“The nuclear renaissance is not just about nuclear power,” noted Werner Burkart, deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in a keynote lecture at the opening of the first World Nuclear University (WNU) School on Radioisotopes (RI School) in Seoul.

Burkart, who is also head of the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, was addressing some 60 radioisotope (RI) professionals from 30 countries, including several from developing countries, who are taking part in this intensive three-week leadership development school.

The course is being hosted by the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (Kaeri), and Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (Kins), with special support from the IAEA and the World Council on Isotopes.

Similar in format to the WNU’s Summer Institute, now in its sixth year, the RI School features expert lectures, as well as small-group and team-building work. It will also feature technical visits to key radioisotope-related sites, including Kaeri, Kins and the Korea Institute of Radiological and Medical Sciences.

Setting the scene for the rest of the school, Burkart provided examples of RI applications that had been overtaken by competing, less-regulated technologies, warning participants of the need to be adaptable in their careers.

His overall outlook for RI technologies, however, was one of growth. Particularly bright are the prospects for high-tech technologies, such as positron emission tomography (PET), which is currently growing at 20% per year. More traditional RI applications in healthcare and environmental protection would also see steady expansion, Burkart said, notably in the context of a worldwide cancer epidemic.

In his address to the opening of the RI School, WNU president John Ritch talked about the unsung role of radioisotopes in our economies. He said, “Radioisotopes are sometimes called the ’silent slaves’ of our economies because their role is largely hidden and little appreciated, yet provides so much value to industry, agriculture and healthcare. One goal of the RI School is to encourage and equip you to become leaders who can help overcome a lack of public understanding of this great and unseen role.”

Ritch urged participants to rise to other key challenges, namely: disruption to the supply of key radioisotopes, the fostering of an enhanced security culture, and the creation of balanced regulatory regimes.

The RI School is occurring against a backdrop of a worldwide shortage in the availability of a key isotope used in 80% of nuclear medicine applications, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). During the program, participants will analyse the causes of the shortage, and seek viable solutions in the short-, medium- and long-term.

The WNU is a partnership supported by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, the World Association of Nuclear Operators and the IAEA. Its activities are coordinated by a London-based secretariat, operating with WNA support. For certain activities, the IAEA provides financial assistance to support the participation of applicants from developing countries.

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