The Planning Institute of Jamaica’s (PIOJ) Director General, Dr. Wayne Henry, says the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been pivotal in advancing the country’s nuclear technology capacity.
He noted that the medical physics department at The University of the West Indies (UWI), which trains nuclear physicists across the region, was expanded under an IAEA project, and the organisation is providing €783,600 for the re-establishment of the Nuclear Medicine Centre, which will significantly enhance the country’s capacity to diagnose and treat cancer, heart and other related diseases.
The project is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Health, the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and the UWI’s Caribbean Institute for Health Research (formerly Tropical Medicine Research Unit).
Dr. Henry was speaking at the signing of Jamaica’s second five-year IAEA Country Programme Framework (CPF) for 2018 to 2023 at the PIOJ’s head office in New Kingston on Thursday (August 9).
He informed that the IAEA is supporting national projects to: determine the availability of adequate water resources in the Kingston hydrological basin; and optimise irrigation water management to improve crop output and water quality control in the Rio Cobre.
Agriculture has been targeted for the production of economically important crops such as onions and sweet pepper, to produce higher yields and better quality with resistance to disease and adverse climatic conditions and have shorter production cycles.
“This will help Jamaica to survive in the global marketplace and maintain its competitive advantage in certain food areas,” said the PIOJ head.
The scope of the assistance has also been extended to nutrition in children with the aim of promoting healthy growth by assessing the role of parenting and early life influences on body composition and energy expenditure.
The IAEA was established in 1957 with the aim of expanding and accelerating the contribution of atomic energy to global peace, health and prosperity.
Jamaica joined the IAEA in 1965, and benefited from support from the organisation, but it was the installation of the Slowpoke Nuclear Reactor at UWI, which opened the door that facilitated Jamaica’s entry into the agency’s technical cooperation programme.
In 2015 – just over 30 years after the reactor was commissioned – the reactor’s core was successfully converted from high-enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, as part of a joint effort to eliminate the proliferation risks associated with HEU by the governments of Jamaica, the United States and Canada, with assistance from the IAEA.
“This has become world-renowned as this is the only research reactor in the English-speaking Caribbean,” Dr. Henry said.
He noted that under the diligent guidance of the IAEA, Jamaica graduated from the use of the technology at the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS) only, to much more extensive applications evidenced in a wide range of programmes and projects.
The IAEA’s support has also enabled passage of the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Act, 2015 to, among other things, provide safeguards from exposure to ionising radiation, including misuse that may result in harm to persons or the environment; and facilitate Jamaica’s compliance with international obligations.
In addition, a Hazardous Substance Regulatory Authority has been established to monitor facilities utilising ionising radiation and nuclear technology.
“Undoubtedly, the IAEA’s wide-ranging and groundbreaking assistance continues to affirm the developmental use of nuclear technology… (as it) propels Jamaica towards achieving developed country status by 2030. I express gratitude (on behalf of the Government) to the IAEA for helping Jamaica in achieving its development aspirations,” Dr. Henry said.
For his part, the IAEA’s Deputy Director General for Technical Cooperation, Dazhu Yang, who signed Jamaica’s new CPF along with Dr. Henry, said the agency supports partnership building in using nuclear technology in a safe and secure manner.
“We facilitate networking and cooperation among member states within and outside the region,” he added.
Jamaica’s new CPF will underpin engagements focusing on water and environment management; health and nutrition; food and agriculture; nuclear and radiation safety and security; energy; and industry over the period.
These are areas that were broadly covered under the initial CPF, which ran from 2010 to 2015.
A total of 170 countries are members of the IAEA, which is headquartered in Vienna, Austria.
The PIOJ serves as the National Liaison Office for the IAEA Cooperation Programme in Jamaica.