Viewpoint: The nuclear science path to sustainable development

05 January 2021

Nuclear science and non-power nuclear applications have never been more important, writes Dr. Yuri Seleznev, rector of Rosatom Technical Academy (Rosatom Tech).

Dr. Yuri Seleznev, rector of Rosatom Tech

"The world is confronted with numerous challenges that are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda - Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations in 2015. These include, but are not limited to, climate change, economic issues, and the need for quality healthcare systems to deal with emerging zoonotic viruses, just to name a few. Tainted by the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was a difficult year on a global scale.

Nuclear science and non-power nuclear applications have never been more important than they were during this period. In fact, harnessing the potential of nuclear technologies may help many, especially developing countries, address vital challenges and achieve their SDGs. Radioisotopes and radiation technologies have indispensable uses across multiple sectors, including food and agriculture, industry, scientific research, transport, water resources, environment, and art. Modern medicine is unthinkable without diagnostic radiology and radiotherapy. Nuclear technology has proven to be essential in the fight against the coronavirus, for example, thanks to its use in the sterilisation of medical and personal protective equipment.

Despite all the challenges of 2020, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom continued to work in the priority business areas and develop international cooperation in the field of sustainable development and the non-energy applications of nuclear technologies. It joined the United Nations Global Compact - the UN's largest international initiative on corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. This is a special commitment for Rosatom Tech, too.

Following the global trend of non-energy applications of nuclear technologies with a focus on sustainable development, Rosatom is cooperating with a number of countries that are newcomers to nuclear science by creating national Centres for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNSTs). A standard CNST project comprises a research reactor and several laboratories, including a radioisotope lab that produces radioisotopes for medical, industrial and agricultural purposes, a radiobiology lab for agricultural research and experiments, and a radiation material science complex to study and develop new materials, amongst other facilities.

Rosatom's integrated offer for CNSTs is a package of solutions and services provided by Russian nuclear organisations, including full support at all stages of the partner country's development of national nuclear infrastructure and access to an entire line of products and services from a single vendor throughout the lifetime of the CNST. The key driving force for achieving these goals is qualified personnel capable of innovative and efficient work. Demand for such specialists is high and will continue to grow in the future.

Rosatom Tech was founded in 1967 in Russia's first 'science city' of Obninsk - the cradle of the country's nuclear energy industry. Its activities were focused on the training and vocational education of personnel in the field of nuclear energy, nuclear safety, nuclear materials and control, state security, and operational and supporting processes for Rosatom and its subsidiary organisations. Today, the international part of Rosatom Tech consists of the International Training Centre for Nuclear Infrastructure Personnel Training, the International Resource Centre for Emergency Preparedness Response, and the IAEA Collaborating Centre.

In 2019, Rosatom Technical Academy was designated as an IAEA Collaborating Centre in two areas: Knowledge Management and Human Resource Development for Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Security. Since 2020, following an agreement signed on the sidelines of the 64th IAEA General Conference, Rosatom Tech is also focused on conducting Joint Rosatom-IAEA schools on non-power nuclear applications and developing associated learning materials, such as handbooks, brochures, and e-learning courses. With the expansion of our collaboration to Nuclear Sciences and Applications, Rosatom Tech became the first of 46 active IAEA Collaborating Centres across the world with activities spanning three IAEA departments.

Rosatom Tech has accumulated significant experience cooperating with the IAEA in the area of nuclear infrastructure development for newcomer countries. This experience enhances the role of Rosatom Tech as a focal point for human capacity building in support of CNSTs. The city of Obninsk is basically a CNST with numerous facilities of national importance spread out across the city. It has all the necessary competencies and resources in the field of research reactors, radiation technologies for agriculture and environmental monitoring, isotope production, nuclear medicine, and industrial nuclear applications.

In 2019, Rosatom Tech hosted the 5th International School on Radiation Technologies of the World Nuclear University, organised a fellowship for Indonesian experts on the expansion of the use of research reactors in Obninsk, and held a training course on Multipurpose Irradiation Centre as a Component of CNSTs in the framework of the 'train-the-trainer' concept. Additionally, Rosatom Tech provided training courses for the nuclear infrastructure personnel of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, as part of a unique project on construction of a CNST in El Alto.

The new stage of cooperation with the IAEA is particularly important in light of plans to establish and develop an innovative research and technology centre in the form of a Nuclear and Medical Technologies Park in Obninsk, with a focus on export markets and solving global technological challenges in nuclear technologies, including nuclear medicine. The centre's main activities will include nuclear research and development, nuclear medicine and pharmaceuticals, as well as information and communication technologies. Amongst its projects are the construction of a radiopharmaceuticals production facility, the creation of a centre for nuclear science and technology, and the construction of a multipurpose centre for the sterilisation of medical devices, the modification of materials, and the ionising treatment of agricultural and food products. Obninsk is a unique city for such a project thanks to its network of educational, production, and research centres, including Leypunsky Institute of Physics and Power Engineering and A.F. Tsyb Medical Radiological Research Centre. The possible creation of a world-class nuclear science university in Obninsk is currently being discussed by Rosatom and Russia's Ministry of Education.

Rosatom Tech is an ambitious Rosatom project. The personnel of recipient-countries of Russia's nuclear technologies, from the heads and directors of nuclear power programmes to operators and specialists of all levels, undergo training at Rosatom Tech, absorbing knowledge and sharing it with their colleagues and stakeholders in their home countries. Rosatom's established training processes and procedures for interacting with customers, including end-users abroad, have demonstrated their resilience in the face of the pandemic. All these are reasons to consider Rosatom Tech a reliable tool for providing educational support for Rosatom in its quest to help the world implement and achieve the SDGs."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News