Atoms in Industry: The IAEA Scientific Forum Opens

Taylor Wilson

Taylor Wilson, a 21-year-old nuclear physicist from the United States, was a keynote speaker at the opening session of  the IAEA Scietific Forum entitled Atoms in Industry - Radiation Technology for Development. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Cutting-edge industrial technologies underpin the success of strong economies, in developed and developing countries alike. Nuclear science and technology, in particular, can make a major contribution to economic growth, and have an important role to play in support of sustainable development, said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano at the opening of the 2015 Scientific Forum today.

“Nuclear techniques are used extensively in industry to increase product quality and safety, benefiting both producers and consumers,” Mr Amano said. “Radiation tools make some industrial production cleaner and more effective.”

Held over two days during the IAEA’s General Conference, the Scientific Forum this year is focusing on the use of radiation technologies in industry, and how these technologies are applied to improve and control the quality of products we use in our daily lives, from car tires through medical devices to cables. Leading experts, academics and industrial representatives will review the multitude of benefits these techniques offer. The livestream of the Scientific Forum is available via this link . See a short IAEA Video on the use of radiation techniques used in health care, production of high performance products, food disinfestation, remediation of environmental pollutants and in ensuring the quality of components in the construction industry.

Opening panel

Russia has a long history of developing radiation technology applications for use in industry, and has made several breakthroughs, said Rosatom Chief Executive Officer Sergey Kirienko, one of the three keynote speakers of the opening session. Of the many sectors in which industrial applications are used in Russia, he highlighted the increase in the production of medical isotopes, helping to avoid shortages in the world. “We are ready to expand delivery to all those countries requiring assistance,” he said. Medical isotopes are used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and various neurological diseases. Mr Kirienko also mentioned that Russia has developed accelerators and devices for various radiation technology applications, including production of radioisotopes. Russia has a robust mechanism in place for transportation of radioactive sources and devices, he added.

Radiation technology supports numerous sectors of India’s economy, said Ratan Kumar Sinha, Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission. From basic and applied research to full-scale industrial roll out, the Atomic Energy Commission coordinates technology development. Industrial radiography and tomography, the use of radiotracers and irradiation are the main areas of industrial use, he said. “We are a nation of 1.2 billion with lot of inspirations,” Mr Sinha said. “Industry provides an example of how a large developing country can use radiation technologies in its industry.” As an unique example, Mr. Sinha mentioned the ‘sludge irradiation plant’ that treats the municipal waste in one of India’s cities. This treatment facility is able to sanitize the municipal waste and provide bio-fertilizer to the farmers, he said.

Recent advances in radiation technology are opening up new horizons for its use, said  Taylor Wilson, a 21-year-old nuclear physicist from the United States. In 2009, at age 14, Taylor wowed the world when he became the youngest person ever to work with nuclear fusion. He shared his passion for nuclear science and the numerous possibilities of applications of nuclear techniques in healthcare, space science and other areas. He highlighted the production of Graphene, a material made up of a single layer of carbon atoms, which conducts of electricity with very low resistance and hence is of great interest to many industries – for example cell phone manufacture.. Its production, and subsequent use in industry, would be  possible with minimal chemical additives and at low cost, thanks to the use of electron beam accelerators, he explained. What remains  of the treatment is water. “It is incredibly environmentally friendly, and also faster and cheaper than any other technology,” Wilson said. “This is what nuclear technology allows you to do.”

Overview of sessions

The Forum will consist of sessions, including high-level panel discussions, on the following topics:

Battling the bugs

Starting off with the health sector, the Scientific Forum will review how radiation can kill germs to ensure that sterile medical equipment is available for life-saving procedures, help produce more effective vaccines, or make tissue grafts safe for transplants.

Linking the chains

This session will explore how polymers — large synthetic and natural molecules composed of many repeated sub-units — can be made more stable, heat resistant and durable through the use of radiation. These versatile materials are present in many everyday items: for example, around 90 per cent of all materials used to build cars, aeroplanes and computers worldwide contain cross-linked polymers. Such techniques also benefit the medical and cosmetic industries, and even the agricultural sector through products that help plants to grow faster.

Solutions for pollution

Ever-expanding cities and large-scale industry can lead to increasing pollution. This session will look at how radiation techniques are employed to treat persistent industrial pollutants and to identify contaminating pathways. Several countries use radiation techniques toassess and study environmental processes and to treat wastewater and flue gases, and the Forum will highlight examples in these promising areas.

Tracing the pathways

Radiotracers and nucleonic gauges play an important role in increasing productivity and ensuring quality and reliability of industrial processes and production systems. Experts in this session will share their experiences and discuss how these technologies benefit the petrochemical and mining industries, among others.

Bolstering safety and quality

Non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques, including nuclear techniques, are applied extensively in manufacturing and civil engineering. NDT is a quality control tool used to examine the integrity of components, machinery, buildings and structures to ensure their safety and quality. The Forum will explore examples of the application of NDT techniques and share best practices in creating a qualified workforce to carry out NDT testing effectively, which could be vital in many cases, for example, when there is a need to quickly test public civil structures for hidden cracks and flaws.

Rays of hope

Radiation technology offers great opportunities for the future of industry, and the Forum’s last session will focus on new developments, including in the areas of nanoscale engineering, health, food and agriculture, as well as in the protection and preservation of cultural heritage.

The Forum will conclude with an open discussion about the added value of nuclear techniques in support of development efforts, and offer a chance for countries to share their experiences and hear more about the IAEA’s services in this area.

The IAEA’s support

Making radiation technologies available to Member States and assisting them in the peaceful use of these technologies are an important part of the IAEA’s work. Through technical cooperation projects, coordinated research activities and scientific meetings, hundreds of scientists and experts from all over the world work together to further improve radiation technologies and make them accessible to industry. In the last few years, this technical cooperation has also stimulated South–South cooperation among developing countries: Malaysia helps Sudan in non-destructive testing techniques  and Viet Nam transfers radiotracer technology to Angola , to name just two examples covered in the last issue of the IAEA Bulletin on industrial technologies.

Last update: 10 March 2016