23 Jan (NucNet): The International Atomic Energy Agency’s mandate, often summarised as “atoms for peace” should be expanded to “atoms for peace and development” because of the way the agency promotes development through the use of nuclear technology, director-general Yukiya Amano said.
Mr Amano said in a speech in Malaysia that the IAEA, an independent agency within the United Nations, is much more than the “world's nuclear watchdog” which the media likes to write about.
He said preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is a core activity, but through the IAEA Technical Cooperation programme, the agency also makes nuclear technology available to developing countries for peaceful purposes.
In Malaysia, recent projects include improving human resources in hybrid imaging. This involves the use of new diagnostic tools in hospitals that make it easier for doctors to study patients’ internal organs for evidence of cancer or other serious diseases.
Mr Amano said Malaysia is taking part in an IAEA project to study possible radioactive contamination of the seas of the Asia-Pacific region after the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.
With IAEA assistance, Malaysian specialists are looking into the use of nuclear techniques to develop new varieties of rice, and to improve soil and water management.
The use of food irradiation to control damaging pests is growing in importance. “This will make it easier for Malaysian producers to export pineapples, papayas and other fruits to important markets such as the United States,” Mr Amano said.
He said that when he last spoke to the United Nations General Assembly a few months ago, he asked member states to help ensure that the importance of science and technology is “explicitly recognised as a central part of the post-2015 development agenda”.
“I believe that nuclear science and technology have much to contribute to sustainable development in many areas, including some which I have already mentioned – human health, agriculture, water management and industrial applications, as well as in energy.”
In addition to its work on cancer, the IAEA has recently helped a number of African countries to deal with the Ebola virus by making special rapid diagnosis kits available.
Nuclear technology is also being used to suppress insects which carry diseases – for example, tsetse flies.
Mr Amano said the best known application of nuclear technology is nuclear power. Malaysia, an IAEA member state since 1969, is one of a number of countries which are considering nuclear power as a possible option for the future.
Malaysian media quoted the prime minister’s office as saying this week that a decision on whether or not to deploy nuclear energy for power generation will only be made upon the completion of a comprehensive set of studies.
A minister was quoted as saying current studies were focused on “the evaluation of the national and legal regulatory infrastructure for a comprehensive national nuclear governance in line with the latest international best practice”.