The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) does more than offer a foundation to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It is also a powerful instrument to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy, science, and technology around the world.
Since the NPT came into force more than 50 years ago, cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear technology has grown tremendously. 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 peaceful uses of science are an enormous success of the NPT and the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
The United States is committed to advancing innovation and international cooperation in the field of nuclear science and technology.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is a key facilitator in the development and delivery of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology. The United States is by far the largest contributor to IAEA peaceful use programs, providing 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 capabilities of more than 150 IAEA Member States to promote human health, water resource management, food security, sustainable development, and clean energy while responding to emerging and unanticipated needs.
Nuclear technology plays a pivotal role in addressing the world’s energy, health, and agricultural needs. Nuclear innovation is also a key tool used to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals — a series of 17 global objectives established as a “blueprint” for a more sustainable future. Since the UN’s announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the IAEA has made use of the resources provided by the Peaceful Uses Initiative to target critical development needs globally.
Listed below are a few of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that U.S. contributions to the Peaceful Uses Initiative (PIU) have supported:
Sustainable Development Goal #2: Ensuring Food Security
In Africa, U.S. contributions of $23 million in support of the PUI have helped fund laboratories to improve the detection and eradication of livestock diseases like the peste des petit ruminants — also known as sheep and goat plague. U.S. contributions to the PUI have also helped ensure food quality, crop yields, and reduced insect threats to agriculture. PUI funds supported a project that targeted the tsetse fly in Senegal, reducing the destructive fly population and improving farmers’ livelihoods.
Sustainable Development Goal #3: Advancing Human Health
Throughout the world, IAEA projects supported by the PUI have used nuclear technology to detect and treat cancer and improve the treatment of cardiac 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 Potable Water
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. Additionally, irradiation with electron beams can destroy certain pollutants from wastewater generated from industrial processes.
Sustainable Development Goal #13: Protecting the Environment
U.S. contributions in support of the 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 source of low-carbon energy and an important tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainable Development Goal #14: Marine Conservation
Nuclear technology is used to trace pollution and harmful algal blooms in marine waters, evaluate the causes of coastal dead zones, monitor marine environmental effects, and promote global actions against ocean acidification. The U.S strongly supports the IAEA’s efforts to conserve ocean, sea, and marine resources.
The United States is committed to advancing innovation and international cooperation in the field of nuclear science and technology through the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative and in direct support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We will continue to uphold the NPT as the cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation regime that enables nuclear technology to improve the lives of so many people throughout the world.
About the Author: Ms. Soren Ettinger DeCou is an intern in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.