1996 Annual Report
Industry and Earth Sciences

Industrial applications

Development of Water Resources

Radioisotope production and its incorporation into a variety of labelled compounds, radiopharmaceuticals, tracers, gauges and special radiation sources for use in medicine, agriculture and industry constitute an important application of atomic energy. The Agency's programme on industrial applications focused on promoting the use of radiation technology, radiotracer techniques and nucleonic control systems, as well as non-destructive testing (NDT). With the growing demand in Member States for the use of isotope techniques in the development of water resources and for environmental investigations, greater efforts were undertaken to develop and apply these methods. The emphasis was on the search for water resources in arid and semi-arid regions, water pollution studies and other environmental issues, including soil erosion and siltation, atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and the marine environment.

Industrial Applications

The sterilization of disposable medical products and devices by radiation is a well established industrial process aimed at improving the safety of health care services. Using the same methodology, the sterilization of pharmaceuticals such as drugs, herbal products and ointments is a promising new application which is attracting the increasing attention of industry. The services of consultants were used to examine the status of the implementation of radiation sterilization technology in the pharmaceutical industry and to make recommendations on future Agency activities in this area.

The first Research Co-ordination meeting for a CRP on the irradiation treatment of water, wastewater and sludges was convened in Vienna. Three main target items - water intended for drinking, wastewater for irrigation or for disposal into ground or surface water reservoirs, and urban and rural sludges for agricultural applications - were considered. It was concluded that electron beam accelerators are best suited for a large throughput of water or wastewater, and recent improvements in the power conversion efficiency and power output of accelerators made decontamination and disinfection of wastewater and drinking water economically feasible.

An Advisory Group meeting was held in Guadeloupe, France, in November on radiation polymerization and modification of polymers. Discussions centred on the intrinsic advantages of using radiation in such applications as: cross-linking wires, cables and packaging materials; curing; grafting; synthesis and modification of polymers for biomedical applications; preparation of hydrogels; use of ion beams for the modification of polymers; preparation of composites; and reclaiming of polymer and rubber wastes, with emphasis on the treatment of plastic wastes.

A CRP that studied the use of nuclear methods in the monitoring of wear and corrosion in industry was completed. A report on this research, issued in the IAEA-TECDOC series, provided information on the thin layer activation (TLA) technique, which permits remote monitoring of machine parts for wear and corrosion. This CRP contributed to: the development of new measurement methods; the collection of reliable data for TLA monitoring of various elements; the design of portable on-site wear measuring systems using NaI(Tl); and the measurement of corrosion in oil and gas pipelines.

The modification of materials by ion treatment for industrial applications is an area of interest for new material development. A CRP was initiated in 1996 and the first Research Co-ordination meeting was held in March. The main objective is to develop economically acceptable surface modification techniques that can produce 'thick' treated layers (i.e. a few micrometres) that will extend the lifetime of components under typical working conditions. Increasing the 'tribological performance' (i.e. wear, friction and lubrication) and preventing the corrosion of components are other goals of this CRP.

Residence time distribution (RTD) software for the data analysis of radiotracer experiments was completed under IAEA/RCA/UNDP activities. A manual and a software diskette were issued. The manual contains case studies that deal with problems in industry and the environment common to all countries. The software has been field tested and is being used in several Member States in experiment design and data analysis for a wide range of dynamic processes in industry, hydrology and the environment.

A CRP on the validation of protocols for the evaluation of corrosion and deposits in pipes by radiography was initiated. It incorporates quality assurance aspects of NDT measurements, including a round robin test and implementation of a quality plan. A quality management manual for a regional NDT project in Africa was developed.

Development of Water Resources

The final Research Co-ordination meeting on the application of tracer techniques in studies of processes and pollution in the Black Sea, conducted with IAEA-MEL, resulted in: a comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of radionuclide distributions, trends, inventories and sources in this environment; an evaluation of doses delivered through marine exposure pathways to humans and biota. The importance of applications of radioactive and stable isotope tracers to understand the fate of pollutants in this region was also demonstrated. Models were developed for predicting the impact of pollutants on various space and time-scales and these were fine tuned using radiotracer data.

Two new CRPs were initiated in 1996. One has the goal of improving the techniques of replenishment rate determination of groundwater systems through specific isotope and geochemical studies in the unsaturated zone. The second CRP focuses on the application of isotope techniques to problems associated with geothermal development. This CRP was designed to back up ongoing technical co-operation activities, including a three year regional project on the development of geothermal energy resources and environmental management through isotope techniques in East Asia and the Pacific, which was formulated at a regional workshop held in China in June.

To meet the need in Member States for studies of marine environmental problems, especially in areas of closed and partially closed seas such as the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas, an international seminar on the use of isotope techniques in marine environmental studies was held in November in Athens. The seminar was jointly organized with IAEA-MEL and hosted by the Greek Atomic Energy Commission. The papers addressed both methodological aspects and advances related to the application of isotope and geochemical techniques in marine environment research, and topical problems of seawater pollution. The seminar offered specific proposals for strengthening collaboration between countries and for future Agency involvement in marine environment studies.

The steering committee of the Global Network for Isotopes in Precipitation (GNIP) was established in 1996 with the involvement of the Agency, WMO, the World Climate Research Programme and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme as represented by its core project PAGES (Past Global Change). This committee is expected to facilitate closer co-operation between the organizations in the provision of high quality data to scientific communities for hydrological and climatological applications. In this context, the development began of a database to meet the growing needs of Member States for basic isotope hydrology information for water resources assessment and environmental research.

On the basis of information from a model project in Venezuela, 50 new wells were located and subsequently drilled, reducing the water supply deficit to Caracas by 25 million litres per day. A model project in El Salvador identified the best zones for production and reinjection in the Berlin and Ahuachapan geothermal fields.

Phase I of a model project for regional Africa seeks to identify palaeowater in Morocco, characterize the interaction between the Nile aquifer system and the adjacent Nubian sandstone aquifer (in Egypt), identify renewable and non-renewable resources in the Moyale area in Ethiopia, and collect isotope data to reassess groundwater resources around Dakar, Senegal, which is suffering a severe water shortage. The information obtained will help local authorities in these countries to develop and improve the management of their water resources.

A regional ARCAL XVIII project involving six countries (Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela) in the use of tracer techniques to study dam leakage was completed. The reservoirs selected are used for drinking water supply, irrigation and electric power generation. In a few cases where a link was found between the suspected leakage and the reservoir, corrective measures were suggested to the local authorities in charge of reservoir management and maintenance. In no case was the dam structure endangered by the leakages. Savings of $6 million resulted from the successful implementation of this project.

A second three week research/training cruise in August- September 1996 on the Caspian Sea was carried out as part of a technical co-operation project study of Caspian Sea water level fluctuations. The cruise combined training activities on board an Azerbaijani research vessel with oceanographic field work at 19 stations of the Caspian Sea. The combination of training and research activities has led to greater collaboration among specialists of all the riparian countries, and contributed to the training of personnel in tackling environmental problems in the region. The experimental studies carried out so far have considerably refined and extended the oceanographic and isotope-geochemical database of the Caspian Sea. The reevaluation of existing data on water balance parameters of the Caspian Sea provided a strong argument that the river runoff fluctuation has a dominating influence on sea level variation. Thus, changes in the hydroclimatic conditions in the catchment area of the Caspian Sea appear to be the major causes of the sea level fluctuations.

In support of technical co-operation projects, research contracts and regional programmes, as well as to provide data for the IAEA/WMO GNIP, 3200 water samples were analysed by the Agency's Laboratories for deuterium, 3100 for oxygen-18, 1200 for tritium, 70 for carbon-14 and 210 for carbon-13. About 1400 chemical analyses were performed on some 160 water samples. Approximately 400 samples of stable isotope reference and intercomparison materials and ten sets of carbon-14 intercalibration materials were distributed to isotope hydrology laboratories in various Member States.