Nuclear technology: IAEA outlines 7 areas where AI is improving peaceful applications

The mission of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is to work with its Member States and many partners around the world to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies. Convinced of the capabilities of AI in the nuclear field to help solve some of humanity’s major challenges, she presented in an article seven areas in which she is already improving the peaceful applications of nuclear technology.

The genesis of the IAEA dates back to the speech “Atoms for Peace”, delivered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 8, 1953. In it, he proposed to create the International Agency for Atomic Energy, whose status was approved by 81 countries in October 1956, and on July 29, 1957, the agency was officially born. Last March, it had 175 member states, its headquarters are in Vienna, Austria and it has been led since December 2019 by Rafael Mariano Grossi.

The IAEA also has four offices: 2 regional offices located in Toronto (Canada) and Tokyo (Japan) as well as two liaison offices in New York. The Agency runs laboratories specializing in nuclear technology in Vienna and Seibersdorf (Austria) and since 2002, a laboratory in Monaco to study the effects of radioactivity on the marine environment.

In 2005, the IAEA and its Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, received the Nobel Peace Prize ” for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible manner”. Subsequently, Mr. Mohamed ElBaradei, was honored for his tolerance, his humanity and his freedom in many countries India, Austria, Italy, Bolivia…)

In addition, the agency has created several specialized programs, notably on cancer treatment, nuclear safety and security, innovative nuclear reactors and fuel cycles.

AI and human health

In the field of health, the objective of the IAEA is to help Member States to establish high quality health care. The use of nuclear techniques in medicine and nutrition has become one of the most widespread peaceful applications of atomic energy.

The IAEA has been cooperating with the WHO for six decades in the fight against cancer. It has also set up the “Human Health Programme” to help Member States use nuclear techniques to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In the context of prevention, she is particularly interested in nutrition and food quality.

As a peaceful application in the field of health, she cites the fight against cancer, and in particular its detection. In fact, the IAEA launched the “Beams of Hope” initiative last February aimed at supporting the establishment and expansion of radiotherapy services, particularly in developing member countries that do not have them. It has also just signed a partnership in this context with 11 global cancer companies.

On the other hand, since 2005, it has conducted more than 100 imPACT reviews to analyze the capacities and needs of national health systems in the areas of cancer prevention and control. The last one took place last November in Colombia.

Regarding cancer screening, last June it launched a coordinated research project aimed at studying the potential of AI to improve contouring skills in radiotherapy, with a particular focus on increasing the accuracy of the delineation of organs at risk in head and neck cancers.

As the Covid-19 pandemic raged, the IAEA launched the Integrated Zoonoses Action (ZODIAC) initiative in June 2020 to help countries prevent outbreaks caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites from animals that can be transmitted to humans.

AI for food and agriculture

Farmers have to face new problems: degradation of the environment, soil, climate change… certain start-ups like ITK support farmers in this transition to agro-ecology thanks to the modeling of living things (plant and animal) to achieve optimal productivity.

Combined with nuclear technologies, AI can provide solutions to fight hunger and malnutrition, improve environmental sustainability and ensure food safety. The IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) work in partnership to support these objectives. Thirty coordinated research projects are being carried out in this field, involving more than 400 research establishments and experimental stations in the Member States.

AI, water and the environment

AI can analyze masses of isotopic data (isotopes are atoms that have the same number of electrons, and therefore protons to stay neutral, but a different number of neutrons). Among these data, we find those of the GNIP, Global Network for the Measurement of Hydrogen and Oxygen Isotopes in Precipitation (including oxygen-18 and deuterium), created in 1960 by the IAEA and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which works in cooperation with many institutions in Member States.

The analysis of these data allows scientists to better understand climate change and its effects on the environment, in particular the availability of fresh water.

AI, nuclear science and fusion research

In the field of nuclear science, AI is used for data analysis, theoretical modeling and simulations, thus boosting fundamental research and technological innovation.

In particular, it plays an important role in research on nuclear fusion, at the heart of the work of researchers around the world, particularly at the CEA in France, because it has the potential to provide clean and renewable electricity and the plasma physics.

Last June, the IAEA called on its interested partners to join a coordinated research project on accelerating fusion R&D using AI, through the creation of a platform and an inter-community network for innovation and partnership.

AI and nuclear power

In the face of climate change, the need to make greater use of low-carbon energy sources has become obvious.

Nuclear power is one of the solutions, it is the second source of clean energy in the world. It currently accounts for around 11% of global electricity production and emits virtually no greenhouse gases or air pollutants.

AI is widely used in this sector, ML thus makes it possible to automate tasks, ensure the reliability of processes and detect anomalies. For their part, AI systems and simulations speed up the creation and optimization processes, which reduces maintenance costs.

AI, nuclear security and radiation protection

The IAEA works to promote a strong and sustainable global nuclear safety and security framework in Member States, one of its roles is to protect people and the environment against the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

It has put in place the “IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety”, approved by Member Countries in September 2011, to strengthen the global nuclear safety framework, following the accident that occurred in March 2011 at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

AI has the potential to improve nuclear safety in several ways. It can be used to process data from radiation detection systems in order to refine the detection and identification of nuclear materials and other radioactive materials, to analyze data from physical protection systems to improve the detection of intrusions and anomalies that may result from cyber-attacks on nuclear facilities.

In the radiation protection sector, software related to safety standards integrating AI has the capacity to strengthen the protection of employees undergoing occupational exposure.

As part of France Relance, the Government has launched thecall for projects to support investment and modernization of the nuclear industry and selected the project at the end of 2021 ARDNA (AI Research on Data for Nuclear Application). This project aims to set up a control system augmented by AI and was led by the company Aquila Data Enabler, in partnership with Andra (National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste) and the startup Spotlight-Earth. This technology could relate to the seismic monitoring of Cigeo disposal structures, the geological disposal project for the most radioactive waste.

AI and IAEA Safeguards

Through a series of technical measures, called “safeguards”, the IAEA verifies that States comply with their international legal obligations and use nuclear materials and technology only for peaceful purposes, thus preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

To detect the misuse of nuclear materials or techniques at an early stage, it uses data from satellite imagery, environmental sampling, gamma spectroscopy and video surveillance. It uses ML to identify anomalous points in these large amounts of data, help verify spent fuel, and analyze monitoring records. AI also improves safeguards enforcement by saving inspectors a lot of repetitive tasks

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Nuclear technology: IAEA outlines 7 areas where AI is improving peaceful applications

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