News from the International Nuclear Information System
Number 10, September 2010


The Road that Led to the Creation of INIS

The resources devoted to research, development and applications in many fields of science and technology, particularly in nuclear physics and nuclear sciences in general, were greatly expanded after World War II by governmental agencies, universities, research centres and industry. Although largely driven by military applications, these developments were also partly driven by a growing interest in the civil applications of atomic energy for power generation, medicine, agriculture and other industrial applications. Soon, it became evident that ready access to scientific and technical information was essential and programmes were set up all around the world to manage the information already available and to include newly generated information and knowledge. Because of the recent military events closely related to atomic energy, these national information programmes in the atomic sciences were usually set up within government agencies. Thus, centralized and usually well-funded information management activities were the norm in the immediate post-war years.

Indeed, in the 1940s, information management activities in nuclear science and technology were established in parallel in numerous countries and were progressively enhanced as developments in computer technology increased their usefulness. In 1948, an abstracting journal, Nuclear Science Abstracts (NSA), was established by the US Atomic Energy Commission. NSA was to incorporate information on the published results of all research and development in the nuclear sciences, and therefore not only information on industry reports but also on journal articles, books, etc. From 1948 until its discontinuation in 1976, NSA was to become the most authoritative source of information in the nuclear area and its printed copies were to be found on the shelves of libraries of practically every research centre, academic or other learned institution, as well as industrial enterprises dealing with any aspect of nuclear science.

Other countries also developed important information management activities during this period. In the former USSR, the Academy of Sciences Institute of Scientific Information's objective was to collect and create abstracts for all scientific and technical literature published in the then USSR and in foreign countries, and to publish it in the Referativnyi Zhurnal (Journal of Abstracts), which has been published continuously since 1952. In the early 1960s, Referativnyi Zhurnal covered relevant fields spanning the entire range of Soviet literature and also 12 500 foreign periodicals. Furthermore, the Institute had exchange agreements for scientific publications with 1085 foreign organizations in 60 countries.

As another example, in France, in order to satisfy the needs for scientific and technical information to support the war effort, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) was created in 1939. The CNRS went on to collect and publish bibliographic data on published literature, starting in 1941, in the Bulletin Analytique which subsequently became the Bulletin Signal?tique in 1955. Furthermore, the Commissariat ? l'?nergie Atomique (CEA) was established in October 1945 and, although it did not itself produce an international bibliography in the atomic sciences, cooperated with the CNRS by contributing to the Bulletin Signal?tique. In the 1970s, the CNRS established large computerized databases for the natural sciences (PASCAL 1973) as well as the social sciences (FRANCIS 1978), derived from its Bibliographie Internationale (which was how its bibliographic products were referred to by then).

On an international scale, on 8 December 1953, during US President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" address to the 47th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the idea of establishing an international agency that might oversee research and development activities in the atomic area and ensure their peaceful applications was raised. Making scientific and technical information in the atomic area available would be an integral part of the responsibilities of such an agency.

During the 1950s and 1960s, a series of United Nations Conferences on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy took place in which countries released vast amounts of information that had previously been held secret. At the third UN Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held in 1964, many of the information specialists present met to think about options for the future. The challenge was not only to develop a sustainable mechanism to preserve the large volume of newly available information, but also to facilitate information exchange between the East and the West. Thus, the seed that would ultimately lead to the establishment of the International Nuclear Information System (INIS) was planted, just as President Eisenhower's address to the UN General Assembly in 1953 had been the seed that had led to the establishment of the IAEA.

The Statute of the IAEA, which came into force in July 1957, contains in Article III, paragraph A.3 the statement that:

The Agency is authorized: to foster the exchange of scientific and technical information on peaceful uses of atomic energy;

and further, Article VIII, paragraph C states that:

The Agency .. shall take positive steps to encourage the exchange among its members of information relating to the nature and peaceful uses of atomic energy and shall serve as an intermediary among its members for this purpose

To better fulfil this function, during the 1960s, the IAEA began exploring the possibility of establishing a scheme to provide computerized access to a comprehensive collection of references to the world's nuclear literature. Its initial efforts consisted of building up a technical library. A Panel on Technical Information was established in 1959 to advise the IAEA on how best to establish channels for Member States to exchange scientific and technical information on the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

The outcome of these efforts was the creation of INIS, authorized by the IAEA's Board of Governors in February 1969. The system was designed as an international cooperative venture, requiring the active participation of its members who therefore needed to invest human and financial resources in order to make it function. INIS started operations in 1970, when it produced its first products, with 25 members. Current membership now numbers 147 countries and international organizations, attesting to the success and usefulness of the system.

INIS was a 'trailblazer' in the world of information exchange owing to its key characteristic, its decentralized nature. Never before had an information exchange activity had such geographically and linguistically disparate nodes, each performing specific tasks on a common project. Over the past four decades, INIS has established itself as one of the key channels for collecting and making available nuclear information. Its success is a success story for the system and for the IAEA, the organization under whose aegis the system has been operating. But above all, it is a success story for the members of INIS that have made it what it is today and have helped users of information in the peaceful application of nuclear science and technology to make this a better world.


From The International Nuclear Information System - The First Forty Years, 1970-2010 by Claudio Todeschini

Adapted by Bruna Lecossois