Nuclear conference addresses current and emerging challenges

Thembisile Majola

The deputy minister of energy, Thembisile Majola, addressing the recent Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology, said that humanity is facing enormous challenges relating to, climate change and the environment; water resources; food security; access to affordable and reliable energy; as well as human and animal health. In many developing countries, these realities further compound the challenge of inequality, unemployment and poverty.

However, due to human ingenuity and inventiveness as expressed through scientific and technological advances, we are now better placed to find solutions to challenges which, many years ago, seemed intractable, she said. We are therefore indebted to nuclear scientists and scholars whose pioneering work has enabled us to harness the power of the atom for human development.

According to Majola, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must receive credit for making it possible for member states to access relevant nuclear techniques and applications to diagnose and treat cancer; control and eradicate malaria; and fight against the deadly Ebola virus in Africa. Similarly, farmers are now able to produce crops which are adaptable to changing climatic conditions.

The deputy minister said that the IAEA provides this support through its Nuclear Applications Laboratories (NAB) which, through research and development, enables South African scientists and experts to find solutions which assist in addressing challenges which threaten our livelihood. For example, the IAEA, through the Vetlab network project, assists national veterinary laboratories to improve their response to animal and zoonotic diseases, which not only threaten animals but are also a danger to human beings. South Africa supports the renovation and modernisation of these laboratories through the ReNuAL project.

Over the years, Majola said, South Africa has made significant investments in developing its nuclear sector for peaceful purposes. At the core of this endeavour has been a focus on research and development, with the SAFARI-1 research reactor and iThemba LABS as the lodestars. Today, South Africa is one of the leading global manufacturers of medical isotopes, supplying Moly-99 for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. These facilities also have the added value of providing cross-disciplinary materials research in a wide variety of fields such as construction, manufacturing, transport, medicine, electronics and energy. We appreciate the support that the IAEA continues to provide in facilitating the training of many experts from the region in our institutions, she said.

Majola said that, for nuclear science and technology towards human development to be successful, the country must locate at its core, the inclusion of women, as well as skills development for the youth. Therefore, in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of our programmes, it is imperative that we embed appropriate indicators in order to measure progress in this area, she added.

Contact Department of Energy, Tel 012 406-8000,


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