International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: United Nations & Other IGOs
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The IAEA?s Statutoryobjective is to seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic power to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world. Through day-to-day activities of the IAEA, the application of nuclear techniqueshelps achievenearly all the MDGs. In the UN family, the IAEA has principal responsibility for helping expand the positive impact and benefits of these techniquesin developing countries in a sustainable way.

Forsustainable agriculture and food security(MDG1),nuclear techniques are used to breed improved crops, enhance livestock reproduction and nutrition, and control animal and plant pests and diseases. Nuclear technology is also used to reduce post-harvest losses and increase food safety. Isotopic techniques are applied for better soil and water management.

For health (MDGs 4, 5 and 6), nuclear techniques are used for diagnosing and treating cancer and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are growing rapidly in developing countries. Nuclear techniques also help develop and monitor interventions to combat malnutrition.

For water (MDG 7), nucleartechniques are used to map and manage ground water resources to increase water supplies. Nuclear techniques are also used to enhance water use efficiencyin agriculture.

For the environment (MDG 7), nuclear techniques improve understanding of sources and sinks of pollutants, their transport pathways and their ultimate fate. Nuclear techniques are used to monitor and assess effects of climate change on the oceans and to validate global climate models and ocean circulation models.

Access to affordable energy is an essential enablerfor attainingthe MDGs. The IAEA helps countries using or introducing nuclear power to do so safely, securely, economically and sustainably. It verifies that nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes only, thereby directly contributing to international peace and security. Its safety standards, assistance and reviews increase safety to the benefit of human health and the environment.

In addressingclimate change, nuclear technologiesare used for improving scientific understanding, adaptation and mitigation.Monitoring environmental radionuclides is fundamental to research on past climates and ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns. Scientific understanding can also be improved by using nuclear techniques to study and identify changes in the marine and terrestrial environment, and thus contributing to climate change modelling. For adaptation, nuclear techniques help to develop crops that thrive in changed climates and to combat agricultural pests.For mitigation, the complete nuclear power chain, from resource extraction to waste disposal including reactor and facility construction, emits only 1?6 grams of carbon equivalent per kilowatt-hour, about the same as wind power and hydropower.

Food security and sustainable agriculture

Through the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, the IAEA and FAO have worked together for more than 40 years to support global food security and contribute to combatting poverty. Many countries have climate patterns and soil characteristics that place major constraints on food production.Nuclear techniques provide a unique tool to evaluate andincrease the productivity of soil,efficiently manage water resources and reduce the use of fertilizers.

Nuclear techniques are also used to develop new crop varieties which are able to grow in marginal or saline soils and under harsh conditions.Mutant varieties cover, for example, 15% of rice production area in Vietnam and have performed so well that they have been adopted as part of a national programme to ?eradicate hunger and alleviate poverty? with a focus on the central highland region of Vietnam, an economically poor area where agricultural production is low.

Together these techniquesexpand the range of productive land and increase the global food supply.The importance of this work will grow in coming years as these techniques can be applied to help agriculture adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Food security is also improvedby more healthy and productive livestock. The IAEA helps apply nuclear techniques to stop the spread of trans-boundary animal diseases, such as rinderpest, which was recently eradicated all over the world. New challenges are foot and mouth disease and avian influenza.

Nuclear techniques help control insect pests that destroy crops and spread disease. Projects to combat insect pests help producers in developing countries to satisfy international trade requirements, thereby increasing the access of rural agricultural communities to valuable export markets. For example, use of the sterile insect technique (SIT) in Guatemala significantly reduced the fruit fly population, which helped double export earnings from non-traditional agricultural export crops of tomatoes, bell peppers and papaya, while providing needed new jobs. Overall since 2006, theinsect pest control programme has generated benefits to farmers of more than $100 million and created thousands of rural jobs.

Human Health

The IAEA helps Member States to apply nuclear techniques to combat a growing global cancer epidemic that will disproportionately affect developing countries. The WHO/IAEA Joint Programme on Cancer Control is a global alliance of NGOs, foundations, public and multilateral organisations and private industry that works to increase awareness, build technical and public policy capacity and develop alternative fundraising mechanisms to help establish muchneeded national cancer control programmes in developing countries. Through the Joint Programme for example Ghana?s capacity in cancer registration, prevention, early detection and palliative care, as well as nuclear medicine and radiotherapy services was strengthened.Ghana now has a national cancer control plan and is implementing infrastructure improvements and workforce development which all are improving the health of the population in the country.

With respect to maternal and child health, nuclear techniques are used to develop effective nutrition regimes to measure and ensure maternal and infant nutrition in developing countries. The IAEA,in cooperation with WHO and UNICEF, helps developing Member States to use affordable, fast, accurate and safe nuclear and isotope techniques to measure nutritional deficiencies, to develop strategies to address these deficiencies, and to monitor their effectiveness. Nuclear techniques are also used for neonatal screening for sickle cell disease, hypothyroidism and cystic fibrosis, as well as childhood cancers.

The IAEA helps Member States develop scientific and technical capacities in all these areas. Its services include needs assessments, technical advice, training, coordinated research projects, provision of equipment, networking, technical publications and public information. Further support for such assistance, through the IAEA and others, and enhanced partnerships will further improve health in a sustainable way. The principal challenge is to accelerate the pace at which technologies, approaches and knowledge are transferred.


The IAEA?s Water Resources Programme is part of UN Water and helps Member States use nuclear and isotope techniques to assess the size, location and replenishment rate of water resources and detect groundwater pollution. This is vital for the development of sustainable water management strategies.More than half the world?s population relies on water pumped from aquifers. The IAEA is studying major underground aquifers, such as theNubian Sandstone Aquifer System in Africa and the Guanari aquifer in South America to support better water management and policy making.The long-term aim of these projects is to establish rational and equitable management of groundwater resources to support sustainable socio-economic development and to protect biodiversity and land resources.

In 2011, the IAEA launched the IAEA Water Availability Enhancement Project (IWAVE) to help Member States gather and use scientific information to fully assess the availability and quality of their own water resources.These comprehensive assessments include evaluations of water quality, water quantity, and water use, as well as resource vulnerability and sustainability.This information will complement other international, regional, and national initiatives and provide decision makers with reliable tools for better management of their water resources.

The programme has also applied nuclear and isotope techniques to reconstruct past climates using geological sources in order to improve understanding of the global hydrological cycle, climate science and the impacts of climate change on water resources.


The IAEA?s laboratories in Monacoapply nuclear techniques to detectpollutants in coastal zones and the deep ocean, analyse their impacts on marine organisms and human health, and better understand key marine heat and carbon cycling processes.

The laboratories have provided the essential scientific and analytical support for a landmark study of radioactive and non-radioactive pollutant levels in all principal seas. They have undertaken worldwide radioactivity baseline studies of the Atlantic, North and South Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Antarctic Oceans and the Far Eastern, Mediterranean, and Black Seas. Regional studies have been conducted in the Gulf, the Irish, Kara and Caspian Seas, New Caledonia and the Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls.The baselines levels are essential for identifying changes to the radioactivity levels in the marine environment.

The IAEA contributes to basic climate science by studying past climates using marine sources such as polar ice. The laboratories also studyocean acidification and otherclimate change impacts on world oceans and marine ecosystems. Ocean acidificationoccurs as oceans absorb the increased carbon dioxide in the air. This results in a decreased pH level and a more acidic environment, which can threaten marine ecosystems.Corals and other marine organisms, particularly those with shells, are at particular risk and may suffer a great decline during the 21st century.The IAEA is using radiotracers to track the effects of this acidification on ocean chemistry and marine life.Marine radioisotopes provide a powerful tool both to help diagnose problems in ocean models and to help orient future model development.To support international efforts to mitigate ocean acidification, the IAEA partnered with UNESCO and others to draft the 2009 Monaco Declaration, which calls for substantial reductions in CO2 emissions to avoid widespread damage to marine ecosystems caused by ocean acidification.The IAEA is an active member of UN Oceans.


Similar nuclear techniques are used to assess radiological contamination of the terrestrial environment. The IAEA?s networkofAnalytical Laboratories for Measuring Environmental Radioactivity (ALMERA) includes over 125 laboratories and builds analytical capacities in Member State laboratories around the world.

Radiation technologies are being used to combat pollution and treat waste products to prevent the unnecessary release of these materials into the environment. These technologies are used to manufacture pollution control equipment, to monitor performance for optimal control of wastewater treatment and other pollution control facilities, and, in some cases, to directly remove pollutants in waste streams.Radiation processing is also being used to treat natural polymer waste materials so they can be converted into new products such as wound dressings and cosmetic masks for use in the health care and biomedical sectors.More than 30 institutions from around the world are working with the IAEA to develop protocols in order to divert these materials from landfills and put them to productive use.

The potential environmental impacts of radioactive waste require special attention. The IAEA,as the only UN organization involved in radioactive waste management, establishes safety standards and provides technical and related guidance for the implementation of waste management in accordance with those safety standards.


Sustainable development requires clean, sufficient and affordable energy. Expanding energy access requires planning. The IAEA helps countries improve their abilities to analyze their energy systems and options. It develops and transfers planning models and data; it trains local experts; and it helps establish local expertise to chart national energy paths to sustainable development. The IAEA is a founding member of UN-Energy.

For the rural poor, the best promise may be that offered by off-grid renewables. For the urban poor and the needs of growing mega-cities, the mix needs to include large centralized power generation to match large centralized power demand.The IAEA assists countries as they make their own long-term and complex choices on sustainable energy mixes.

Since the UNCSD in 1992, the expansion of nuclear power hascontributed significantly to meeting growing energy needs.Latest projections show that there is an increasing interest and that the number of operating nuclear reactors in the world will continue to increase steadily in the coming decades. For example, China has grown from 1 operating reactor in 1992 to 15 reactors today and it has 27 more under construction. India has grown from 9 reactors in 1992 to 20 today and has 6 more under construction. For all non-Annex I countries (as defined by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), the increase is from 28 to 67 operating reactors with 41 under construction.

Using nuclear power economically and sustainably

Using nuclear power economically and sustainablymeans that the value of the electricity produced exceeds the cost of producing it. How profit, according to this definition, is shared among investors, governments and consumers is a subsequent question. But if the value of a power plant?s electricity will not be greater than the cost of producing it, the power plant should not be built.

Ensuring profitability requires good planning, infrastructure and operation.For planning, the IAEA assistance noted above is technology neutral. For countries that choose to introduce nuclear power, the IAEA provides guidance, assists in capacity building and in developing the necessary infrastructure in 19 areas, including the legislative and regulatory frameworks, human resource development, nuclear safety, stakeholder involvement, emergency planning, environmental protection, safeguards associated with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and nuclear waste management.

To help improve the safety and operation of nuclear power plants and of other fuel cycle facilities, from uranium mines to waste repositories, the IAEA organizes peer reviews; it connects experienced operators with others whocan benefit from experience;it provides training,develops broadly agreed standards and guidelines;it disseminates experience, new knowledge and best practices; it publishes reference documentsand coordinates research.

Using nuclear power safely

Safety refers to avoidance of and protection from accidents.To be a viable contributor to sustainable development, nuclear power must be safe. The IAEA develops broadly agreed safety standards and provides training, direct assistance and peer reviews. These directly increase safety to the benefit of human health and the environment and help ensure the highest safety levels are in place for nuclear power to expand its contribution to sustainable development. In 2011, discussions of nuclear power plant safety focused largely on the accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.The IAEA convened a Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in June 2011 which identified initial lessons from the accident and directed the IAEA to develop a plan of action for both the IAEA?s Secretariat and Member States. The resulting 12-point Action Plan on Nuclear Safety was approved by the 151 Member States of the IAEA at the General Conferencein September 2011.

Key elements of the Action Plan include an agreement that all countries with nuclear power programs will promptly undertake what have become known as ?stress tests? of their nuclear power plants. The framework for expert peer reviews by the IAEA of operational safety at nuclear power plants is being strengthened. The effectiveness of national and international emergency preparedness and response arrangements, IAEA safety standards and relevant international conventions will also be reviewed. This Action Plan represents a significant step forward in strengthening nuclear safety worldwide. It will be important that the 12 actions in the Action Plan on Nuclear Safety are implemented successfully and promptly.

Using nuclear power securely

Security refers to avoidance of and protection from malicious acts such as sabotage, theft and/or attacks. As with safety, nuclear power must be secure to be a viable contributor to sustainable development. And as with safety, the IAEA develops broadly agreed security guidelines and provides training, direct assistance and peer reviews to ensure that security is maintained at the highest possible levels.

Using nuclear power peacefully

Peace is an important requirement for sustainable development. The IAEA helps to maintain international peace and security by verifying that nuclear power is used for peaceful purposes only. This is essential because, unlike other energy forms, nuclear energy can be misused to pursue military purposes and develop nuclear weapons.

Over several decades, the international community has put in place a number of international political and legal mechanisms to help stem the spread of nuclear weapons. These include the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the safeguards system of the IAEA. The IAEA applies safeguards, a set of technical measures through which it independently verifies that nuclear material is not diverted from peaceful uses. The IAEA plays an important verification role, demonstrating to and on behalf of States that nuclear non-proliferation commitments are being respected.

A resilient safeguards system that provides credible assurances of the peaceful use of nuclear energy builds trust among countries: safeguards ensure that nuclear power is utilized transparently and alleviate concerns of nuclear proliferation. In turn, this facilitates the various peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Thereby, IAEA safeguards contribute not only to international peace and security but also to sustainable development.

Climate change

With respect to climate change, nuclear technologies are used for improving scientific understanding,mitigation and adaptation. The IAEA assists its Member States in all three areas.

Improving scientific understanding

As noted earlier, environmental radionuclides are used to test and verify global models of the hydrological cycle, atmospheric circulation patterns, ocean circulation patterns and precipitation patterns. Stable isotopes in the Earth?s natural archives of marine sediments, ice cores and corals provide a critical method of determining past environmental conditions, including temperature, salinity, acidity, humidity, biodiversity and circulation. Nuclear techniques have therefore contributed greatly since 1992 both to identifying the historical connections between high greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations and climate change and to the global models underlying conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?s Working Group I on climate science. Such nuclear techniques should be further improved and applied to continually strengthen the scientific understanding that is the basis fornational and international policies to reduce climate change risks. The IAEA contributes modestly to these efforts, principally by helping build capacity in developing countries in basic nuclear science. It operates jointly with the World Meteorological Organization - the 45 year old Global Network for Isotopes in Precipitation(GNIP). GNIP isa unique source of information thatcontributes to the predictive capacity of climatic and hydrological models aswell as to the proper calibration of historical climate reconstructions onmillennial and longer timescales.


The complete nuclear power chain, from resource extraction to waste disposal including reactor and facility construction, emits only 1?6 grams of carbon equivalent per kilowatt-hour, about the same as wind power and hydropower. To the extent that expanded use of nuclear power reduces coal, gas and oil fired electricity production it helps reduce climate change risks. Thus, the progress, efforts and challenges described above in connection with increasing nuclear power?s contributions to energy access and to expanded electricity supplies are also relevant to climate change mitigation. An example of a tilted playing field that should be levelled is the exclusion of nuclear power projects from the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation. The exclusion means that while Annex I countries can convert nuclear power?s very low GHG emissions into a financial benefit through emissions trading thereis currently no international mechanism to comparably benefit non-Annex I countries.


As noted in several sections above, some nuclear applications can be used directly to adapt to climate change impacts. Others can be used to measure and analyse a broader range of impacts, which can also contribute indirectly to the development of useful adaptations.

Examples of the second case include the use of isotopes to assess changed crop responses to higher CO2 concentrations,changes in plant transpiration and soil evaporation, and different land use practices and soil conservation measures in response toclimate change. Isotopic techniques can be used to analysecarbon sequestration in agro-ecosystems, the impact of bioenergy production ondegraded or marginal soils, and policies to increase the availability and quality of waterresources.

Uses for direct adaptation include mutation techniques for plant breeding to develop cropvarieties better suited to changed climatesand nuclear techniques for thediagnosis and control of trans-boundary animal diseasesthat may spread dueto climate change. Such techniques include the sterile insect technique (SIT), which maybe in greater demand as insect populations expand in geographic range andnew pests emerge as a consequence of climate change. The application of ionizingirradiation to control pests andfoodborne microbes as a complement to SIT is likely to increase as well.

IAEA services related to adaptation include needs assessments, technical advice, training, coordinated research projects, equipment provision, networking, technical publications and public information. Further support for such assistance, through the IAEA and others, and enhanced partnerships will expand adaptation options available to all countries that suffer from climate change. The principal challenge is to accelerate the pace at which adaptive technologies, approaches and knowledge are transferred and shared.


The objective of the UNCSD is ?[t]o secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges.? Nuclear power can make a significant contribution to achieving these objectives and the IAEA will remain committed to play its part.

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