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Making Nuclear More Effective in Support of Sustainable Development: Conclusions of the 2016 Scientific Forum

Closing session of the 2016 IAEA Scientific Forum 'Nuclear Technology for the Sustainable Development Goals', at the 60th General Conference, Vienna, Austria. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Nuclear technology can help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and its effects will be more tangible if integrated into broader development strategies.  This was the key message of this year’s Scientific Forum, 'Nuclear Technology for the Sustainable Development Goals'. The two-day event highlighted concrete examples of the contribution of nuclear and isotopic techniques to health, food security, energy and the environment.

Several keynote speakers, including HSH Prince Albert of Monaco and Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel, joined IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in recognizing  the important contribution of nuclear science and technology in helping countries meet the SDGs — a range of objectives that the United Nations General Assembly agreed on in 2015 to stimulate action in areas of critical importance for people and the planet.

This article summarizes the takeaways from the five thematic sessions. The presentations are available here.

Radiation medicine to fight cancer, cardio-vascular diseases

Investing in equipment and human resources as well as establishing adequate policies are required to close the gap between the demand for, and access to, radiation medicine, speakers at the session concluded.

"Radiotherapy is an effective treatment that saves one million life years globally each year," said Mary Gospodarowicz, Medical Director at Toronto's Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Research indicates that investing in radiotherapy would yield a significant return in terms of numbers of lives saved, she added.

Kenji Shibuya, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said world leaders should work to lift the burden of non-communicable diseases. "This should be a top priority on their agenda," he added.

As to ensuring adequate health care, Alistair McGuire of the London School of Economics said this would require new financial models in the public sector. However, while start-up costs of nuclear medicine are high, technology is cost-effective and highly accurate once set up, and it can save millions of lives, said Carlos Buchpiguel, Professor at São Paulo University.

Better nutrition, safer food and more agricultural production

"In order to end hunger everywhere, we must enhance food production where food is needed," said Kostas Stamoulis, Assistant Director General at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). "Cross-cutting solutions and strong commitment to multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder partnerships are needed to sustainably manage agricultural development."

The speakers also agreed that the transfer of knowledge and skills across borders plays a key role in ensuring global food security. "Transboundary animal diseases can come to your country, impacting people’s lives," said Chandapiwa Marobela-Raborokgwe, Director of Botswana's National Veterinary Laboratory. "In this case, benchmarking with other countries using nuclear techniques that can help improve animal health is essential."

Emorn Udomkesmalee, Associate Professor at Mahidol University's Institute of Nutrition in Thailand, explained how isotopic techniques helped enhance the diet quality of the population and monitor its progress.

Safe nuclear power to address climate change and increase in electricity demand

Combatting climate change will be difficult without expansion of nuclear energy, panellists agreed.

"There is a large scale demand for low-carbon electricity," said World Nuclear Association's Director General Agneta Rising. "Nuclear has to double or triple to meet this demand. All countries that managed to decarbonize their electricity are using nuclear."

"Nuclear is very much affordable if we look at the whole life of a power plant," highlighted Fiona Reilly, Executive Partner at the Atlantic Superconnection Corporation.

The lessons learned from past accidents have been integrated into existing regulations, and operating reactors will even be stronger with the new generation of reactors, said Leonid Bolshov, Director of Russia’s Nuclear Safety Institute.

New reactor types, including Small Modular Reactors, also provide a promising, safe and economical technology, added Leslie Dewan, CEO of Transatomic Power in the United States.   

Understanding and preserving the environment with isotopic techniques

The Forum's session on natural resources stressed the importance of government support for the development and implementation of nuclear and isotopic techniques in protecting our natural resources.  Many countries are facing more environment-related problems than ever, which may be addressed with the help of nuclear techniques.

Fiji is a good example of a country that can greatly benefit from nuclear science and technology to protect its fragile coast, said Osea Naiqamu, Minister for Fisheries and Forests.

Using nuclear techniques can also help countries with little water, such as Sudan, where women farmers were taught how to use water efficiently to produce crops, enabling them to step out of poverty. "Support from the IAEA and other international organizations was a key success factor," said Project Coordinator Imad Babiker. 

Sustainable transfer of nuclear science and technology for peaceful use

Countries – particularly in the developing world – often struggle to secure the start-up capital of larger infrastructure projects, such as nuclear medicine, radiotherapy centres and power plants. They also need to ensure that they keep the skills required to operate these facilities. A key message from this session was that political will, cooperation between developing countries, innovation, smart financing models and adapting technology to conditions in low-income countries can help overcome these problems and build capacity. The panellists called for the development of partnerships across borders and sectors to achieve the sustainable development agenda by 2030 and the integration of nuclear science and technology into national development strategies.

As a follow up to this year's Scientific Forum, the IAEA will hold the first International Conference on the IAEA Technical Cooperation Programme in May 2017. The conference will help to assess how the Agency can best contribute to development and the achievement of the SDGs. 

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Last update: 31 August 2017

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