Excerpts from a recent interview with Director-General Yukiya Amano, of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – a nuclear watchdog agency that works to ensure nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes (from an article in the October 8, 2017 Los Angeles Times by Shashank Bengali).

Question: Nuclear power produces less carbon than fossil fuels. How can it help combat climate change?

Director-General Amano: The amount of carbon dioxide emissions that the use of nuclear energy can reduce — it’s equivalent to the amount emitted by India or Russia. That is a huge amount. Thirty countries use nuclear power for the time being, and about 30 more are interested. In countries where people feel the effects of climate change, where we need to develop new plant varieties, if we apply gamma rays, we can accelerate plant mutations and identify the right crop varieties that are resistant to disease. Ocean acidification has become a huge problem all over the world, but if you observe radiation coming from isotopes, you can diagnose the health of oceans and that is very helpful to establish the response.

Question: How does the agency promote nuclear power for uses people don’t often consider, such as medicine?

Director-General Amano: Nuclear technology is very useful to achieve the U.N.’s sustainable development goals, for human health and animal health. Nuclear technology was helpful to diagnose Ebola and Zika, and nuclear medicine and radiotherapy are essential in certain medical areas, such as diagnosing foot-and-mouth disease in cattle. Just recently, we organized a seminar on how nuclear technology can diagnose early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It allows us to look inside the human body with precision.

Question: Is it a challenge to focus attention on those issues, when the world is worried about weapons programs?

Director-General Amano: We should pay maximum attention so that nuclear materials are not used for weapons purposes. That is our basic purpose. We need to tell the public that nuclear energy can be very useful and can make a huge difference for the lives of ordinary people.