Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Technology: A Powerful Tool for a Better World

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) does more than provide a basis for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. It is also a powerful instrument for promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, science and technology throughout the world.

Since the NPT came into force more than 50 years ago, cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear technology has grown enormously. Today, thanks to the framework provided by Article IV of the NPT, peaceful nuclear applications are improving the lives of people around the world. The widespread and diverse benefits of the peaceful uses of science are a huge success of the NPT and the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The United States is committed to advancing innovation and international cooperation in nuclear science and technology.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is a key enabler in the development and provision of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology. The United States is by far the largest contributor to the IAEA’s peaceful uses programs, contributing more than $395 million since 2015, including more than $93 million to its Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI ), established in 2010 to attract additional funding and support projects that expand and complement the IAEA’s technical assistance activities.

Contributions to the Peaceful Uses Initiative have enhanced the capacities of more than 150 IAEA Member States to promote human health, water resources management, food security, sustainable development and clean energy while responding to emerging and unforeseen needs.

Nuclear technology plays a fundamental role in meeting the world’s energy, health and agricultural needs. Nuclear innovation is also a key tool used to support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a series of 17 global goals set as a “blueprint” for a more sustainable future. Since the United Nations’ announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the IAEA has made use of the resources provided by the Peaceful Uses Initiative to address critical development needs globally.

Listed below are some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that US contributions to the Peaceful Uses Initiative (PIU) have supported:

Sustainable development goal no. 2: guarantee food safety

In Africa, US contributions of $23 million in support of PUI have helped fund laboratories to improve the detection and eradication of livestock diseases such as small plague ruminants — also known as sheep and goat plague. US contributions to PUI have also helped ensure food quality, crop yields, and reduced insect threats to agriculture. PUI funds supported a project targeting the tsetse fly in Senegal, reducing the destructive fly population and improving farmers’ livelihoods.

Sustainable Development Goal no. 3: advancing human health

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Around the world, IAEA projects supported by the PUI have used nuclear technology to detect and treat cancer and improve the treatment of heart patients. Nuclear techniques have also been used to detect infectious animal and zoonotic diseases, including COVID-19. Nuclear technology has been used to develop vaccines, treat genetic diseases in humans, and evaluate efforts to combat malnutrition.

Sustainable Development Goal #6: Access to drinking water

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Access to clean water is under threat in many parts of the world due to pollution, overuse and climate change. Scientists use nuclear and isotopic techniques to find, study and protect water resources. In addition, irradiation with electron beams can destroy certain pollutants in waste water generated from industrial processes.

Sustainable development goal no. 13: Protection of the environment

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US contributions in support of PUI have funded regional projects to better understand the effects of climate change. Researchers use nuclear and isotopic techniques to collect data and monitor how climate change affects the environment and to identify sources of pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to helping countries understand and adapt to the effects of climate change, the IAEA promotes nuclear power as a low-carbon energy source and an important tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions .

Sustainable development goal no. 14: marine conservation

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Nuclear technology is used to track pollution and harmful algal blooms in marine waters, assess the causes of coastal dead zones, monitor marine environmental effects, and promote global action against ocean acidification. The US strongly supports the IAEA’s efforts to conserve ocean, marine and marine resources.

The United States is committed to advancing innovation and international cooperation in nuclear science and technology through the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative and in direct support of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We will continue to defend the NPT as the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime that enables nuclear technology to improve the lives of so many people around the world.

About the author: Ms. Soren Ettinger DeCou is an intern at the Office of International Security and Non-Proliferation.

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