Factsheet 2 – Nuclear Apps

IAEA’s “Nuclear Techniques for Environmental Protection”

The practical contributions of nuclear energy and the IAEA’s activities to enhance environmentally sound and sustainable international development have gained wide recognition in the global community. The use of nuclear techniques in fields such as agriculture, industry, and research supports environmental objectives. The following are some examples of IAEA activities in these areas:

Soil Fertility and Crop Production

Nitrogen fertilizers are used widely to increase agricultural production. Many fertilizers, however, can harm the environment. Nuclear techniques are used to trace fertilizers to determine the best form, timing, and placement to avoid waste and to reduce its movement into the environment. Others are used to detect, measure, and track fertilizer-supplied nutrients in soil and plants, determine the availability of soil moisture, and study and promote the natural process of nitrogen fixation.


Agricultural production requires an adequate supply of water in soils. Neutron moisture gauges are used to improve traditional irrigation methods to cut total water use by some 40 percent. Different practices to increase water conservation in rain-fed areas have been tested and have resulted in immediate practical application.

Plant Breeding

Nuclear techniques are used to develop new strains of important food crops. These new varieties of species such as rice, wheat, and soybean, may have a better resistance to disease, be of a higher product quality, or have a higher yield.

Pest control

The Agency’s studies and applications of the sterile insect technique to control and eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly and the tsetse fly within certain geographical areas have produced significant successes, thereby helping to reduce the use of insecticides.


To reduce damage to the ecosystem, the release of active pesticide compounds over time can be improved to decrease the quantities used by farmers. Nuclear techniques also track the residues of pesticides in the environment.


Techniques using “environmental” isotopes are among those that meteorologists, hydrologists, and hydrogeologists use in the study of water. Study of the isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in water, or of elements contained in dissolved salts which have the same behaviour as water, enable exact recording of phenomena affecting the occurrence and movement of water in all its forms.

The Amazon Project

Nuclear techniques play a key role in investigating the environmental consequences of the clearing of tropical rainforests. Because of their sensitivity, stable isotopes can measure small changes over short time periods and environmental and ecological changes caused by relatively small cleared areas and basins. They provide data on vapour movements, stream flow, sedimentation, water quality, plant productivity, and soil changes. Using such techniques, the Amazon Project, which the IAEA participates in, is expected to yield information that will lead to the development of methods for optimizing plant nutrition and fertilizer utilization. Nuclear techniques also are used to study the nutritional and water cycles in the region demonstrating climate changes and fragility of the ecology in the region. Ultimately, it should have a decisive impact on the ecological management of the region.

Research and Development

The Agency’s Laboratory at Seibersdorf provides research and scientific support to developing countries at their request. It provides training and laboratory services to scientists in areas such as analytical techniques for radioisotope measurements and the use of nuclear techniques for the determination of non-radioactive pollutants. Training in the use of isotope and nuclear techniques for the assessment of pesticide residues, studies of soil/water problems and entomology has provided expertise to thousands of scientists from developing countries over the years.

The Agency’s Laboratory at Monaco carries out studies of radioactivity in the marine environment, collaborating with oceanographic institutes worldwide and conducting projects in co-operation with the UN Environment Program (UNEP), for example.

The International Centre for Theoretical Physics, in Trieste, helps foster advanced study and research in physical and mathematical sciences serving as an international forum for scientific contacts among scientists and providing facilities for research. It holds courses on solar energy, ecological modelling, and atmospheric and ocean sciences, all of which are of direct relevance to scientists in developing countries working in areas related to the environment.

Environmental Pollution

The use of isotopes and the development of analytical tools, including tracer methods, neutron activation analysis, X-ray fluorescence and atomic absorption spectrometry, have added to the techniques available for the study and detection of environmental pollutants such as pesticides and toxic metals.

These tools have become standard methods for assessing water and mineral resources. The use of nuclear techniques to help solve pollution problems is well known and is an important contribution to the concept of sustainable development.

Environmental Monitoring and Impact Assessment

The Agency collects, analyses, and publishes information on radioisotopes in the environment. A number of safety standards, guides, recommendations, procedures data and relevant technical reports have been published over the years. Such environmental monitoring includes surveillance and checking for compliance with authorized procedures, as well as monitoring for research purposes, such as collecting information relevant to assessing the behaviour and pathways of radionuclides in the environment.

Radiological assessment models are used widely for environmental safety at nuclear facilities. The Agency is working with an expanding network of researchers worldwide to validate long-range transport models for atmospheric pollutants and to validate models for the transfer of radionuclides in terrestrial, urban, and aquatic environments.

Radiation Processing

The Agency supports research and development activities in the use of electron beam irradiation to clean flue gases originating from the combustion of fossil fuels.

Radiation processing of urban waste sludges is also under investigation to kill pathogens and facilitate disposal or recycling of waste products.

Emergency Preparedness

The IAEA Emergency Response System can respond rapidly to nuclear or radiological emergencies, informing national authorities about accidents and coordinating assistance that Member States, the IAEA and other international organizations could provide to mitigate environmental and health impacts. To complement national efforts, the Agency provides technical guidance and assistance to Member States for effective emergency preparedness at nuclear facilities.

One comment

  • December 13, 2015 - 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I can also’t find a direct link” to UK Choices anywhere on the Pattern Trader web site, I don’t know what you are speaking about with that.

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