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Protecting Marine Ecosystems: Spanish Research Centre Redesignated as IAEA Collaborating Centre


The Centro Nacional de Aceleradores is a unique institution in Spain equipped with accelerators for research purposes hosting a total of four different particle accelerators in addition to a gamma-ray irradiation unit. The Accelerator Mass Spectrometer in the photo, known as Spanish Accelerator for Radionuclide Analyses (SARA) is used for marine studies. (Photo: CNA)

The IAEA has redesignated today the Spanish National Accelerator Centre (CNA) in Seville as an IAEA Collaborating Centre for a third term to enhance global marine research using accelerator-based analytical techniques.

The collaboration will focus on key areas such as improving the methodology for the determination of man-made radionuclides in marine samples, as well as understanding their behavior in the oceans and using these as tracers to study different marine processes. Scientists will also advance research on natural archives such as coral reefs and sediments to better understand past climate changes.

“The CNA’s role in conducting analyses has been exemplary over the past eight years, using highly specialized particle accelerators to analyze long-lived radionuclides in marine samples, and then making this data available to Member States,” said IAEA Deputy Director General Najat Mokhtar, Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications. “The Centre’s technology and expertise is important for the IAEA Environment Laboratories to carry out complex research and tests to further advance our work in protecting marine ecosystems.”

The CNA is Spain’s public research institution equipped with particle accelerators that are tuned for environmental science, archeology, nuclear science and medicine, and nuclear waste management. These advanced techniques deliver among the highest precision measurements of diverse anthropogenic, cosmogenic and natural radioactive chemical elements in diverse marine samples.

The CNA has been a productive and innovative IAEA Collaborating Centre for two terms (2010 to 2014 and 2016 to 2020), consistently providing valuable Accelerator Mass Spectrometry analyses of long-lived radionuclides.

Under the new proposed workplan, the CNA will assist the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco from 2020 to 2024.

This collaboration has allowed the CNA group to participate in pioneering research projects, and we have access to incredible samples and environments that are difficult for us to have access.
Dr Rafael Garcia Tenorio, Director of the Spanish National Accelerator Centre

Studying environmental processes

Some anthropogenic radionuclides that are present in environment at ultra-low levels are difficult to measure. They can be used as innovative marine geochemical tracers to study environmental processes. For years, many Member States reliant on marine resources have benefitted from research carried out in Seville’s unique scientific-technical facility. Recently, the CNA’s accelerator mass spectrometry contributed to studies off Namibia’s coast on the Benguela upwelling system, very important for regional fisheries.

The Centre’s state-of-the-art analytical equipment has also helped the IAEA Environment Laboratories expand its suite of Certified Reference Materials for radionuclides in marine matrices.

“This collaboration has allowed the CNA group to participate in pioneering research projects, and we have access to incredible samples and environments that are difficult for us to have access,” said Dr Rafael Garcia Tenorio, CNA Director. “Joint research projects in the field of accelerator mass spectrometry with the IAEA’s marine Environment Laboratories in Monaco has been a most rewarding experience.”

Scientific publications have been produced on diverse research areas, including an evaluation of marine pollution status and trends in different regions of the world, an evaluation of historical trends of contamination using sediment as archives and radionuclides as geochronometers, the development of new methods to determine radionuclides with high sensitivity in minute quantities, and global transport of anthropogenic radionuclides.

The accelerator mass spectrometric technique also presents great potential for improving the understanding of past climate change processes by estimating high-resolution chronologies in marine archives such as corals and sediments, using the radiocarbon technique and other long-lived radionuclide-based tools. CNA is equipped with an additional accelerator mass-spectrometer fully devoted to the high international demand of Carbon-14 dating of geological, environmental and culture heritage samples.

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