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Managing and preserving nuclear knowledge for the socio-economic development of Africa
By: Dr Yousuf Maudarbocus
In this modern era, development is largely based on technology. Africa is lagging behind other regions mainly because of its inability to make optimal use of modern technological development.
Instead of climbing the technological ladder gradually, Africa has now a unique opportunity to “leap frog” to the next development stage, especially through the judicious use of available new and emerging technologies which have been developed and well tested in other regions. However, mastering the new technologies necessarily implies an appropriate strategy and an efficient mechanism for capacity building in science and technology in the region. This view has been clearly specified in the NEPAD Action Plan as follows: “Science and Technology are the prime stimulators of national development….Because science and technology are products of education, the latter has been identified as the ultimate propeller of national and human development”.
Amongst available new technologies, nuclear technology can play a very important role in the socio-economic development of Africa.
PEACEFUL APPLICATIONS OF NUCLEAR ENERGY
To most people, “atomic energy” conjures up horrific visions of mushroom clouds or, at best, huge concrete structures which house nuclear power plants. However, there is much more to nuclear energy that meets the eye.
Currently, about 36 African Member States benefit from the Technical co operation Program of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Nuclear technologies are used in a wide variety of subjects including medicine, agriculture, industry, hydrology and the environment, amongst others. In many instances, nuclear technologies have distinct advantages over conventional means to address problems of development.
Nuclear Applications in Agriculture
Major nuclear applications in food and agriculture are
Irradiation- induced mutation breeding followed by selection of plants for desired traits has resulted in high-yielding rice varieties in several countries in Asia, including Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. In Pakistan, 25% of the area for cotton is planted with a high yielding mutant cultivar induced using gamma rays. It is estimated that this cultivar has contributed more than US$3 billion in cotton production and saved the textile industry of Pakistan when it was threatened by reduction in cotton production from insect pests. New improved mutants of tef in Ethiopia and cocoa in Ghana have also met with considerable success.
Pest control using a method called the “sterile insect technique” (SIT) is also well established. It is used effectively for the Mediterranean fruit fly to protect citrus orchards and vineyards, and for the screw worm to protect cattle ( for example in Libya). The extension of SIT to the tsetse fly is progressing very well in several sub-Saharan African countries and has already resulted in Zanzibar being free of this pest. As a result new breeds of cattle have been introduced, resulting in higher production of milk and meat in Zanzibar. The IAEA has initiated research to develop SIT for the control of malaria through area-wide suppression of mosquitoes. Field trials are being planned for a northern region of Sudan. Need less to say, the control and eventual elimination of malaria will result in immense socio-economic benefit for Africa. Globally, there are 300-500 million clinical cases of malaria a year, resulting in 2 million deaths (one every 30 seconds) more than 90% of which occurring in sub Saharan Africa.
Another technology- food irradiation- is being increasingly used for pest control to prolong the shelf life of various foodstuffs such as ground meat and spices. Food irradiation has been declared safe by the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius, the international food safety body.
Nuclear Applications in Medicine
Nuclear applications in medicine serve multiple aspects of modern healthcare. They contribute significantly to prevention, diagnosis and cure. Some of the widely used nuclear techniques in medicine are:
Radio therapy is widely used to treat cancer, with over 5000 treatment centers worldwide, treating millions of patients worldwide. In Ghana, the radiotherapy centers in Accra and Kumasi have contributed significantly to cancer treatment in the country.
Nuclear Medicine is playing a key role in both diagnosis and cure. Pharmaceuticals tagged with radioisotopes play a unique role in targeting specific organs, for both imaging and treatment. It is estimated that medical radioisotopes were administered to one-third of the 31.7 million patients admitted to hospitals in the United States in 2000
Nuclear techniques are also used to identify lack of micronutrients and microelements in infants and adults alike in order to plan remedial action.
Nuclear Applications in Industry
A broad and diverse array of nuclear applications today finds routine industrial use. These include:
Nuclear Applications in hydrology
Today, more than one billion people lack access to a steady supply of clean water. The Millennium Declaration resolved to “halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water by 2015 “ and to stop the unsustainable exploitation of ground water. Nuclear techniques in isotope hydrology can play an important role in addressing this problem. Nuclear methods have distinct advantages over conventional ones with regard to studies on:
Water samples have specific isotopic fingerprints that tell age, origin and climatic conditions.
In the developing world, 1.6 billion people – about one quarter of the human race- have no access to electricity. Moreover, population increases., rapid industrialisation and dramatic economic growth in countries such as China and India, are putting a lot of pressure on energy demand. It is estimated that the world’s energy needs could be 50% higher in 2030 than they are today. Yet the fossil fuels on which the world still depends are finite and far from environmentally friendly.
The need for a coordinated action on the identification and use of alternative energy sources and related issues (especially climate change and poverty alleviation) have never been more acute. The nuclear option should not be ruled out in view of its numerous advantages.
Globally, about 16% of the total electricity generated originates from nuclear power plant, ranging from 78% in France to just 2 % in China. 439 nuclear power plants operating globally avoid the release of nearly 3 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, the equivalent of the exhaust from more than 428 millions cars. Of the 30nuclear power plants under construction, none is in Africa.
In the Africa continent, the only country with operating nuclear power reactors is South Africa, which produces about 7% of its electricity requirements from two nuclear power plants. Egypt and Nigeria are currently studying the possibility of establishing nuclear power reactors.
Moreover, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia are considering the possibility of setting- up nuclear desalination plants.
KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IN THE NUCLEAR FIELD
Like any highly technical endeavour, the use of nuclear technology relies heavily on a vast accumulation of knowledge combined with a vast assortment of people with the requisite educational background and expertise. The effective management of nuclear knowledge includes ensuring the continued availability of this essential reservoir of qualified personnel.
The availability of infrastructural and institutional nuclear facilities in a country will not be of much use without the necessary trained human resources to man such facilities. It is therefore necessary for every country where nuclear techniques are used or envisaged to design, develop and implement a national strategy to guide its efforts in nuclear knowledge management. It is important for such efforts to be sustainable. Reliance on outside experts is short-term and certainly not sustainable. Moreover, outside experts are not the most appropriate persons to understand the local conditions and cultures.
National training programmes should reflect the sectoral needs of the country and unnecessary wastage of resources should be avoided. Fellowship and training programmes should also match the priority needs. The key word is “relevance”.
Although optimal use should be made of existing national nuclear institutions, all countries stand to gain through the sharing of information nationally and regionally.
A regional Approach to Education and Training
To ensure sustainability in the application of nuclear technologies, it is necessary to achieve the most appropriate training to meet the specific needs of countries in Africa in the most cost effective and efficient manner.
In view of the specificities of Africans countries in certain sectors, the type and level of training available in industrialized countries may not be totally appropriate for the African region. The problem of tsetse and trypanosomosis is specific to Africa. Communicable diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS are more prevalent in Africa than in other regions. Other priorities include combating malnutrition, rehabilitation of saline lands, water resources management and the development of high-yielding and disease- resistant crops.
In view of the above, it is crucial to promote and strengthen regional collective self- reliance. Exchange of experience as well as the pooling, sharing and utilization of technical resources available in the region should be consolidated.
Regional organizations such as the African Union (AU) and SADC have a crucial role to play to promote TCDC in the region. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is a pledge by African leaders to eradicate poverty and to promote sustainable growth and development. Moreover, the African Union has taken the initiative to coordinate the Pan African Tsetse and Trypanosomosis Eradication Campaign (PATTEC). These are excellent initiatives, which could lead to the sustainable socio-economic development of Africa, provided a large component is devoted to appropriate human resources development and capacity building.
Role of the IAEA
Over the years, the IAEA has contributed significantly to the development of qualified human resources and building national and regional capacities in various fields of nuclear science and technology.
More recently, the IAEA has made a special effort to promote Technical Cooperation between Developing Countries (TCDC) through support to Regional Designated Centers (RDCs). So far 7 such RDCs have been established in the areas of non-destructive techniques, mutation breeding and biotechnology, radiation oncology and medical physics, radioactive waste management, irradiation processing and maintenance of scientific equipment. The RDCs could greatly assist African countries in consolidating their manpower capabilities in the nuclear field.
For decades, the IAEA has given considerable support to its African Member States in the utilization of nuclear techniques for socio-economic development. Such support will certainly continue for along time to come. However, Member States should ensure that the technical co-operation programme of the Agency meets their priority needs.
Availability of Nuclear Information
Updated information in the nuclear field is readily available through the Internet. Several dedicated networks already exist and can be readily accessed. For example,
The above is by no means exhaustive.
Retention of Qualified Staff
To ensure the sustainability of nuclear capabilities, it is necessary to retain qualified and experienced staff. Adequate steps have to be taken to minimize the negative impact of brain drain.
Moreover, the smooth transfer of knowledge, skills and responsibilities should be ensured whenever there is a change of staff.
A well-known French Scientist, Ilia Pirigone, once said “the future cannot be predicted, but it can be designed”.
It is high time that African policy makers, with the assistance of competent scientists, industrialists and other stake holders, start designing the future of the African Continent.
Africa is endowed with considerable natural resources and there is no reason why we should not view the future with optimism.
However, the sustainable socio-economic development of Africa largely depends upon mastering various technologies, which includes the implementation of appropriate knowledge management strategies in the relevant fields.
One such technology deals with the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Nuclear techniques have wide applications in the sectors of health, agriculture, industry, hydrology and the environment. The optimal use of such techniques can have a significant impact on the socio-economic development of the region.
Submitted by KMAadmin on 27 July 2009 - 4:01pm. categories [ ]