Nuclear energy ‘not a bad thing’

Mr Yukiya Amano (left), director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Prof Dan Kgwadi, vice-chancellor of the North-West University. Amano delivered a lecture on nuclear energy on the PUK campus last week.

Carla Mouton – 

The same science that can help solve a power crisis, can also prolong the shelf-life of a harvest and improve the prognosis of patients with life-threatening diseases.

But if you hear the word “nuclear”, you hear negative things. “It is not so,” said Mr Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat and the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Amano, who was in South Africa for the 14th Congress of the International Radiation Protection Association held in Cape Town from 9-13 May, visited the campus of the North-West University in Potchefstroom in May to deliver a lecture about nuclear energy.

He told the audience about eight application laboratories in the United Nations that train application scientists from all over the world. These scientists study unexplored scientific phenomena which can help and better society.

“Science is fundamental for development,” Amano said, adding that, “The agency is a cool place to work. We want to attract more young people and a lot of small countries are joining the IAEA.”

The IAEA is the global center for cooperation in nuclear applications, energy, science and technology, according to its website. It was established in 1957, and works with member states and partners “to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons”.

Amano told the audience about nuclear medicine, isotopic techniques that are being used to prolong the shelf life of a harvest, so that nothing goes to waste. The same science that can build an atom bomb, is being used to create medicine – help cancer patients. Nuclear power plants are viable, but can only be sustainable if they are safe, he said.

General chemistry deals with the movement of electrons, but nuclear chemistry looks at the fusion and fission of atoms. This entails bringing together or separating atoms at the nucleus, which delivers a lot of energy.

Amano was accompanied by Mr Zizamele Mbambo, the deputy director general responsible for nuclear energy in the Department of Energy. Mbambo praised Amano for his work and for having mentioned women in science in his lecture. “Gender equality is very important in this country. Thank you for mentioning women,” Mbambo said.

Prof Dan Kgwadi, vice-chancellor of the NWU, thanked Amano and, referring to the University, said, “This is the most relevant place for you to be in South Africa.”

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