Treatment and restoration

High-energy radiation can have a profound effect on the biological or chemical properties of materials. This effect can be used to disinfest cultural heritage artefacts and help restore them. Unlike chemical or physical methods, radiation does not leave any traces on the previous objects, nor do they become radioactive.

Artefacts form an important part of a country’s cultural heritage. Preserving existing artefacts can pose a serious challenge since many factors have an influence on their condition, including improper storage conditions, climate change or such adversities as flooding. All these may lead to the deterioration or even total loss of cultural heritage worldwide. 

Chemical and physical methods have been developed to treat and restore cultural heritage artefacts. However, chemical methods may leave undesirable chemicals in the material, whereas physical methods are generally quite extreme and therefore not suitable for all types of materials. In contrast, radiation technologies do not cause any harm to the artefacts themselves. They can be used to destroy  parasites that threaten works of art, and to assess any internal damage that was caused by them. 

Radiation techniques have been used for many years to treat a variety of cultural heritage artefacts. Several national and international research programmes have worked on developing harmonized methodologies for radiation treatment, which in turn has led radiation technology for the treatment of cultural heritage artefacts being generally accepted. The IAEA runs a coordinated research project in support of the application of nuclear techniques for investigating cultural heritage items.

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