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Atoms for Colombia: Expanding the Impact of Nuclear Applications in Colombia and Beyond

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At the opening ceremony of the Symposium, Luis Carlos Longoria Gándara, Director of the Division for Latin America and the Caribbean, discusses the range of nuclear applications and techniques whose implementation is supported through the IAEA TC programme. (Photo: National Geological Survey)

From 5 to 8 November, approximately 450 registered participants—including experts, academics and counterparts from over 20 national organizations—attended the IAEA’s symposium on Nuclear Applications in Bogotá to take stock of Colombia’s recent and historic achievements in the application of nuclear technologies, and to explore and remedy the obstacles which prevent greater engagement with those technologies. 

Across more than six decades of technical cooperation, the IAEA has supported its Member States as they unlock the economic, social, healthcare and development potential of nuclear science and applications. Colombia is no exception to this trend—through workshops, expert visits and procurements, for many years the IAEA has worked with Colombia to sustainably manage water resources, to measure and monitor ocean acidification, to ensure food safety and food exports and to strengthen capacities in nuclear medicine.

Organized in cooperation with the Colombian Geological Survey and the Ministry of Mines and Energy and held at the Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada Convention Centre, the symposium was designed to facilitate substantive discussions between national and regional stakeholders—including experts from Argentina, Brazil and Cuba—in order to promote greater collaboration between nuclear institutions on matters of nuclear science and applications, nuclear safety, capacity building, gender mainstreaming and more. Participants also explored how to the use nuclear and stable isotope techniques to address new and emerging challenges related to environmental contamination, agriculture and climate change.

Counterparts from the National University of Colombia, the Marine and Coastal Research Institute, the Colombian Agricultural Institute, the National Cancer Institute and the National Museum were among the participants of the sessions., along with academics from other Colombian and Latin American higher education institutions.

“Since joining the IAEA in 1960, Colombia has built capacities and established new nuclear facilities, whose work cuts across sectors and disciplines and whose services are now at the disposal of the Colombian population, generating positive socio-economic impact and change,” said Luis Carlos Longoria Gándara, Director of the IAEA’s Division for Latin America and the Caribbean, who underscored the untapped potential of nuclear technologies in his opening remarks. “The objective of the symposium is to further strengthen the collaboration among national institutions and to start a dialogue that will further unleash the great potential of the nuclear sector in the country for the benefit of the Colombian population and the country’s positioning in the region.”

Juan Pablo Parra, National Liaison Officer, joins Rutty Paola Ortiz, Elizabeth Barrero Jimenez, Karen Ibarra, Amelia de los Reyes and other participants in the ‘The Role of Women in Nuclear Sciences in Colombia’ panel. (Photo: National Geological Survey)

Twenty-three exhibitions and more than 50 poster presentations were on display, describing the variety of nuclear techniques used throughout Colombia on a daily basis, from radiotherapy and nuclear medicine to sedimentation measurement and nuclear analytical services. In order to facilitate well-focused discussions, some oral presentations were given at three parallel sessions. These presentations, developed and demonstrated by national counterparts participating in the TC programme, made existing and new opportunities for collaboration—both between government entities and with the IAEA—more evident and available.

The symposium drew more than 400 attendees from a variety of national institutions and counterpart organizations, including Francisco José de Caldas District University, University of Antioquia, Antonio Nariño University, University Hospital de Valle, University of Magdalena, the Santa Fe Foundation, the Regional Corporation of Urabáa, and the Children’s Heart Foundation in Bogotá.

Promoting the Role of Women in Nuclear Science

Approximately 450 experts, academics and counterparts from over 20 national organizations attended the Symposium. (Photo: National Geological Survey)

While the industry in Colombia boasts a large share of women in the field of medical applications, the nuclear workforce has remained predominantly male in the area of industrial applications. To explore the persisting obstacles to the attainment of greater gender parity in the nuclear field, the Colombian Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Colombian Geological Survey held a high-level forum, entitled ‘The Role of Women in Nuclear Sciences in Colombia,’ on 7 November, during the symposium.

During the forum and panel discussion, the milestones, challenges, stereotypes and opportunities were discussed, in addition to unique contributions by female experts in the broader scientific field, especially in the nuclear sector or in the use of ionizing radiation for peaceful and beneficial purposes.

 “At 16, with little experience, but with a deep desire to make a difference, I faced one of life's most momentous decisions: Choosing which career I wanted to study. At that time, my family… could not understand how a woman wanted to be part of a world that they said was made for men, the world of exact sciences,” said Karen Ibarra, a participant in the high-level forum and an alumnus of a Young Leaders workshop, organized through the technical cooperation programme. “From that decision, countless challenges have come to my life, as well as achievements, as I overcame those challenges and persevered.”

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