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Solving the World's Big Problems with Nuclear Data

Alan Nichols

Alan Nichols, Chair of the UK Nuclear Science Forum and Visiting Professor at both the University of Surrey, UK, and Manipal University, India. (Photo: S. Henriques/IAEA)

Alan Nichols, Chair of the UK Nuclear Science Forum and Visiting Professor at both the University of Surrey, UK, and Manipal University, India, spoke to the IAEA's Sasha Henriques about the importance of comprehensive and credible nuclear data in solutions to the world's big problems:

"When the world tries to answer the big questions, such as 'how best to address climate change?', 'how do we protect and preserve the environment? and 'how do we make sick people better?' one thing that can have a critical impact, but which few people ever associate with such life-threatening problems, is nuclear data.

"Nuclear data are the millions of numbers that quantify the production of radioisotopes so that users can produce them safely and efficiently, and ensure that they are pure enough for use in the medical field for example. Nuclear data also describe the radioactive properties of radioisotopes in terms of their nuclear structure and decay data, and so ensure their safe application in a wide range of fields.

"For instance, as with many other countries around the world, the UK has been involved in a lengthy debate about how it is going to meet its international commitments to reduce carbon emissions while continuing to generate electricity at a level that maintains sound industrial production and guarantees an acceptable quality of life for the country's population. Undoubtedly, a significant component of its energy mix will have to be nuclear power. Very soon the UK will need to build new power stations, and the debate rages about what types we should build and where.

"We need to replace all of our ageing nuclear power plants as they are shut down and disconnected from the national grid. Although the final arrangements might well focus on one commercial system, these efforts will require some form of multinational input and support from nuclear design and construction companies around the world, such as from France, China and the USA. And there will be the inevitable need to have improved and new forms of nuclear data to support the safe operation and eventual decommissioning of these future reactors.

"Many counties are also interested in the production of medical radioisotopes, and use dedicated IAEA nuclear databases to determine how to best prepare high quality radioisotopes for medical diagnoses and therapeutic treatments.

"I'm absolutely sure the UK isn't the only country regularly accessing IAEA atomic and nuclear databases, because these data are essential in addressing at least two major world issues - carbon-based polluting impact of energy production across the planet, and radiotherapeutic treatment of various forms of cancer."


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