50th Anniversary of the IAEA’s Nuclear Sciences and Applications Laboratories in Seibersdorf
This year the IAEA’s nuclear sciences and applications laboratories in Seibersdorf commemorate 50 years of dedicated support to Member States in their efforts to address developmental needs through the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology. With the changing nature of the nuclear applications landscape, the need and expectation for national and international organizations to cooperate in nuclear research and technology transfer has increased. Thus, during the last five decades the IAEA’s nuclear sciences and applications laboratories in Seibersdorf have continuously evolved, remaining at the forefront of assisting Member States in fostering the use of nuclear science for national and global development.
What began as a small U-shaped building in 1962 housing less than 40 people now covers an area of more than 13 000 m2 and is a dynamic hub for more than one hundred scientists, technicians, fellows, visitors, interns and students from around the world.
The IAEA’s nuclear sciences and applications laboratories—8 in total—are a unique feature in the United Nations system, and are responsible for supporting and implementing programmatic activities that respond to the development needs of Member States in food and agriculture, human health, environmental monitoring and assessment, and the use of nuclear analytical instruments. To do so, the laboratories carry out three essential types of demand-driven activities: applied research and development, training and capacity building, and technical and analytical services.
Applied research and development is related to coordinated research activities and technical cooperation projects, which are the IAEA’s two main mechanisms for putting theory into practice and transferring nuclear technologies to Member States. With regards to training and capacity building, the laboratories hold annually dozens of training courses, workshops, and seminars involving hundreds of trainees, in order to give them hands-on experience in laboratory analyses and field work. In addition, regional as well as interregional training courses are held periodically to train young scientists in developing countries. By providing technical and analytical support, the laboratories facilitate the ability of Member States to maintain appropriate standards in the field.
The Dosimetry Laboratory, which is part of the IAEA’s human health programme, oversees the quality assurance aspects of the use of radiation in medicine to ensure safety and effectiveness in Member States. It provides dosimetry calibrations for national standards laboratories and conducts audits of the dose in radiotherapy and radiation protection. The Nuclear Spectrometry and Applications Laboratory, as part of the IAEA’s nuclear science programme, works with laboratories in Member States to enhance their use of nuclear instrumentation and analytical techniques, for example in promoting the use of various types of accelerators for materials testing and historical artefact preservation.
The role of the Terrestrial Environment Laboratory, which is part of the IAEA’s environment laboratories, is to help Member States to better understand and protect the terrestrial environment. To achieve this, the laboratory develops suitable radiological assessment strategies and ensures the quality of measurement results by recommending methods, providing reference materials and organizing proficiency tests. There are five FAO/IAEA Agriculture & Biotechnology Laboratories in Seibersdorf:
The Insect Pest Control Laboratory develops environmentally-friendly methods of pest control for area-wide control of key insect pests, such as fruit flies, tsetse flies, moths and disease transmitting mosquitoes. It is renowned worldwide for its work on the sterile insect technique.
The Animal Production and Health Laboratory uses radioisotopes and related technologies to improve reproductive efficiency, map economically important genes to improve animal productivity and genetically characterize indigenous livestock breeds. It is known globally for its role in developing and popularizing molecular and immunoassay methods for diagnosis, control and eradication of many transboundary animal diseases, including rinderpest.
The Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Laboratory uses isotopic and radiation methods to measure and monitor soil, water and nutrients in cropping systems as a basis for developing strategies that ensure judicious and efficient use of resources and minimize environmental degradation. The Plant Breeding and Genetics Laboratory focuses on mutation breeding to create variability in desired traits of food and industrial crops, and hence to accelerate breeding of varieties with higher yields, improved resistance to diseases and environmental stresses such as drought and salinity. This makes them more adaptable to climate change. The Food and Environmental Protection Laboratory uses irradiation to provide safe and environmentally friendly methods for controlling food-borne diseases and insect pests. It uses nuclear technologies to trace and authenticate food products and to detect, monitor and track the fate of contaminants in foods and the environment. It assists Member States to improve laboratory and regulatory practices in food safety and quality in order to safeguard the health of consumers and facilitate international trade.
In collaboration with Member States, the IAEA nuclear sciences and applications laboratories have been the source of numerous successes during the past five decades. Nevertheless, there is now an urgent need to modernize and upgrade them in order to cater to the growing demands of the global community and keep pace with technological developments. Thus, the 50-year anniversary is an apt time to both look back and honour the numerous achievements, and to plan the future road map that will enable the Laboratories to further enhance their performance and be prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow.