Ever since its introduction to Peru in the 1500s, barley has been one the country’s most important staple crops, capable of growing in the dry and rugged terrain of the Andean Mountain nation. However, people living in high altitude environments often had to come down to the valleys to buy their grains because the locally sourced crops were low in quality and had poor yields. So, in the 1970s, in partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) division of nuclear techniques in food and agriculture, the Universidad Nacional Agraria de La Molina began using plant breeding techniques to bring improved varieties of barley to the highlands. Researchers relied on nuclear radiation techniques to treat barley seeds which promoted beneficial mutations. These mutations led to a new strain that farmers use today which is more nutritious and resistant to the harsh growing conditions found in the Peruvian Andes.
Peru’s barley crops are just one example of how the peaceful application of nuclear science and technology can improve the quality of life for millions of people.
Since the 1950s, the United States has been working with the IAEA to bring the benefits of peaceful nuclear technologies to underserved and underdeveloped countries. Nuclear applications are playing a transformational role in many countries’ ability to improve the lives of their citizens, advancing human health and addressing the challenges of climate change and world hunger.
For this reason, the United States is once again increasing its efforts to expand developing countries’ access to peaceful nuclear technology. For many years, the United States has been the largest contributor to the IAEA’s peaceful uses programs, including the Peaceful Uses Initiative, providing over $395 million in support to IAEA peaceful uses efforts since 2015.
At the 10th Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York in August 2022, we promised to do even more. At the Review Conference, we, in partnership with the United Kingdom and with support from 29 other countries, launched the new “Sustained Dialogue on Peaceful Uses,” and in September, we awarded $3.9 million to CRDF Global under a cooperative agreement to facilitate activities under this new initiative. CRDF Global is an independent nonprofit organization that works to build a safer, healthier, and more sustainable world through science and innovation in collaboration with international partners.
The Sustained Dialogue initiative will focus on promoting peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology to increase food security, fight cancer, and tackle challenges from climate change. This initiative will seek to complement the work of the IAEA through close coordination with IAEA programs, drawing upon the IAEA’s expertise in providing nuclear science-based assistance to help meet the world’s energy, health, and agricultural needs. The dialogue will aim to expand access to nuclear science and technologies for peaceful purposes, thereby helping countries achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Sustainable Development with the Peaceful Atom
There are numerous examples of how peaceful applications of nuclear technology can help the world address the many obstacles to attaining the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the end of the decade. To name a few:
- Zero Hunger (SDG 2): Nuclear science and technology have made positive contributions in the agriculture sector through radiation-induced plant breeding that helps produce more nutritious and drought resistant crops, as well as through the radiation sterile insect technique which is used to reduce populations of crop destroying pests.
- Conserve Oceans (SDG 14): Nuclear technologies are used to better understand and preserve the world’s natural environment. Applications of nuclear tools have helped us to understand how regional weather patterns affect precipitation in Brazil, track microplastics in seafood, and protect the oceanic environment and global food supply.
- Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3): Nuclear technologies have also contributed to human health by helping to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, identify and treat cancer, and develop vaccines.
A Diverse and Global Engagement
The Sustained Dialogue will seek to bring together diverse stakeholders including national policy makers, the broader development community, other non-governmental and international organizations, and the private sector in a conversation to better understand how nuclear science and technology can serve their shared interests to identify and address impediments to their access. By creating a cooperative and engaging environment, the Sustained Dialogue will cultivate greater awareness on where nuclear technologies deliver the greatest return and foster new relationships so that stakeholders, together, can more effectively pursue the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
CRDF Global will facilitate conversations aimed at identifying and addressing global, regional, and national needs through the application of peaceful nuclear technologies. This critical work marks the next step towards a more inclusive sustainable future.
About the Author: Colin Roach is an Intern serving in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. Sam Meehan is a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.