The future of the climate

nuclear science can fight climate cHANge

29 January 2021 | Environment

staff reporter

As most African countries continue to grapple with the effects of climate change such as extreme weather conditions resulting in floods and droughts, which in turn affects food and drinking water security, nuclear science can play a critical role to avert the situation.

Namibian Uranium Institute (NUI) director Gabi Schneider said that the utilisation of nuclear science in developing technologies of drought-resistant crops and the identification of new groundwater resources can effectively address the pangs of climate change.

“However, it has also become clear that if the World wants to achieve the goals set at the Paris climate summit, more electricity sources with low or no carbon emissions need to be utilised as opposed to the burning of fossil fuels. Nuclear energy can play an important role in this, and this is recognised by the IPCC,” she said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

Therefore, Schneider said the importance of nuclear science for the development of Africa cannot be over-emphasised.

According to her, the peaceful application of nuclear science and technology can contribute significantly to national, regional and Africa-wide development plans and objectives.

In Africa, she suggests that nuclear science must contribute to the development of medical technology; food security, safety and biotechnology; animal health which in turn is part of food security; availability and quality of drinking water through isotope hydrology; the development of sustainable electricity sources; the development of technology to achieve a higher grade of industrialisation; and radiation safety for both, man-made sources of radiation and natural radiation.

“This is already happening in many other parts of the world, and, amongst others, the aggressive application of nuclear science in Africa can significantly speed up the development of many an African country, thereby also contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.

Dr Schneider, who is a female geologist with a background in economic and environmental geology, said availability of reliable and affordable electricity is key to the development and industrialisation of all African countries.

“Yet, many [African countries] do not have reliable and affordable electricity, and there is only one operational nuclear power plant on the entire continent. I strongly believe that the development of more nuclear power generation facilities on the African continent will powerfully support development while at the same time contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Schneider who leads NUI, an executive wing of the Namibian Uranium Association, observes that females should be in all the fields of science including nuclear because they bring a good mix of complementary perspectives for development.

“I think there is no special importance to have female scientists in the area of nuclear science, but there should be female scientists in all areas of science. I think so because I have made the experience that teams comprised of both men and women are more productive and innovative, as men and women usually have different ways to look at things and therefore complement each other,” Schneider added.

She recalls of starting her career as the only female scientist in a government research organisation and eventually worked up the way to become the director at the NUI.

In the beginning, she remembers, it was not easy to gain the respect of male colleagues, but that she knew that right from the start when she chose to study the subject of geology, which was highly male-dominated at the time.

“However, perseverance and a love for what I am doing has always helped me to get where I want to go. Over the years I was joined by more female colleagues, many of which I mentored while they were studying. But this does not mean that I did not mentor younger male colleagues as well. I do not believe in too much social engineering, and usually look at a person for the human being he or she is, and not because he or she is a man or a woman,” shared Schneider.

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