23 September 2009
The African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA) celebrated its 20th anniversary with an exhibition and a panel discussion during the 53rd IAEA General Conference. Panellists presented the successes and achievements of past AFRA work, and held a discussion on approaches to the development challenges that lie ahead for AFRA Member States.
The Co-Chairs of the panel, Madame Madeleine Tchuinte, Minister of Scientific Research & Innovation for Cameroon, and Professor Peter Msolla, Minister for Communication Science and Technology for Tanzania, gave presentations on the successes and first hand experiences they have seen in the AFRA programme. The AFRA panel also included Professor Aly Metwaly Aly, former Chairman of the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority, and Dr. Rob Adam, Director General of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, NECSA. Mr Ali Boussaha, Director of the Division for Africa, also participated.
Ms. Ana María Cetto, Deputy Director General of the IAEA and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation, opened the panel by congratulating the AFRA family of Member States on its achievements over the past 20 years.
“Since its inception, AFRA has made an important contribution to regional cooperation in the field of nuclear science and technology in Africa, achieving significant results in the areas of human health, food and agriculture, industrial applications, information and communication technologies, radioactive safety and nuclear security,” Ms. Cetto said.
Specific successes in these fields were displayed in an AFRA exhibition at the entry of the panel discussion meeting room. The exhibition presented a range of development challenges addressed by AFRA projects, describing the background that led to the formation of the project, the approach that AFRA developed to face the specific challenges and the success that came from the collaborative work that went into implementing the project. Also available at the exhibition were AFRA folders, the newly published AFRA brochure, success stories on recent regional IAEA/AFRA collaborative projects, and photos and project descriptions provided by delegates from the 20th AFRA Technical Working Group Meeting in Cameroon 27-31 July 2009.
As the panel dialogue opened, delegates discussed the future role of nuclear technologies, in particular the potential benefits for nuclear power within the region.
Although individual priorities differ within the countries in Africa, an important few remain consistent. Clean water, the availability of medical facilities for diagnostic and treatment and, ultimately, the development of sustainable energy were highlighted as shared priorities for all AFRA Member States. Looking toward the future, several panellists and conference participants emphasized that by building regional nuclear power capacities, the African continent would be in a better position to make development strides in all areas. Panellist Dr. Rob Adam stated that once Member States obtain the capacity and capability to build nuclear power infrastructure, then all other development areas addressed by nuclear science and technology would fall into place within an established safety regime.
“Nuclear technology is like space technology, it requires more than the power stations. It needs a safety regime…it is not just about putting a power station in a country, it has to be a regional effort to build the capacity to run these stations safely and effectively through human capacity, regulatory capacity and laws,” Dr. Adam said.
Toward the end of the panel discussion, Professor Peter Msolla addressed the importance of funding, reminding Member States of the African Union resolution that AU Members should strive to put 1% of national GDP into research and development to support science and technology. He stressed that all development areas, from clean water to the prevention of diseases, require energy, and that therefore AFRA should strive for sustainable energy development.
“Energy will lead to healthy nations,” Professor Msolla said.
But for now, the region needs capable human resources to build and sustain any future development in the area of nuclear power. AFRA has demonstrated, over the past 20 years, the powerful potential inherent in collaboration, partnership building and a regional approach to development. This regional approach to capacity building and development activities was underscored again and again during the meeting.
Just as the panel had opened with a salute to AFRA’s achievements over the past 20 years, it closed with a recognition that, among other challenges, human resource development in Africa is a key factor to achieving equal successes in the future.