Nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has grown considerably
The New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI) released the October edition of its âYes to Nuclearâ Perspectives initiative. The previous month, we explored the role of nuclear energy in facilitating human and economic development. This month, we focus on nuclear development in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the role of nuclear energy in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the contribution of nuclear technology to the field of medicine.
This month our SDG Perspective covers the 1st, 11e, 12e and 16e SDGs that are not poverty, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, and peace and justice through strong institutions, respectively. Reliable nuclear technology can help provide food and drinking water, shelter, and electrify transportation systems without contributing to air pollution.
Developing countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, recognize nuclear power as a reliable source of energy and are taking steps to develop their nuclear capacity. While inadequate infrastructure and high costs present significant barriers, they can be bypassed through strategic partnerships and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
Nuclear technology has applications beyond the provision of energy. This month, we explore its contribution to the field of medicine through advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques. Nuclear technology has also become an essential part of medical treatment.
Fuel poverty is an obstacle to both human health and economic mobility. Universal access to clean, low-cost electricity from nuclear power can help developing countries meet basic needs such as food and clean water, create access to educational and economic opportunities, and develop essential infrastructure to promote sustainable development.
Since 2008, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. This figure is only expected to increase, demonstrating the need for adequate urban planning to prevent cities from becoming dangerous and dysfunctional environments. To achieve this, cities need good housing, reliable and affordable energy and a good transportation network. Nuclear power plants (NPP) provide affordable and reliable electricity, well suited to supplying cities with high energy demand.
A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report indicating that demand for minerals for low-carbon power generation to meet climate targets will triple by 2040. This demand is mainly due to material-intensive power generation sources. With the relatively low material input from nuclear power, the efficiency of power plants can increase and the number of materials and minerals required will be further reduced.
Nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has developed considerably for the production of electricity. Today, nuclear electricity represents around 10% of electricity consumption. The use of nuclear energy has diversified into strategic areas and there are development prospects to meet future challenges and growing needs for water, non-electric energy, food and medical applications.
Nuclear production in sub-Saharan Africa
According to the IEA, around 620 million people in SSA do not have access to electricity. Alarmingly, the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa have a combined installed capacity equivalent to that of Spain, indicating a huge disparity between developed and developing countries.
While the countries of sub-Saharan Africa have enormous potential in the fields of renewable energy through hydropower and solar energy, they are unable to unleash this potential as these sources are intermittent and risk energy shortages without a source of electricity. clean and reliable relief, such as nuclear power.
The partnerships and negotiations between the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and the suppliers of nuclear equipment, such as the Russian Rosatom, the Chinese CGN and the French EDF, show that nuclear energy is increasingly recognized as a solution to these problems. However, conventional nuclear power plants are not viable solutions in many of these countries due to their lack of capacity. The International Atomic Energy Agency recommends that the capacity of a country’s electricity grid be 10 times that of a nuclear power plant so that it can be operated safely.
Fortunately, a solution comes in the form of SMR. These reactors have an average capacity of 50 to 100 MW per unit, can be mass produced and can be deployed in remote areas. Above all, SMRs are easier to finance and faster to build than conventional nuclear power plants.
Although an attractive option, SMRs represent a form of advanced technology, raising the issue of accessibility barriers for countries with no experience in the field. This demonstrates the need for assistance in the form of support structures from developed countries, such as a nuclear regulatory framework and assistance in building infrastructure and training personnel.
Some nuclear suppliers offer training solutions for newcomer countries. Research reactors are one such solution that can allow new countries to explore various energy and non-energy applications of nuclear technologies, including medicine, irradiation and desalination. A country has the option of purchasing a simple research reactor from companies in South Korea or Argentina, or may opt for a more complex turnkey solution such as the Rosatom Center for Nuclear Science and Technology, which includes laboratories. scientists and can also be equipped with other facilities.
Nuclear applications in medicine
The most frequently cited contribution of nuclear energy is the production of electricity; However, most people are unaware of the significant impact nuclear energy can have in the medical field through advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques.
Advances in nuclear medicine have made a major contribution to diagnostic techniques through the use of radiopharmaceuticals that emit gamma rays from within the body. This treatment helps to detect diseases and abnormalities in the human body at an early stage. Nuclear medicine is now recognized as an essential part of healthcare and continues to be developed through technologies such as positron emission topography (PET), which is used for efficient and non-evasive diagnosis of cancer.
Another medical technique derived from nuclear technology is the use of iodine-131 to treat cancers of the thyroid gland using beta radiation. It also has additional applications including the diagnosis of abnormal liver function and renal blood flow. I-131 is convenient because it combines easily with other elements, like sodium, for easy ingestion in pill or liquid form. Efficacy studies have shown that thyroid cancer is now one of the most curable cancers with a survival rate of over 90%, in part thanks to advances in nuclear science.