and the USA, the Mediterranean fruit fly in Mexico, the pink bollworm in central California, USA, and the melon fly in Japan. A recent success has been the elimination of the screwworm from North Africa. The IAEA has had a long history of involvement in this technique through its technical co-operation activities and scientific developments at its laboratories.

Trypanosomiasis is a disease which has debilitating effects on animals and causes sleeping sickness in humans. The disease, which is transmitted by the tsetse fly, is a major limiting factor in agriculture and economic development for many African countries. In the United Republic of Tanzania, the larger of the two major islands of Zanzibar is infested with a single species of tsetse fly. As a result, Zanzibar has to import annually up to 10 000 live cattle and large quantities of dairy products.

The fact that only a single species of tsetse fly is present makes the circumstances ideal for application of SIT to combat the pest. A model project which was started in 1994 aims at complete eradication of the tsetse fly from Zanzibar over a period of about three years and the establishment of quarantine procedures to protect against reinfestation. The direct economic benefits to Zanzibar will be some US $2 million per year.

Conventional methods are being used to reduce the tsetse population. Weekly releases of sterile male flies are being made to cover the entire southern portion of the island; in the second year, releases will be initiated in the northern part. Once eradication is achieved, surveillance and quarantine procedures will be implemented to ensure that tsetse and trypanosomiasis transmission are not re-established.

The IAEA makes available experts for tsetse mass rearing technology, SIT releases and entomological monitoring of the tsetse target population, trypanosome surveys and economic assessments and ecological studies. It also provides technical support and direction and overall programme management. Sterile flies are supplied from the Agency Laboratory at Seibersdorf to supplement those reared at Tanga. Major equipment items to be provided under this project include a gamma cell, as well as communicaion, insectary and field equipment. Fellowship training will also be provided.

Animal Health

Livestock and their products are vital to the economies of most countries in West Asia. However, several major livestock diseases still occur in this region, the most important of which is rinderpest. Despite an intensive vaccination programme during the past six years, substantial losses continue to occur. To ensure the eradication of rinderpest in West Asia, it is essential that the current national vaccination programmes achieve high enough levels of immunity in cattle to eliminate the causative virus. A single vaccination will give lifelong immunity and therefore eradication through mass vaccination is a fully achievable goal. The work of the IAEA, especially in projects in Africa, has shown that implementation of what is known as the ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) technique in a surveillance programme at the national level to ensure that high levels of immunity through vaccination are achieved and that when annual vaccination stops, any remaining pockets of infection can be identified. A model project is aimed at producing a regional capability, through support at the national level, for application of the FAD/IAEA ELISA based system for rinderpest seromonitoring and surveillance. This proven, highly cost effective and sustainable approach should enable most countries in the region to make international declarations of freedom from this devastating disease within the next four to five years. Vaccination costs (approximately US $1 million per annum) and losses due to animal deaths (an estimated US $360 million per outbreak) would then be eliminated and livestock movement and trade, both within and outside the region, would increase. This would result in sustainable development of the livestock sector in the region.

The IAEA will provide: expert services, including a full time regional expert to ensure the successful transfer of the ELISA technique and the routine use of the ELISA based system; equipment where necessary, together with internationally standardized and validated ELISA kits; and annual workshops for dissemination of national seromonitoring results on a regional basis.


According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), malnutrition stunts mental and physical growth in one child out of three in developing countries and is a factor in one third of the 13 million child deaths which occur annually. Malnutrition during child-bearing years increases maternal risk at childbirth, and leads to low birth weight and to increased prenatal morbidity and mortality. According to the FAO, approximately 2000 million people in developing countries, mostly children, are iron deficient - a condition which adversely affects pregnant women and newborns, impairs children's mental and motor development, and reduces work productivity. The FAO also estimates that 190 million individuals in developing countries suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which lowers the body's ability to fight infection and leads to eye damage in children.

In Peru, some 38% of children under 6 years of age are chronically undernourished and an additional 27% are at risk of becoming malnourished. The Government is intending to conduct two major food supplement intervention programmes to combat this malnutrition problem. In one of these, the National Compensation and Social Development Fund (FONCODES) will provide a food supplement to 150 000 undernourished children under 3 years of age in three separate regions. The IAEA is establishing a model project to provide nuclear techniques to improve the evaluation of the impact of this programme. The United States Agency for International Development will also be making use of this project to monitor the efficiency of its own programme in this area.

A further objective of this model project is to transfer nuclear techniques to Peru for evaluating nutritional status and nutrient bioavailability, and to apply these techniques to: evaluate the food supplement programme; improve the selection and preparation of food products with high nutritional value in which absorption and utilization of macronutrients and micronutrients are optimal; evaluate the impact of the new WHO vitamin A interventions; work with local food industries and village feeding programmes to assure sustainability; and develop a package of nuclear techniques in nutrition which can be transferred to other developing countries where undernutrition is a chronic public health concern. (Also see Targeting Malnutrition.)

Mutation Breeding

For environmentally sustainable food production there is a need to produce cultivars with increased resistance to plant diseases, insect pests and soil stresses, thereby reducing the need for chemicals. However, the gene pool of particular species is, in most cases, too narrow to meet these breeding objectives, especially in relation to local crops grown in developing countries. In this connection, mutation techniques have proved to be the most effective method of increasing crop diversity and the IAEA has long promoted development in this area through its technical co-operation activities.

Under an IAEA project starting in China in 1995, the aim is to develop, by means of induced mutations and related biotechnologies, new hybrid rice combinations and high yielding rice cultivars which are early maturing, have good grain quality and multiple disease resistance.

Rice is the staple food for more than half the population of China. An area of 33 million hectares is under cultivation with rice - 50% of it hybrid rice. Problems such as genetic vulnerability and poor grain quality can be solved by developing, through induced mutation, new improved hybrid rice combinations. Some new promising cytoplasmic male sterile lines have already been developed which increase significantly the seed set and in this way make hybrid seed production more economical. Meanwhile, some new early season lines with better grain quality and disease resistance have also been developed through mutation techniques. Assistance is now being requested to speed up the introduction of new mutants by accelerating the necessary genetic and agronomic tests leading to the development of new hybrid combinations and early maturing conventional varieties.

Qualified staff are available locally, as are laboratory facilities and basic equipment. The IAEA will provide expert services and training in mutation techniques and related biotechnologies; and equipment for in vitro cultures and molecular genetics.

Nuclear Medicine

There are more than two hundred old analog gamma cameras used in nuclear medicine in Latin America. Most of them are suboptimal in performance owing to ageing and lack of appropriate data processing facilities, which lead to poor quality gamma camera output and uncertainty in the accuracy of results, adversely affecting patient management.

A model project has been designed to upgrade the performance of these old gamma cameras. This upgrade is based on a system developed by the IAEA which will ensure the quality of the gamma camera output, i.e. static images and dynamic study results. It will also prolong the service life of the gamma cameras. Under the project, the technology required to create national and regional capabilities to implement the programme will be transferred. The system developed by the IAEA is cost effective in comparison with commercially available upgrades. Given the widespread use of gamma cameras in medical practice, the project will have a significant social and economic impact.

The use of ionizing radiation to destroy cancer cells is the most important application of radiotherapy. This type of cancer therapy was developed after the discovery of X rays at the end of the last century. Teletherapy is treatment by an external beam which enters the body from the outside. In brachytherapy, sources of radiation are placed on or inside the body, mostly for superficial tumours, as of the head and neck, uterine cervix, breast and soft tissue sarcoma. The amount of radiation absorbed in the turnout must be planned, calculated and measured for each individual case.

The IAEA supports about 40 technical co-operation projects associated with radiotherapy in 29 countries. Twelve of these are in Africa. Two of the African projects, in Namibia and Zambia, are for new radiotherapy centres in countries where there are currently no radiotherapy facilities. Model projects in Ghana and Mongolia are in the implementation phase. Complete training for radiation oncologists, medical physicists, radiographers and nurses has been initiated and new equipment will be supplied in order that these facilities can in turn be used for training in other countries of Africa and Asia. Similar projects to upgrade radiotherapy and brachytherapy are currently being supported in some East European and Latin American countries.

Tissue Bank

Disabilities from degenerative diseases such as cancer, congenital defects such as malformed heart valves, and severe burns, fractures and nerve damage due to traumatic accidents and violence are common throughout the world. If proper treatment can be obtained, these disabilities are curable and the afflicted individuals can resume productive lives. The remedial intervention of choice in such cases is the use of sterile human tissue grafts. Tissue bank facilities, while relatively common in developed countries, are not generally available in the developing parts of the world. The Sri Lanka Eye Bank, established over ten years ago, has been extremely successful in providing clinical quality sterile corneal tissue for use in transplants to restore eyesight. Thus far, it has distributed over 31 000 corneas to 139 cities in 61 countries worldwide. An additional 10 000 corneas have been utilized in Sri Lanka itself. This experience has established the Eye Bank in a strong position technically for further development into a multi-tissue bank facility.

On the basis of the experience gained, an IAEA technical co-operation project is planned to establish a general human tissue bank and to use the established international distribution network to make tissue grafts more widely available throughout the world at nominal cost. The immediate objective is to bring technical and economic self-sufficiency in the supply of radiation sterilized, clinical quality multi-tissue grafts to Sri Lanka within five years. The primary social benefit of the project will be the increased availability of tissue grafts to victims of traumatic accidents, disease and congenital defects. The very low income portion of the population in Sri Lanka, which currently has almost no access to effective treatment, will benefit most. Sri Lanka spends an average of approximately US $200 000 per year on imported tissue grafts. Savings of this amount will be a direct economic benefit of the project.

The project will begin with the production of amnion, skin and bone tissues. Later, production of dura and fascia, heart valves, aortic and other cardiovascular graft material will be undertaken. A total quality system for good manufacturing practice will be established in accordance with international standards. As self-sufficiency is reached, Sri Lanka will become a major supplier of a variety of tissue graft material for Southeast Asia and indeed for other parts of the world.

Non-Destructive Testing

Over the past forty years, non-destructive testing (NDT) has become an integral task of any manufacturing quality assurance programme and a mandatory requirement to ensure the standard of industrial goods. NDT techniques make it possible to examine components for particular properties or the presence of flaws without diminishing their usefulness or marketability.

A large scale regional project on NDT in Latin America and the Caribbean was approved in 1982 and project activities were initiated in 1983. Eighteen Latin American countries participated in the project, which was completed in 1992. Two parallel projects were subsequently approved: on an NDT testing network, and non-destructive testing techniques. Financial and technical support for these projects was provided by the IAEA, UNIDO and the United Nations Fund for Science and Technology Development (UNFSTD), as well as by the Governments of Canada, Germany and Italy. The overall objective was to assist Latin American and Caribbean countries to develop an autonomous capability in NDT for the region's industrial development.

By the time the first project was completed, the achievements included the following:

- An autonomous NDT capacity had been created in the region;
- There were sufficient personnel in all participating countries trained to meet everyday NDT needs and provide training to others;
- Fourteen countries had established national standards for the qualification and certification of NDT personnel;
- Training programmes for the main NDT techniques had been developed and published by the IAEA;
- A computer based management system and a regional communication network had been built up;
- The Regional Federation of National Non-destructive Testing Organizations of Latin America and the Caribbean had been established to ensure continuity in NDT activities in the future.

A follow-up project, started in 1992 and co-funded by UNDP, expands on the use of NDT techniques in industrial quality control programmes. In close collaboration with UNIDO, the IAEA's network of counterpart institutes is currently conducting a survey to establish priorities for a future joint industrial quality programme for Latin America and the Caribbean which would be executed by UNIDO with the IAEA covering all nuclear techniques.

Energy Programme Planning

Electricity demand is expected to increase at a higher rate than total energy demand as has been the case in both industrialized and developing countries over the last decades. In order to meet this demand there is a need for comprehensive planning and implementation of electricity system expansion strategies. The IAEA has for many years provided, and will continue to provide, support to countries for comparing alternative electricity generation strategies, and assessing the viability of the nuclear option, taking into account technical, economic, and environmental factors in the specific conditions of the given country.

In the Asia and Pacific region, for example, nuclear power is already an important component of the existing electricity systems in some countries and its role may be increased in order to support the overall economic development of the region. However, the implementation of the nuclear programmes which are needed should follow a comprehensive process, initiated by a preliminary comparative assessment of the various options available. Whenever the nuclear option is found viable and chosen, the development of a nuclear power programme will include careful planning at each level of implementation, including the establishment of adequate industrial and organizational infrastructures and manpower training, in order to ensure an efficient and safe operation and maintenance of nuclear facilities. The IAEA is providing assistance upon request in this regard, including training courses and fellowships.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy provides 22% of the electrical power of the Philippines and its share is projected to rise to 40% by 1998. Its development has received strong support from the Government and this has led to several projects in the field funded by Italy, Japan, the World Bank and UNDP. One mission is to establish co-operative links with a UNDP funded project which aims to demonstrate the viable use of low temperature geothermal resources for agro-industrial processes. If proven to be feasible, the use of such resources would need further exploitation and development, facilitated by the continuing use of isotope techniques.

Support to Small Island States

Small island developing States have received substantial attention within the Agenda 21 document adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), where they are identified as a special case in terms of both environmental protection and development. They are ecologically fragile and their geographical isolation has resulted in their becoming habitats of a comparatively large number of unique species of flora and fauna. In many cases, all the environmental problems and challenges of the coastal zone are concentrated within their limited land areas. They are considered extremely vulnerable to global warming and rises in sea level. As a consequence, the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratory (IAEA-MEL) is intensifying its activities in relation to small island developing States. It is involved in pilot monitoring programmes as well as in capacity building and quality assurance activities in such States in the Caribbean and East African regions. Support is being given to work on the use of isotope and nuclear techniques in the study of retrospective conditions (climate, sea level, pollution) so as to provide time-scales for small island evolution. Sensitive analytical techniques have been developed to quantify pollutants within the seasonal bands deposited in coral colonies. This not only provides a historical record of pollution, but also affords the potential to investigate historical charges in biogeochemical processes that can be linked to climate change.

Flue Gas Scrubbing

The release of environmental pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) into the atmosphere as a result of the widespread use of fossil fuels is a matter of worldwide concern and a number of countries have begun to impose limits on such releases. Scientific and engineering work over the past twenty years in the field of radiation technology have led to the development of the electron beam dry scrubbing (EBS) - process as an effective means of simultaneously eliminating SO2 and NOx from flue gases. Pilot plant studies in Germany, Japan, Poland and the United States of America have established that the process can have significant economic and technical advantages: no waste water requiring treatment and disposal is produced and the by-products can be utilized in the manufacture of fertilizer. These advantages make the process of particular interest to developing countries.

Under a project first established in 1988, the IAEA is assisting Poland in the construction and evaluation of an industrial scale demonstration plant for EBS purification of flue gases at the Pomorzany power station. Support covers all basic civil engineering work and installation of the beam apparatus and supporting systems. Operating tests will be initiated in 1997, and major evaluation of test data completed by the end of that year. During the second stage of the project, the IAEA, making use of Polish expertise, will support the transfer of the technology to other developing countries.

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