Accelerating a better world

25 August 2022

Tens of thousands of accelerators around the world help create radiopharmaceuticals, treat cancer, preserve food, monitor the environment, strengthen materials, understand fundamental physics, study the past, and even disclose crimes.

A first of its kind international conference, Accelerators for Research and Sustainable Development: From Good Practices Towards Socioeconomic Impact was organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at its headquarters in Vienna from 23 to 27 May. It was held as a hybrid event attended by around 500 scientists from 72 IAEA member states. While focusing mainly on applications of accelerator science and technology, the conference was geared towards accelerator technologists, operators, users, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders involved in applications of accelerator technologies as well as policy makers and regulators.

The far-reaching capabilities of accelerator technology help countries progress towards sustainable development

Rafael Mariano Grossi

“The far-reaching capabilities of accelerator technology help countries progress towards sustainable development,” said IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi in his opening address. “IAEA’s work with accelerators helps to fulfil a core part of its ‘Atoms for Peace and Development’ mandate.” He also highlighted how accelerator technology plays a critical role in two IAEA initiatives launched over the past year: Rays of Hope, aimed at improving access to radiotherapy and cancer care in low- and middle-income countries, and NUTEC plastics, supporting countries in addressing plastic waste issues in the ocean and on land. Finally, he described IAEA plans to establish an accelerator of its own: a state-of-the-art ion-beam facility in Seibersdorf, Austria that will support research and help educate and train scientists.

The conference included sessions dedicated to case studies demonstrating socioeconomic impact as well as best practices in effective management, safe operation, and the sustainability of present and future accelerator facilities. It showcased the rich diversity in types of accelerators – from large-scale synchrotrons and spallation neutron sources, or medical cyclotrons and e-beam irradiators used for industrial applications, to smallscale electrostatic accelerators and compact-accelerator based neutron sources – and included updates in emerging accelerator technologies, such as laser-driven neutron and X-ray sources and their future applications. Six plenary sessions featuring 16 keynote talks captured the state of the art in various application domains, accompanied by 16 parallel and two poster sessions by young researchers.

During the summary and highlights session, important developments and future trends were presented:

• Large-scale accelerator facilities under development across the world – notably FAIR in Germany, SPIRAL-2 in France, FRIB in the US, RIBF in Japan, HIAF in China, RAON in Korea, DERICA in Russia and MYRRHA in Belgium – boost the development of advanced accelerator technologies, which are expected to deliver high-impact socioeconomical applications. Substantial interdisciplinary research programmes are foreseen from their beginning, and the IAEA could play an important role by strengthening the links and cooperation between all parties.

• Recent technology developments in Compact-Accelerator Neutron Sources (CANS) or High-Power CANS (HiCANS) are very promising. Among many projects, ERANS at RIKEN in Japan aims to realise a low-cost CANS capable of providing 1012 n/s for applications in materials research and ERANS-III a transportable CANS for testing the structure of bridges. On the HiCANS front, the French SONATE project aims to reach neutron flux levels comparable to the ageing fleet of low and medium power research reactors at least for some applications.

• CANS technology is promising for tools to fight cancer, for example via the Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT) method. Japan leads the way by operating or constructing 10 such in-hospital based facilities, with only a few other countries, e.g. Finland, considering similar technologies. Recent developments suggest that accelerator based BNCT treatments become soon more acceptable. IAEA could play an important coordinating role and as a technology bridge to developing countries to enable more widespread adoption.

• The role of accelerators in preserving cultural heritage objects and in detecting forgeries is becoming more vital, especially in countries that do not have the required capabilities. Ion-beam analysis and accelerator massspectrometry techniques are of particular relevance, and, again, the IAEA can assist by coordinating actions to disseminate knowledge, educating the relevant communities and possibly centralising the demands for expertise.

• The IAEA could simplify the supply of accelerator technologies between the different member states, enabling the installation and operation of facilities in low- and middle income countries, for example by structuring the scientific and technical accelerators communities, and educating young researchers and technicians via dedicated training schools.

• One of IAEA’s projects is to establish a stateof-the-art ion beam facility in Austria. This will enable applied research and provision of analytical services, as well as help educate and train scientists on the diverse applications of ion beams (including the production of secondary particles such as neutrons) and will enhance collaborations with both developed and developing countries.

• Ion-beam analysis (IBA) together with accelerator-mass spectroscopy (AMS) techniques are unique, reliable and costeffective for Environmental Monitoring and Climate Change Related Studies, for example in characterising environmental samples and investigating isotope ratio studies for chronology and environmental remediation AMS facilities with smaller footprints have increased their distribution worldwide, resulting in accessible and affordable measurements for interdisciplinary research, while other IBA techniques offer efficient analytical methods to characterise the chemical composition of particles from air pollution.

• Materials science and accelerators are now moving ahead hand in hand, from characterisation to modification of technologically important materials including semiconductors, nano-materials, materials for emerging quantum technologies and materials relevant to energy production. Testing materials with accelerator-based light and heavy-ion beams remains a unique possibility in the case of fusion materials and offers much faster radiation-damage studies than irradiation facilities at research reactors. Equally important is the accelerator-assisted creation of gaseous products such as hydrogen and helium that allows testing the radiation resilience in unmoderated neutron systems such as fast fission and fusion reactors.

• New developments in electron-beam accelerators for industrial applications were also mentioned, in particular their application to pollution control. E-beam system technologies are also widely employed in food safety. Reducing spoilage by extending the shelf-life of foods and reducing the potential for pathogens in and on foods will become major drivers for the adoption of these technologies, for which a deeper understanding of the related effects and resistance against radiation is mandatory.

Accelerator technologies evolve very fast, presenting a challenge for regulatory bodies to authorise and inspect accelerator facilities and activities. This conference demonstrated that thanks to recent technological breakthroughs in accelerator technology and associated instrumentation, accelerators are becoming an equally attractive alternative to other sources of ionising radiation such as gamma irradiators or research reactors, among other conventional techniques. Based on the success of this conference, it is expected that the IAEA will start a new series of accelerator community gatherings periodically from now on every two to three years.


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