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Indonesian City Lands Environmental Award Thanks, in Part, to Use of Nuclear Technique

Professor Muhayatun Santoso (l) and a technician taking an air quality sample in Bandung, Indonesia. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA) 

Bandung, Indonesia – Indonesia’s third largest city has just won the title of ASEAN Environmentally Sustainable City. The use of nuclear techniques to monitor air pollution have contributed to the achievement, city officials have said.

The award is an annual prize that was handed out for the fourth time last month by officials from across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The nuclear technique, which uses particle-induced x-ray emission and X-ray fluorescence technology (See Particle-induced X-ray emission and X-ray fluorescence), was introduced by researchers at the country’s National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN), and has been used since the late 1990s to measure particulate matter in the city’s air on a regular basis. The results, for particulate matter with diameter below 10 µm (PM10) and below 2.5 µm (PM2.5), have contributed to a change in city bylaws regulating the burning of agricultural and household waste, as well as the introduction of education programmes to citizens about the harmful effects of burning their waste, said Irene Irmamuti, Head of the Environmental Rehabilitation Section at the city.

“The data provided by BATAN is important and will lead to science-based policy making,” Irmamuti said. “It has also made a significant contribution to the city getting the award.”

Air pollution is a major problem across urban areas of Indonesia, with a surge in industrial activity and traffic increasing the amount of toxic substances in the air. According to ASEAN, Bandung has made significant efforts to improve the quality of its air, such as forming a special team to focus on air pollution control, running public seminars and workshops on air quality management and putting vehicles in the city through strict emissions tests.   

Until recently, the city government lacked reliable data on the quality of its air with the exception of particulate matter, provided by BATAN. As such, it is this data that forms the basis of many of its new policies, said Driejana Driejana, Associate Professor in Air and Waste Management at the Bandung Institute of Technology. Driejana’s group is now supplying data to the city on other air pollutants such as nitrous oxides.

A tale of 17 cities

Many of the 17 cities where BATAN, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, is taking weekly measurements of air pollution, including carbon dust and heavy metals, have introduced changes to their policies and have begun to enforce their regulations more strictly, said Muhayatun Santoso, who leads the research at BATAN.

(Infographic: F. Nassif/IAEA)

The city of Serpong, near Jakarta, for instance, cracked down on informal businesses that recycled car batteries, resulting in lead levels in the air above safety limits, she said. In a city in East Java, the local government closed the small-scale metal smelter industry based on air pollution data and the level of lead found in the bloodstream of elementary school children.

While it is possible to measure the amount of fine particulate matter in the air using conventional techniques, only nuclear analysis can provide data on the composition of particulate matter, which allows authorities to identify the source of the pollution and device strategies to combat the problem, Santoso said. She now produces a report for each of the 17 cities on an annual basis, detailing the levels of lead, iron, potassium, sulphur, silicon and other particulates in their air.

“Having data is the first step towards taking action, and nuclear science can provide this data,” said Jupiter Sitorous Pane, who heads BATAN’s Center for Applied Nuclear Science and Technology in Bandung. There is a lot more demand for the service from cities around Indonesia, including West Java, the country’s most populous province and economic powerhouse, of which Bandung is the capital. The data will also serve as baseline to measure pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants the government is planning to construct around Java.

The IAEA has supported BATAN’s research through its technical cooperation programme, by providing equipment and access to international experts with experience in using the nuclear technique for air pollution measurement. This support enabled BATAN to apply the techniques on a national scale through sampling in most of the country’s major cities. The results of the data produced with the help of nuclear analytical techniques can form the basis for informed government regulation and policymaking.

BATAN scientists analyse air quality samples from 17 cities across Indonesia (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)