Impact of Radiation Technology on Human Health and Environment

Vienna, Austria

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address the 21st Annual Meeting of the Indian Nuclear Society. This distinguished body enjoys a global reputation for the high calibre of the nuclear scientists, engineers and technologists who make up its members.

India has been a key partner for the IAEA since the creation of the Agency in 1957. As I am sure you all know, Dr Homi Bhabha´s love of opera is believed to be one of the reasons that our headquarters is in Vienna and not elsewhere. That outstanding scientist was an active participant at the birth of the IAEA.

India has been a member of the Agency´s Board of Governors since the start and many Indian scientists, engineers and diplomats have served with distinction with the Agency.

India is now an established user of nuclear power and has made a great contribution to peaceful nuclear applications, including in medicine and agriculture.

And that brings me to the theme of your 21st Annual Conference - the Impact of Radiation Technology on Human Health and Environment. Radiation technology has had a profound and positive impact on the quality of human life in many areas.

Nuclear power provides interested countries with stable and clean energy. And the number of countries which are considering introducing nuclear energy is growing steadily. There are now around 60, compared with 29 countries which already have nuclear power plants.

We at the IAEA expect between 10 and 25 new countries to bring their first nuclear power plants on-line by 2030. In addition, most existing users plan to build new reactors. The centre of growth is Asia. Major expansions in existing nuclear power programmes are planned here in India, as well as in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Of the 61 nuclear reactors now under construction, 39 are in Asia.

The reasons for the expansion in nuclear power are simple. Many countries are worried about climate change and they believe that nuclear power reduces harmful emissions. Countries are also concerned about energy security as the world´s supplies of fossil fuels decline. They see nuclear power as a stable source of energy.

Many countries considering introducing nuclear power are in the developing world. I welcome this. Access to nuclear power should not be the sole prerogative of developed countries. It should also be available to developing countries. They have the same right as developed countries to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and the same responsibility both to ensure the highest safety standards and to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. Needless to say, all countries have an equal responsibility to work to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

India´s remarkable economic dynamism in the past two decades has given hope to many developing countries. In the field of peaceful nuclear technology, India´s success was the result of detailed long-term planning and the accumulation of home-grown expertise through high-quality education and training.

Throughout the world, nuclear applications in the field of human health, industry, food and agriculture are helping to save lives, boost productivity and increase food output. The IAEA´s statutory objective is "to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world." Our goal is to provide guidance and practical assistance to countries which are interested in using nuclear science and technology. We are active across the full spectrum of peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In nuclear power, for example, we advise countries on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place and how to ensure the highest standards of safety, security and safeguards. We also assist with know-how on the construction, commissioning, start-up and operation of nuclear reactors. The end-result, we hope, is that countries will be able to introduce nuclear power knowledgeably, profitably, safely and securely.

In nuclear applications, we have a strong human health programme aimed at helping countries to use nuclear techniques to improve health care. The IAEA is actively involved in improving the control of cancer in developing countries, where it is reaching epidemic proportions. Cancer kills some 7.9 million people every year, more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Seventy percent of these deaths are in the developing world.

We assist Member States in building expertise in areas such as diagnostic imaging, including computed tomography (CT), single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET).

Our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) has been working since 2004 to improve cancer control in developing countries by providing training and equipment. Working closely with the World Health Organization and other partners, PACT´s mission is to improve cancer survival in developing countries by integrating radiotherapy investments into public health systems.

As far as the environment is concerned, the Agency has for nearly 50 years promoted and facilitated the use of isotopes to help understanding of rivers, lakes and aquifers. Many millions of people around the world face a daily struggle to secure safe water for their basic needs. Millions of children die every year from preventable water-borne diseases. Our global data derived from isotope surveys allow better understanding of climate change impacts on the water cycle. The IAEA helps both to create scientific assessments of aquifers within national borders to support their sustainable use and to strengthen cooperation among neighbours on shared resources.

The IAEA is uniquely positioned to assist member states in acquiring a scientifically sound assessment of water resources. One concrete example is the Nubian Aquifer, a single massive reservoir of high-quality groundwater in Egypt, Libya, Chad, and Sudan. The IAEA has helped the four countries concerned to develop a cooperative strategy for the rational management of this trans-boundary aquifer system.

We also help developing countries to use isotopic and nuclear techniques to intensify crop and livestock production, while our Environment Laboratories in Monaco help provide a better understanding of the monitoring and protection of the oceans.

India is a valued partner for the IAEA in all areas of our work and supports our technical cooperation programme as a donor. It extended special support to our PACT programme through its generous donation of teletherapy machines to Vietnam and Sri Lanka. India is one of the largest contributors to the IAEA Coordinated Research Projects, a major vehicle for international cooperation in nuclear research and development. India is also a very active member of the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) and is on the cutting edge of development in many waste management technologies, especially for high level waste from reprocessing. Cooperation with the IAEA is likely to increase in the area of decommissioning in the coming years as many older installations in India will require extensive refurbishment or decommissioning.

Innovation is key to the future of the nuclear industry. I take a keen interest in research and development which will maximize energy efficiency, reduce risks to the environment and ease the burden on future generations of having to deal with nuclear waste. Fast breeder reactor technology, for example, has the potential to extend the life of the world´s uranium reserves to, perhaps, as much as 6,000 years. India continues to be very active in the research and development of sodium-cooled fast breeder reactors. Experts from India also participate in IAEA activities on innovative small and medium sized reactors.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I look forward very much to visiting some of your facilities today and tomorrow. I thank the Government of India for its steadfast support for the work of the IAEA and I wish the Indian Nuclear Society every success with your annual conference.

Thank you.

Last update: 21 October 2014