International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi talks about the Nuclear Saves Partnerships through which industry and others can partner with the Agency to expand its efforts to support development projects in low- and middle-income countries.Rafael Mariano Grossi (Image: D Calma/IAEA)
"Nuclear can be an enormous force for good. Besides generating low-carbon electricity, nuclear technology and applications help treat cancer, manufacture high quality products for industrial and public use, develop superior crops, map water aquifers, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, not everybody has access to these benefits today.
The IAEA is best known as the world's nuclear watchdog. But our mandate is much broader and includes supporting countries so that they can put peaceful nuclear technologies into good use. To make sure even more people can reap these benefits, I have launched a new partnership initiative called Nuclear Saves.
We are looking for like-minded partners - companies, organisations, foundations - to join Nuclear Saves and support development projects in low- and middle-income countries. These projects address four major challenges where nuclear techniques are well positioned to make a real difference: to fight climate change, to combat the outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans, and to bring radiotherapy to countries that do not have it.Mitigating and adapting to climate change
When we talk about climate change and reaching net zero, the contribution of nuclear technologies is increasingly recognised, but much more still needs to be done. The IAEA supports countries in the safe, secure and responsible use of nuclear power, should they decide to include it in their energy mix. We help them build their capacities and the infrastructure necessary for developing a nuclear power programme.
At the same time, nuclear technology can also be used to help countries adapt to the impact of climate change. Isotopic techniques help farmers effectively use limited water resources to continue to grow crops when rainfall becomes scarce or erratic. Irradiation is used to help speed up the development of drought-resistant and salt-tolerant crops. Our projects focus on the most vulnerable countries and communities as they are disproportionally impacted by climate change. In Zambia, for instance, a new cowpea variety has been developed with support from the IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. It has enabled farmers to increase yields even in the face of increasing periods of drought.Combatting pandemics
COVID-19 has brought into the spotlight an issue the IAEA has been working on for decades: controlling zoonotic diseases. These are diseases that originate in animals and that jump to humans.
COVID-19 has had an impact on all of us. Only two years ago few people would have thought a virus might force countries into lockdown and ban us from social activities. The world was unprepared, and help was needed immediately. The IAEA didn't waste a minute and launched its biggest emergency operation ever, sending RT-PCR testing kits and other indispensable laboratory equipment to more than 300 laboratories in 130 countries.
But our job is not done. The world needs to learn from this pandemic and come together to prevent and control the next one. Our Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) project is doing exactly this. It will help countries use nuclear and related techniques to rapidly detect and respond quickly to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. ZODIAC will integrate laboratories through a network that spans the globe, so that experts can better collaborate, share their knowledge and experience, and stop the next emerging disease before it becomes a pandemic.Saving the oceans from plastic pollution
NUTEC Plastics is the IAEA's contribution to addressing plastic pollution. About 70 per cent of all the plastic ever produced is now waste. Less than 10 per cent of it has been recycled. Already now, many beaches around the world are inaccessible because of plastic pollution and tons of plastics are floating in the oceans forming huge garbage patches. The biggest one, in the Pacific Ocean, is three times the size of France. By 2050, experts expect our oceans to have more plastic than fish.
NUTEC Plastics will battle plastic pollution through tracing microplastics in the marine environment, including in plants and animals, and by recycling more plastics in a more effective and environmentally friendly way. The IAEA is working with many countries and other partners to integrate NUTEC Plastics into their approach to tackling plastic pollution.Closing the gap in cancer care
Cancer kills far too many people - particularly in Africa. Treatments that are routine in richer countries are simply unavailable in many poorer ones, leading to tens of thousands of people dying from treatable cancers. We are setting out to change this by supporting the establishment of radiotherapy services, starting with the 23 countries that completely lack such facilities.
The IAEA has six decades of experience in helping countries fight cancer. From technology transfer, procuring equipment for diagnosis and treatment, to training staff in its safe, secure and effective use, and providing quality assurance services, the IAEA helps countries respond to the growing cancer burden. For instance, until last year, Niger lacked even a single radiotherapy unit - those who could afford it needed to look for treatment elsewhere. Others were left with no options. Thanks in part to our efforts, Niger opened its first ever radiotherapy centre in July 2020. Much more needs to be done to give countries like Niger the chance in this unequal fight against cancer and we are prepared to lead the way!
Next February, I intend to announce a new initiative that will integrate and complement our ongoing activities in fighting cancer and focus on countries most in need. I hope to get broad support from IAEA Member States and also from companies. I am determined to drive a change so desperately needed for so many around the globe.Nuclear for impact
Such is the power of nuclear technologies and its applications that together we can make a bigger impact. The battle against climate change, zoonotic diseases, plastic pollution and cancer unites governments and companies. In these areas, the nuclear sector can demonstrate its valuable contribution to a better world.
A lab using nuclear techniques to trace microplastics or to spot the next zoonotic disease may seem far removed from a nuclear power plant. But I believe they are all integral parts of human development. Expanding their benefits, especially to less advantaged communities, is not only the right, but also the necessary thing to do.
This is why I launched Nuclear Saves. Through it, industry can partner with the IAEA to expand its efforts in these important areas. I am grateful to WNA for becoming an advocacy partner of Nuclear Saves. I invite you all to consider joining us, too!"