One Earth: 4 Ways Nuclear Science Helps the Environment

Many activities in the modern world release pollutants into the environment. Air, water or soil pollution impacts and is part of the biological, geological and chemical cycles. Using nuclear techniques and tools, experts can study these processes to deal with pollutants and contaminated sites.

In the air, isotopic and nuclear tools are used to monitor the pathways of heavy metals, greenhouse gases, and radioactive gases and particles through the atmosphere. Here’s a video on how scientists can use stable isotopes to “fingerprint” greenhouse gases in an air sample and trace it back to its source.

On land, nuclear techniques make it possible to identify and measure pollutants with precision. Using these techniques, the IAEA helps countries monitor, model and evaluate environmental protection initiatives. Here is an example of how the IAEA has trained African scientists and experts in the correct collection and pre-processing of environmental samples for radioactivity measurement.

At sea, state-of-the-art nuclear and isotopic techniques make it possible to precisely monitor pollution, minimize the impact of incidents and mitigate their effects on local populations. In January, Peru suffered a major oil spill from a tsunami triggered by a distant earthquake in Tonga, and the IAEA sent an expert fact-finding mission to support the country’s efforts to clean up the oil spill and monitor its effects.