Several African countries are participating in an IAEA regional project to use isotope hydrology along with ongoing national water management programmes.

In Latin America, the Agency is supporting the development and implementation of a sustainable groundwater management policy aimed at solving problems of water shortages and inefficient use of resources.

Another important source of water is making freshwater from salty seawater, a process known as desalination.

The IAEA has been providing support to some Member States who are exploring the possibility of desalination powered by nuclear reactors.

Interest in using nuclear power as a source of energy for desalination is growing, due to the increased demands for water, concerns about greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel plants, and the development of a new generation of small and medium sized nuclear reactors.

The use of salty water to irrigate salt tolerant crops is being studied in an IAEA project involving a number of developing countries. Thirty salt tolerant plants, from pistachio trees to barley, to Acacia, are being successfully grown using salty water.

Nuclear techniques are providing critical information on the sustainability of this approach by helping to demonstrate that the source of water will not run out and by determining how to use it without building up more salt deposits.

Protection of the Environment

Quality of life is dependent on the quality of the environment. All life is affected by pollution and environmental changes. Marine pollution has a significant impact on the Earth’s environment. Oceans provide high quality protein for a good portion of the planet’s population and play a major role in regulating climate.

Through its Marine Environment Laboratory, the only marine laboratory within the UN system, the IAEA is actively involved in protecting the world’s oceans by using natural and man–made tracers to understand the dynamics of the seas and to monitor for potentially toxic contaminants.

The IAEA has worked with several regional organizations to improve their capacity to use nuclear techniques to monitor and assess marine pollutants, like heavy metals and pesticides.

A project to enhance the capability of Black Sea countries to respond to serious pollution problems has been undertaken.

New projects have been initiated to use nuclear techniques to rapidly detect toxicity in marine foods contaminated with toxins produced by harmful algal blooms.


Today one in five people on Earth lack access to safe and affordable drinking water and, by 2025, more than half the world’s population could be short of freshwater. An application of nuclear science called isotope hydrology can be used to assess sources of freshwater. This unique method can determine the age, movement, and conditions of water to help improve water management.

Photo Credits:
C. Carnemark/World Bank; IAEA;
L. Wedekind/IAEA; IAEA; PhotoDisc.

To learn more about how nuclear science and technology are contributing to sustainable development, visit the IAEA’s WorldAtom website

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