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Supporting Nepal with the Help of Nuclear Applications

Nepal receives support from IAEA and partner organization after earthquake

Irradiated food pouches were delivered to people in Taple Village in the Ghorka District of Nepal after the April 2015 earthquake. (Photo: ACT)

As Nepal begins recovery work after a devastating earthquake in April, the IAEA and one of its partner organizations are using nuclear techniques to lend a helping hand. Last week, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano announced at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting that the Agency will support Nepal in ensuring the safety of critical buildings with non-invasive radiation tools, while BATAN, the National Nuclear Energy Agency Jakarta in Indonesia, is providing ready-to-eat food made safe using tools they acquired with support from the IAEA.

“The Agency will support the Government of Nepal in enhancing the safety of public places in areas affected by the recent earthquakes,” said Director General Amano during the opening session of the June Board of Governors meeting. “This will include assisting Nepal in testing the integrity of critical buildings such as hospitals, schools and historical attractions, using non-destructive testing techniques. This is another example of the Agency’s ability to respond quickly to Member State needs.”

The earthquake and its aftershocks left over 500 000 destroyed homes and buildings in Nepal, killing more than 8000 thousand people and injuring and displacing tens of thousands more. Among the loss and rubble, many critical public civil structures remain standing, but may have developed hidden flaws, which could pose further risks if not detected early and remediated quickly.

The Government of Nepal has asked for the IAEA’s support in complementing national efforts to verify the integrity of key infrastructure and cultural heritage sites, since the Agency has long expertise in helping countries employ non-destructive testing (NDT) through its Technical Cooperation Programme. NDT is an area of science using non-invasive techniques to assess structural integrity of a material, component or structure through various methods such as radiography, a type of radiation technology; visual, ultrasonic, and magnetic testing; and others.  

NDT is a quality control tool used in industries worldwide to help assess, control and periodically examine the quality of components, machinery and structures, which in turn ensure the safety of operation and the protection of human lives.

Food relief for the hardest hit

Among the hardest hit were villages in the rural regions of Nepal where infrastructure is less developed and less able to withstand the earthquake’s destructive tremors. Many traditional communal village kitchens were damaged, lowering their hygiene levels, and the fissures splintering roads made access to reliable food supplies more limited.

“When the earthquake came, the Government in Nepal provided people with food during the disaster,” said Ira Koenari, a food irradiation specialist at BATAN. “Now after the disaster, we have been helping ACT [Action Quick Response organization] to get irradiated food pouches to the villages out in the countryside where people need it. These pouches are safe, which is important because their village kitchens are severely damaged after the earthquake.”

BATAN and ACT, a charity and relief foundation, recently delivered irradiated food pouches to villagers in Taple Village in the Ghorka District of Nepal where the communal kitchen was in very poor condition after the earthquake. The villagers had not tasted the Indonesian food in the pouches before, but they liked the food and the support in repairing the damage to their kitchen, said Koenari.

Irradiated food pouches like those being delivered by BATAN and ACT are sealed and then exposed to ionizing radiation to eliminate microorganisms that could spoil the food without compromising the food’s taste or texture. This allows food supplies to be stored at room-temperature for a long time without going bad, which is key in emergency situations when food must often be transported for long distances and refrigeration is limited.

BATAN developed its food irradiation capacities through a multi-year Joint FAO/IAEA Programme research project on irradiated food that brings safe food for people in a variety of situations, from victims of emergencies to immuno-compromised patients that are more susceptible to food illness. The research project involves institutes and hospitals in 16 different countries across the world, including BATAN.

After Nepal’s national state of emergency ended, the Government withdrew supplies of emergency rations, and now international support is very important for providing food to those who may still need it, said Koenari. “ACT and partners like BATAN will continue to work to help Nepal,” she said. BATAN is also helping ACT to develop its own food irradiation kitchen for making and delivering safe food to help people in need, she added. 

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