Tag Archives: IAEA

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Nuclear Science, Climate Change & Sustainable Development: An Idea Worth Sharing

The fury of the Atlantic was on full display in late summer and early fall as hurricanes lined up to batter the Atlantic coast. Harvey, Irma and Maria knocked out power to millions of people and left communities in ruins. The power of Irma destroyed or damaged almost all the buildings on Barbuda, forcing the entire island to be abandoned. Meanwhile the force of Maria was enough to knock out power to all of Puerto Rico and citizens could be in the dark for months.

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recently reported that ocean warming, resulting from climate change could have direct impacts on future hurricanes.

“Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average (by 2 to 11% according to model projections for an IPCC A1B scenario). This change would imply an even larger percentage increase in the destructive potential per storm, assuming no reduction in storm size.”

It’s not just through hurricanes that we see the direct impacts of climate change on human life. Climate change plays a huge role in access to food, water, health and the environment. As such, it is one of the contributing factors affecting sustainable global development. There are other factors to be sure. Together however, they condemn large parts of the world to poverty, underdevelopment, poor health amid a deteriorating environment. So, what to do?

To make life better for both developed and developing countries, the United Nations, in partnership with the global community, set out seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. These goals focus on meeting our needs today without compromising our future.

Thanks to uranium atoms, we can provide the necessary power to help lift people out of energy poverty, provide clean drinking water and help protect the environment, thereby bettering the lives of billions of people around the world. Nuclear science meets NINE of the seventeen sustainable development goals.

2 Zero Hunger:  Using nuclear science to alter the DNA of plants is a proven effective method to make them more resilient to climate change and is in use by 100 countries.

3 Good Health And Well-Being: A nuclear by-product, Cobalt-60, plays an important role in nuclear medicine. Low-grade Cobalt-60 is used to sterilize medical equipment such as syringes and catheters. High-Speed Activity (HSA) or medical-grade Cobalt-60 is widely used to treat cancer patients. Over 70 million people have been treated thanks to nuclear science.

6 Clean Water And Sanitation: Nuclear science using electron beams (e-beams) can break apart chemical bonds. China, the world’s largest textile industry, recently opened-up an e-beam wastewater treatment facility to treat and reuse wastewater used in clothing manufacturing.

7 Affordable And Clean Energy: According to IAEA projections, energy demand will rise by 60-100% by 2030. To help lift people out of poverty and realize the climate goals set out in Paris, low-carbon, cheap energy is needed. According to the Ontario Energy Board, in 2016, nuclear cost just under 7 cents per kilowatt hour, making it one of the most cost-effective, clean sources of energy. (Solar costs 48 cents per kilowatt hour and hydro 6 cents.)

9 Industry, Innovation And Infrastructure: Innovation in nuclear technology includes Generation IV reactors, hydrogen fuels, small modular reactors (SMRs) and fusion energy.

13 Climate Action: Globally, nuclear power avoids 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, equal to taking approximately half of all (520 million cars) off the world’s roads. Nuclear power is the largest non-hydro source of low-carbon, clean energy worldwide, providing almost 12% of global electricity production.

14 Life Below Water: Nuclear science techniques that use radioisotopes can diagnose the impacts of ocean acidification on the food chain, giving scientists a better understanding of how rising acidity impacts both ecosystems and marine life.

15 Life On Land: Isotopes are a valuable environmental risk assessment tool as they can identify various contaminants which can help to assist with environmental monitoring and remediation of land areas.

17 Partnerships For The Goals: The global nuclear community has a long list of partnerships including various UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), universities and thank tanks and Indigenous communities.

While violent hurricane seasons are nothing new, the warming of our ocean waters, brought about by climate change, raise the concern that more catastrophic hurricanes, like the ones this season, could be the new normal. It’s just one example that underlines the importance of investments in sustainable science and technology, like nuclear, in order to keep the Earth on course to meet sustainable development goals today, ensuring a successful tomorrow.

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Next Generation Nuclear

Recently, the Government of Canada announced an initiative called Generation Energy; re-imagining Canada’s energy future. An energy future that, if climate goals are to be realized, must include a mix of clean, cost-efficient, reliable power. Several companies in Canada and beyond are racing to create the nuclear reactors of tomorrow.

Enter the next generation of nuclear. #NextGenNuclear

Image: Luke Lebel

Luke Lebel is one example of young leaders looking to slow down the impacts of climate change thanks to nuclear technology.

“I finished my undergrad degree in 2008 and I was thinking about grad school and was wondering where I could make a difference”, said Lebel, a Research Scientist at CNL. “I liked the idea of energy and helping to mitigate climate change, and I chose the nuclear industry because I think it can make the most amount of difference in replacing fossil fuel energy.”

Lebel concludes strongly that engaging with his peers and advocating for nuclear will be key to the industry’s future success.

“We have to start connecting with young people and have an image out there that makes us feel high tech. If you want to be like Google, you have to act like Google,” said Lebel.

Possessing a strong background in research and analysis, Lebel believes steering a successful next generation of nuclear will require information sharing, communication, mentoring and partnership.

“People of my generation are going to be working on the issue (Paris climate goals) the whole time. The role of younger people is really important just because of that,” said Lebel.

The International Energy Agency in its 2016 World Energy Outlook, estimates that 16% of the world’s population still lives without access to electricity.

Image: Rory O’Sullivan

“In order for people to lift themselves out of poverty, particularly in Africa, they need energy to be cheap and clean”, according to Rory O’Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at Moltex Energy.

This need to help others is what lead O’Sullivan to forge a path in clean energy. A mechanical engineer by trade, his career took him through project management construction and wind energy before landing on nuclear and Moltex Energy was born.

Recently, Moltex Energy announced a partnership with Deloitte and is in talks with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), and major utilities to work together on this vision for #NextGenNuclear. Moltex team member Eirik Peterson was also recognized for his work on reactor physics by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as the recipient of a “Young Innovator” award in Russia recently along with Lebel.

“The waste is concentrated and produces a lot of heat, you can’t put it in the ground, but if you shield it and put it into a box, you can plug that box into a turbine,” said O’Sullivan. “That box can then produce power for 10 years, maintenance free. It can also be used to provide district heat to communities.”

This ability of #NextGenNuclear to recycle used fuel to provide heat and power will improve humanitarian conditions, ensuring a brighter future.

Image: Eric Meyer

Advocating for nuclear is exactly what Generation Atomic has set out to do. Founded by Eric G. Meyer, this grassroots nuclear advocacy group is self-described as “energizing and empowering today’s generation to advocate for a nuclear future.”

Using a combination of the latest in new digital technology and on the ground outreach, Generation Atomic is raising awareness about the importance of nuclear energy for people and the planet.

As the Government of Canada looks to reimagine its energy future, it is clear: the next generation of nuclear is here and is working hard to ensure that we have a clean, low-carbon tomorrow for the next generation and beyond.

Do you have a next generation energy story?

CNA Responds

Response to “Pickering’s nuclear waste problem just got bigger”

Re: “Pickering’s nuclear waste problem just got bigger” (NOW Online, July 20), by Angela Bischoff, director of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA).

Ontario Power Generation has safely stored used fuel bundles from the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station for more than 40 years. After they are removed from the water filled bays where they cool and become much less radioactive, they are placed in robust concrete and steel containers. Before being placed into storage, the containers are rigorously tested and safeguard seals are applied by an inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The entire site is closely monitored by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is Canada’s regulator.

Despite what the article argues, Canada has a plan in place to safely manage used nuclear fuel and identify a single, preferred location for a  deep geological repository (DGR) for used nuclear fuel. Potential sites are assessed by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) in a process that began when the communities formally expressed interest in learning more. The NWMO has narrowed a list of 22 potential and interested host communities down to five. A single site is expected to be selected in 2023 with licensing and construction to follow. It is expected that an operational facility will be available to begin taking used fuel shipments in the mid-2040s.

John Barrett, President & CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association, Ottawa

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Nuclear Science: Mapping Out Red Tide

Seafood lovers could one day find their plates dry thanks to climate change. Findings reported on by the Marine Stewardship Council indicate that increasing greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by our world’s ocean are causing them to heat up and become more acidic. These changes threaten the very habitats that fish and other marine organisms like shellfish need to survive.

Coral habitat destruction, rising sea levels and red tides are just a few examples of ocean degradation due to climate change. Red tide or colonies of harmful algae blooms (HABs) is nothing new to coastal communities. This phenomenon has been documented for centuries, however it is only recently that researchers are investigating how changes to our ocean environment could be impacting this coastal occurrence.

This is where nuclear science comes in.​ Scientists with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Environmental Laboratories in Monaco are using a nuclear technique known as receptor binding assay (RBA) to help better detect and map these harmful algae bloom outbreaks (HABs) to help protect human populations.

RBA works like this. In each sample, toxins and radiotracers or radioactive isotopes compete to bind to receptors or cells within the sample. How the isotopes behave tells scientists how much toxicity is present in the sample.

Red tides are transported by wind and ocean currents and are usually found close to the shoreline.  Ocean warming due to the absorption of greenhouse gases brought about by climate change has resulted in these toxic blooms become more frequent and more severe.

As the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pointed out, “recent research suggests that the impacts of climate change may promote the growth and dominance of harmful algal blooms through a variety of mechanisms including warmer water temperatures, changes in salinity, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, changes in rainfall patterns, intensifying of coastal upwelling and sea level rise.”

Red Tide outbreaks can be devastating to the aquaculture economies of developed and developing countries alike. A red tide outbreak that affected Luzon Island, Philippines in 2006 which had adverse impacts on the nearly 12,000 families that rely on shellfish to make their living.  When these toxic plants enter the food web they can kill off large numbers of fish and marine life. The US National Library Institutes of Medicine and Health discovered high levels of toxins in dead manatees and dolphins following a red tide outbreak.

However, the impacts of red tide are not limited to marine life. HABs can also cause illnesses in humans, mainly affecting the nervous system. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when people consume shellfish that contain red tide toxins. Ingesting infected shellfish can impact the nervous system and cause dizziness or difficulty swallowing. In extreme cases, it can lead to death.

While science may not be able to stop red tide outbreaks, a method known as receptor binding assay (RBA) can help to better detect and map out these harmful algae bloom outbreaks, taking a step towards health protection of both marine environments and human populations.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in partnership with International Oceanographic Commission of ​UNESCO is working with approximately 40 countries is transferring the knowledge of nuclear technology to stop the effects of red tides on human population, making seafood safer thanks to nuclear science.

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Nuclear Science: Preventing Future Ebola Outbreaks

West Africa experienced the largest Ebola outbreak in history in 2014. It claimed over ten thousand lives and impacted the entire countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In June 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an end to Ebola and months later, in April of this year, Liberia removed its temporary Ebola treatment facility only for Africa to announce another outbreak just a month later.

Contagious and often deadly, the Ebola virus or hemorrhagic fever can be transmitted from animal to human and through human-to-human contact. Between 2-21 days after infection, a patient will experience symptoms that resemble a flu (fever, sore throat, headaches). As the virus continues to damage the immune system and organs, internal and even external bleeding can occur. Death rates for the disease can be as high as 90%.

The 2014 outbreak closed many schools in the region that remained locked for almost an entire year. Close to twenty thousand children lost their families, or were left without one or both parents, according to information reported on by UNICEF.

To prevent a repeat of the deadly Ebola 2014 outbreak, a team of scientists with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are using nuclear science and technology to be able to effectively diagnose such viruses.

“We demonstrated our ability to respond quickly to emergencies such as the Ebola and Zika viruses, supplying affected countries with simple nuclear-derived kits so they could detect the diseases quickly and accurately in the field,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in his speech in late May at the International Conference on Technical Cooperation.

Early and rapid detection helps to limit the spread of such diseases. There are nuclear-derived techniques that scientists can use to help identify Ebola such as polymerase chain reaction technology (PCR) which examines the DNA of cells. Researchers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are hunting  fruit bats in the hopes that they might hold answers on Ebola, specifically, how the virus jumps from bats to other animals or how it causes outbreaks. And it’s not just researchers in the Congo. As pointed out by the IAEA, veterinarians in Africa are working in partnership with the agency to help prevent the spread of Ebola.

“Around 75% of human diseases originate from animals, which is why it is so important to stop them at the animal level. Nuclear-derived technology helps us do this,” according to Abel Wade, Director, National Veterinary Laboratory (LANAVET), Yaounde, Cameroon.

As was witnessed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, quick and effective diagnoses is key to preventing large-scale transmission and infection. The most recent outbreak in the Congo was declared under control only a month after it was discovered.

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Fighting Food Insecurity

Nuclear technology steps up to meet a huge challenge.

The world needs more food and lots of it. According to the World Bank, in order to meet growing global demands we must produce 50% more food by 2050.

At the same time, expanding populations and climate change threaten our ability to meet these goals. A recent report by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that, “as temperatures rise, crops will increasingly experience temperatures above the optimum for their reproductive development, and animal production of meat or dairy products will be impacted by temperature extremes.”Branch of an apricot tree with ripe fruits

Enter the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In order to produce more food under challenging environmental conditions and with less available land, scientists from the IAEA are working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to find solutions to food insecurity.

One solution is the Nuclear Techniques in Agriculture program, a way to address food shortages through, “using radiation induced mutation, mutation detection and pre-breeding technologies.” Exposing plants to small doses of radiation can make them more resistant to disease and climate change.

One of the foods being targeted by this program is quinoa. This gluten free grain, common to the Andean people, is known as a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. Because of its genetic diversity, quinoa is able to be grown under different environmental conditions, making it an appealing crop to grow; almost 100 countries currently harvest it.

Food irradiation can also help to kill potentially deadly bacteria and the use of isotopes can help to measure resource levels such as the health of soil and water storage within the land, providing farmers with important information on the health of their resources so that they can more effectively use their land to yield greater harvests.

As part of addressing food security issues, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is using its sterile insect technique (SIT) to help Mauritius fight back against fruit flies. Fruit flies, native to Southeast Asia, attack a variety of much-needed produce including bananas, mangos, eggplant and squash. In a release by the IAEA in mid-June the Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security for Mauritius addressed the magnitude of the problem.

“160 million Mauritian Rupees-over 4 million Euros-are lost annually as a result of the damage caused by fruit flies,” according to Mahen Kumar Seeruttun, Minister of Agro-Industry.

Being able to save crops and produce more bountiful harvests means the ability to address starvation and provide much needed nutrients. Today, it is estimated that 2 billion people live with food insecurity and that one in eight are starving, highlighting the importance of these nuclear initiatives. From hunger to hope, technology can help to fight back and feed those who are most in need.