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Argentina Applies Nuclear Technology to Water

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Isotope hydrologists take water samples from Mendoza, western Argentina. (Photo: L. Gil/IAEA)

In Argentina, like in many parts of the world, water is at risk of over-exploitation and contamination. To protect it, scientists are studying its most invisible details with the help of nuclear technology and the support of the IAEA.

“Most of the fresh, usable water in the world is in the ground, but most of the water that’s available to us is surface water,” said Douglas Kip Solomon, professor of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah, who is helping Argentinian experts map their water with the help of the IAEA. “It is extremely important that we understand the interactions between surface water and groundwater so we know how to properly manage these resources and protect them.”

With the help of nuclear techniques, scientists can determine the quantity and quality of their water supplies. They use naturally occurring isotopes as tracers to find out where groundwater comes from, if it is recent or old, if it is being recharged or polluted and how it travels.

The science behind this is called isotope hydrology — a discipline that, according to expert Solomon, “is one of the most powerful, trustworthy tools available to assess groundwater thoroughly.”

“We look to find out exactly how water moves inside aquifers, how it interacts with rivers, and how much of it is left,” said Sandra Ibáñez, isotope hydrologist at the University of Cuyo, Mendoza, who is participating in an IAEA technical cooperation project in the country. The IAEA supports scientists around the world on isotope hydrology, sending experts to the field and training local hydrologists in the use of these isotopic techniques.

Infographic: Fady Nassif

Since early 2016, Argentinian isotope hydrologists have been gathering and interpreting data from two strategic regions with the help of the IAEA. The idea is for policy makers to use this information and design improved water management models —hydrological models— for these regions.

“Argentina is lucky to have a very good amount of water per inhabitant, but this water is distributed very unevenly across the country,” said Daniel Cicerone, environmental manager at Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA). “In some regions, finding out if the water we are using on a daily basis is regularly recharged, running out, or at risk of contamination can make the difference between poverty and prosperity.”

Hidden reserves

The two regions were selected for different reasons. In the first —the arid valley of Mendoza, western Argentina— people rely on the fresh underground water of the aquifers of Uspallata, Yaguaráz and other, smaller ones. Authorities are keen to find out whether this water is being sustainably extracted, and if the aquifers have enough capacity to support more water use.

“We need water for everything: to wash our tools, to keep them clean. Water is our daily bread,” said Sergio Cirauqui, who works in a kayaking and rafting adventure shop off the top of a mountain in Uspallata. “But we are very conscious about the fact that water is a finite resource and that we have to take care of it. And as a finite resource, we should make an almost sacred use of it.”

Argentinian isotope hydrologists have been hiking the mountains and plains of Mendoza for more than a year, collecting water from wells, lakes and rivers accompanied by international and IAEA experts. Back in their labs, they are interpreting the results to paint a clearer picture of what is available.

Based on data such as the recharge rate of water in aquifers, policymakers are in a better position to establish rules for the use of water for drinking, agriculture and industry. Knowing that surface water is infiltrating groundwater, for example, can lead to stricter regulations on acceptable pollution levels.

Infographic: Fady Nassif

“Once we have the results, we can decide what business activities to develop in Mendoza,” said Juan Andrés Pina, Deputy Director of Groundwater Division at Mendoza’s General Department of Irrigation.

The second region under study is a streambed in Los Gigantes, Córdoba, an old mining complex about 700 km West of Buenos Aires. Here, Argentinian authorities are implementing an environmental remediation project, working side-by-side with isotope hydrologists to find out more about the quality of the groundwater and its potential vulnerability to contamination.

After the two uranium mines closed, scientists and authorities were vigilant about groundwater in the area. Through the IAEA project, scientists are now monitoring whether water recharging the San Roque lake reservoir, a source for human consumption in the city of Córdoba, is clean and safe.

And while they have found that uranium levels in the groundwater are safe, they are working to find the exact origin and movement of groundwater, including recharge areas, age, volume, behaviour, and vulnerability to future contamination.

“This interdisciplinary and interinstitutional study will help authorities improve the conceptual model and hydrological understanding of the area and strengthen the remediation of the site,” said Daniel Martínez, geologist and researcher at the National Council of Scientific and Technological Research (COCINET).

The regional technical cooperation projects have been essential in transferring knowledge and technology to national and local institutions, said Raúl Ramírez García, Section Head at the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Department.

“The new information provided by isotopic techniques will help monitor the water resources and support the kind of decision making that will lead to social and economic benefits for the population of these regions,” Ramírez García said.

Infographic: Fady Nassif

The Science

Every water molecule has hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but these are not all the same: some atoms are lighter and some are heavier.

“All natural waters have a different hydrogen and oxygen isotopic composition,” said IAEA isotope hydrologist Lucía Ortega. “We use this isotopic composition as the fingerprints of water.”

As water evaporates from the sea, molecules with lighter isotopes tend to preferentially rise. As rain falls, molecules with heavier isotopes fall sooner. The further the cloud moves inland, the higher proportion of isotopes with light isotopes in rain.

When water falls to the earth, it fills lakes, rivers and aquifers, Ortega said. “By measuring the difference in the proportions between the light and heavy isotopes, we can estimate the origin of different waters.”

In addition, naturally occurring radioactive isotopes present in water such as tritium, carbon 14 and noble gases can be used to estimate groundwater age — from a few days to one millennia. When groundwater is found to be tens of thousands of years old, this means that the water flow is very slow and that, if inappropriately extracted, can take tens of thousands of years to replenish again.

“And this is key to help us assess the quality, quantity and sustainability of water,” she said.

 

Source: IAEA

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Science & Technology

Iran among five pioneers of nanotechnology

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Prioritizing nanotechnology in Iran has led to this country’s steady placement among the five pioneers of the nanotechnology field in recent years, and approximately 20 percent of all articles provided by Iranian researchers in 2020 are relative to this area of technology.

Iran has been introduced as the 4th leading country in the world in the field of nanotechnology, publishing 11,546 scientific articles in 2020.

The country held a 6 percent share of the world’s total nanotechnology articles, according to StatNano’s monthly evaluation accomplished in WoS databases.

There are 227 companies in Iran registered in the WoS databases, manufacturing 419 products, mainly in the fields of construction, textile, medicine, home appliances, automotive, and food.

According to the data, 31 Iranian universities and research centers published more than 50 nano-articles in the last year. 

In line with China’s trend in the past few years, this country is placed in the first stage with 78,000 nano-articles (more than 40 percent of all nano-articles in 2020), and the U.S. is at the next stage with 24,425 papers. These countries have published nearly half of the whole world’s nano-articles.

In the following, India with 9 percent, Iran with 6 percent, and South Korea and Germany with 5 percent are the other head publishers, respectively.

Almost 9 percent of the whole scientific publications of 2020, indexed in the Web of Science database, have been relevant to nanotechnology.

There have been 191,304 nano-articles indexed in WoS that had to have a 9 percent growth compared to last year. The mentioned articles are 8.8 percent of the whole produced papers in 2020.

Iran ranked 43rd among the 100 most vibrant clusters of science and technology (S&T) worldwide for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 report.

The country experienced a three-level improvement compared to 2019.

Iran’s share of the world’s top scientific articles is 3 percent, Gholam Hossein Rahimi She’erbaf, the deputy science minister, has announced.

The country’s share in the whole publications worldwide is 2 percent, he noted, highlighting, for the first three consecutive years, Iran has been ranked first in terms of quantity and quality of articles among Islamic countries.

Sourena Sattari, vice president for science and technology has said that Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Science & Technology

Free And Equal Internet Access As A Human Right

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Having internet access in a free and equal way is very important in contemporary world. Today, there are more than 4 billion people who are using internet all around the world. Internet has become a very important medium by which the right to freedom of speech and the right to reach information can be exercised. Internet has a central tool in commerce, education and culture.

Providing solutions to develop effective policies for both internet safety and equal Internet access must be the first priority of governments. The Internet offers individuals power to seek and impart information thus states and organizations like UN have important roles in promoting and protecting Internet safety. States and international organizations play a key role to ensure free and equal Internet access.

The concept of “network neutrality is significant while analyzing equal access to Internet and state policies regulating it. Network Neutrality (NN) can be defined as the rule meaning all electronic communications and platforms should be exercised in a non-discriminatory way regardless of their type, content or origin. The importance of NN has been evident in COVID-19 pandemic when millions of students in underdeveloped regions got victimized due to the lack of access to online education.

 Article 19/2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights notes the following:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Internet access and network neutrality directly affect human rights. The lack of NN undermines human rights and causes basic human right violations like violating freedom of speech and freedom to reach information. There must be effective policies to pursue NN. Both nation-states and international organizations have important roles in making Internet free, safe and equally reachable for the people worldwide. States should take steps for promoting equal opportunities, including gender equality, in the design and implementation of information and technology. The governments should create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling online environment in accordance with human rights.

It is known that, the whole world has a reliance on internet that makes it easy to fullfill basic civil tasks but this is also threatened by increasing personal and societal cyber security threats. In this regard, states must fulfill their commitment to develop effective policies to attain universal access to the Internet in a safe way.

 As final remarks, it can be said that, Internet access should be free and equal for everyone. Creating effective tools to attain universal access to the Internet cannot be done only by states themselves. Actors like UN and EU have a major role in this process as well.

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Science & Technology

Future Energy Systems Need Clear AI Boundaries

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Today, almost 60% of people worldwide have access to the Internet via an ever-increasing number of electronic devices. And as Internet usage grows, so does data generation.

Data keeps growing at unprecedented rates, increasingly exceeding the abilities of any human being to analyse it and discover its underlying structures.

Yet data is knowledge. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. Today’s high-speed computing systems can “learn” from experience and, thus, effectively replicate human decision-making.

Besides holding its own among global chess champions, AI aids in converting unstructured data into actionable knowledge. At the same time, it enables the creation of even more insightful AI – a win-win for all. However, this doesn’t happen without challenges along the way.

Commercial uses of AI have expanded steadily in recent years across finance, healthcare, education and other sectors. Now, with COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, many countries have turned to innovative technologies to halt the spread of the virus.

The pandemic, therefore, has further accelerated the global AI expansion trend.

Energy systems need AI, too.

Rapidly evolving smart technology is helping to make power generation and distribution more efficient and sustainable. AI and the Big Data that drives it have become an absolute necessity.  Beyond just facilitating and optimising, these are now the basic tools for fast, smart decision making.

With the accelerating shift to renewable power sources, AI can help to reduce operating costs and boost efficiency. Crucially, AI-driven “smart grids” can manage variable supply, helping to maximise the use of solar and wind power.

Read more in IRENA’s Innovation Toolbox.

Risks must be managed to maximise the benefits.

AI usage in the energy sector faces expertise-related and financial constraints.

Decision makers, lacking specialised knowledge, struggle to appreciate the wide-ranging benefits of smart system management. In this respect, energy leaders have proven more conservative than those in other sectors, such as healthcare.

Meanwhile, installing powerful AI tools without prior experience brings considerable risks. Data loss, poor customisation, system failures, unauthorised access – all these errors can bring enormous costs.

Yet like it or not, interconnected devices are on the rise.

What does this all mean for the average consumer?

Smart phones, smart meters and smart plugs, connected thermostats, boilers and smart charging stations have become familiar, everyday items. Together, such devices can form the modern “smart home”, ideally powered by rooftop solar panels.

AI can help all of us, the world’s energy consumers, become prosumers, producing and storing our own energy and interacting actively with the wider market. Our data-driven devices, in turn, will spawn more data, which helps to scale up renewables and maximise system efficiency.

But home data collection raises privacy concerns. Consumers must be clearly informed about how their data is used, and by whom. Data security must be guaranteed. Consumer privacy regulations must be defined and followed, with cybersecurity protocols in place to prevent data theft.

Is the future of AI applications in energy bright?

Indeed, the outlook is glowing, but only if policy makers and societies strike the right balance between innovation and risk to ensure a healthy, smart and sustainable future.

Much about AI remains to be learned. As its use inevitably expands in the energy sector, it cannot be allowed to work for the benefit of only a few. Clear strategies need to be put in place to manage the AI use for the good of all.

IRENA

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