Achieving Sustainable Development Goals Through Nuclear Technology


SEATTLE — On July 13, 2017, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released a report on technology and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 29 United Nations programs, agencies, and organizations contributed to the report, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The IAEA is an agency that promotes and utilizes nuclear technology for peace and development. Through creating new technologies and techniques then sharing them with the international community, the IAEA plays a major role in achieving the SDGs. Currently the agency is directly applying nuclear technology towards achieving 7 main SDGs out of 17.

The second SDG set by the U.N. is to end world hunger and attain global food security. Towards this goal, the IAEA is partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. to improve agriculture. Their method is to use ionizing radiation to induce new traits into seeds that will produce healthier and more resilient crops. The nuclear technology provides increased crop yield, drought tolerance, protection from pests, disease resistance and more. Already the IAEA has produced 3,000 new varieties of crops with this method.

The IAEA also utilizes nuclear technology to achieve the third SDG: to ensure good health and promote well-being for all. Most notably the IAEA helps the international community to combat cancer. The agency has helped others create comprehensive cancer control programs and facilities. Also, IAEA nuclear technology is utilized to provide access to “high-quality and safe health care.” The development of radiation medicine and isotope techniques are two examples. Radiation medicine is used for diagnosis, treatment and management of many different illnesses including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Isotope techniques have been used to “improve nutrition, especially among children.”

Persistent research of nuclear technology and medicine by the IAEA promises further success.

The seventh and thirteenth SDGs both pertain to environmental protection and sustainability. To achieve the seventh SDG of affordable and clean energy for all, the IAEA helps countries to properly utilize nuclear energy. The agency supports nuclear power as a low-carbon energy source that has the potential to significantly mitigate climate change. Thus, the IAEA supports existing nuclear programs and installs improved programs. In a similar vein, the IAEA works towards the thirteenth SDG of climate action through use of nuclear technology.

Along with promoting nuclear energy to minimize carbon emissions, the agency is also finding ways to resist climate change impacts. Using nuclear and isotopic techniques, the IAEA plans to develop methods to adapt farming practices to the consequences of climate change.

The IAEA is also taking actions to improve global water quality in accordance to SDGs six and fourteen. The U.N.’s sixth SDG is to make clean and sustainable water available to all. Towards this end, the IAEA is using isotope hydrology to study underground water deposits to determine its age, origin and quality. This information will then set a precedent to assist countries in better management of their water resources. The fourteenth SDG is to conserve and ensure the sustainability of marine resources as seafood is “a major source of nutrition and income.”

Pollution currently threatens marine resources worldwide, so it is a focus of the IAEA. To minimize water pollution, the agency has developed the Marine Information System (MARiS) through use of nuclear technology. The system utilizes nuclear techniques to study and monitor marine pollution. Currently, the IAEA is the only organization in the U.N. System to manage Marine Laboratories.

The last SDG that the IAEA is working directly towards is to build resilient infrastructure and promote sustainable industrialization. Nuclear technology has already made businesses worldwide more competitive by improving safety and quality of testing and products. Radiation techniques used for businesses have also been applied to ensure the safety of bridges, buildings and machines. Further improvement of nuclear technologies by the IAEA bodes well for development in industry and infrastructure.

Innovation in science and technology is crucial to the achievement of the SDGs by 2030. Hopefully other science agencies will follow the model of the IAEA and commit to achieving the SDGs.

Haley Hurtt
Photo: Flickr


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