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Arab States Scale Up Joint Efforts to Monitor Radioactivity and Other Sources of Environmental Pollution


From right: ARASIA chair Bilal Nsouli of Lebanon, Section Head Marina Mishar and IAEA ARASIA focal point Linda Eid convene ARASIA meeting in Vienna, 23 January 2023. (Photo: J. O’Brien, IAEA) 

A new network of laboratories is to be established in countries that are party to the Cooperative Agreement for Arab States in Asia for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (ARASIA). These laboratories will strengthen regional capacity to monitor environmental radioactivity and will enable the collection, sharing and analysis of standardized data. The network will be one of the outputs of a new regional technical cooperation project to monitor radioactivity and other inorganic pollutants in the environment, including the air, land and ocean. The new project builds on previous technical cooperation projects that supported the analysis of environmental radioactivity and led to the establishment of a regional air quality database.

“Most ARASIA countries have designed and are operating environmental monitoring and assessment programmes independently, which involve undertaking environmental assessments, including radioactivity measurements,” said Marina Mishar, Section Head, Division for Asia-Pacific, Department of Technical Cooperation at the IAEA. Adressing a meeting of 30 ARASIA representatives in Vienna in January, she said: “This project will support you to design and establish a network which will make it possible to generate environmental radioactivity data to fill in data gaps. It will also make available reliable radioactivity data for comprehensive assessments.”

At the meeting, the ARASIA representatives took stock of the achievements of the previous regional projects on environmental monitoring, shared national experiences and good practices, and discussed their anticipated future needs and activities. An earlier technical cooperation project on environmental radioactivity had identified gaps in the analysis of radioactive pollutants, both in terms of the type of samples and the type of radionuclides to be analysed. The project helped to build a harmonized approach to sampling and monitoring to ensure comparability of measurements taken in different countries. An Interlaboratory Comparison Exercise was conducted by the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) and the IAEA to support the harmonization and exchange of validated data among the ARASIA State Parties.

“The inter-laboratory comparison exercise was an excellent tool to provide technical information about weaknesses in analytical procedures or methods for implementing a corrective action procedure,” said Abdulaziz Mansour Aba, Radiometry Specialist at KISR.

The impetus for a regional network of laboratories to monitor environmental radioactivity relates to the successful completion of another key regional technical cooperation project that resulted in the establishment of a regional air quality database. Through this project, air pollution was sampled and analysed at sites throughout the region using nuclear techniques to identify the concentrations and sources of black carbon and other pollutants.

“Since 2014, the IAEA has been supporting regional technical cooperation projects aimed at developing expertise, capacity infrastructure and human resources in the ARASIA region. This has helped us to acquire the necessary requirements to undertake studies on air quality in the region as well as within a regional context,” said Mohamad Roumie, Accelerator Laboratory Research Director, Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission. “This [new project] intends to strengthen national efforts in this regard and build a workable networking system among the participating Member States in a collaborative manner,” said Mohamad Roumie, Accelerator Laboratory Research Director, Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission.”

Through South-South cooperation, ARASIA State Parties are assisting one another in their environmental pollution monitoring efforts and becoming self-sufficient as a region. National institutions are sharing their expertise with neighbouring countries and harmonization of data practices serves to expand the scope of results, ultimately providing valuable data to reduce harmful regional pollution.

A regional approach is particularly suited to tackling environmental pollution, because it is a transboundary issue, with dust storms and ocean currents capable of carrying pollutants thousands of kilometres from their origins. Air pollution is of particular concern in the ARASIA region, as levels of particulate matter exceed WHO air quality guidelines and are higher than in other regions. This is due in part to low levels of precipitation and limited amounts of vegetation, which contribute to dust storms. Particles in the air come from natural sources, such as soil or sea salt, as well as from other sources, such as industry, traffic emissions and the oil industry.

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