NRF-iThemba LABS has early this month been officially designated a Collaborating Centre of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA). This designation was conferred during a virtual ceremony where the representatives of the key stakeholders in the nuclear energy signed the agreement.
NRF-iThemba LABS is the national research facility of the NRF and it is also a leading research outfit for accelerator based science in Africa. It operates from two campuses, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg. Formerly known as the National Accelerator Centre the facility is committed to, among others, advance knowledge and transform lives.
The signatories included the deputy-director general for nuclear science and applications at the IAEA, Ms Najat Mokhtar, and the managing director of NRF-iThemba LABS, Dr Faïҫal Azaïez. Other representatives were from the department of science and innovation (DSI), the national research foundation (NRF) and the department of mineral resources and energy (DMRE). His Excellency, Mr Rapulane Molekane, the ambassador of the South African Embassy and Permanent Mission in Vienna, represented the country at the signing.
According to the IAEA Collaborating Centre Agreement is “a legally binding document signed by both parties, which contains, inter alia, the undertakings of the parties, duration of designation, objectives, activities, and expected results and outcomes stated in the Work Plan.”
Atoms for peace and development
The IAEA’s main objective is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to discourage its use for any military purpose including the nuclear weapons. It consists of 173 member-states across the world with “Atoms for Peace and Development” as its slogan. The agency interacts with designated member state institutions through the network of its Collaborating Centres to carry out its programmes that focus on research, development and training. Currently, there are 55 active centres globally and three of these are based on the African continent, namely Burkina Faso, Egypt and Morocco.
NRF-iThemba LABS managing director, Dr Faïҫal Azaïez said: “We are excited about this recognition of not only our impact on the African continent, but also the role we will be able to play through the partnership with IAEA, to support smaller facilities in countries like Egypt, Ghana, Algeria and Nigeria.” He said they are looking forward to claim their rightful role in Africa as the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) of Africa; or rather the CARN (African Organization for Nuclear Research).
Advancing the mandate of IAEA
His view was shared by his colleague, Dr Clifford Nxomani, deputy chief executive officer: national research infrastructure platforms of the NRF. “I would like to thank the IAEA for the recognition and honour bestowed on NRF-iThemba LABS to join the myriad of International and African Scientific Institutions as a Collaborating Centre. I hope that this honour will not only advance the mandate of the IAEA, but that it will also facilitate science and technology capacity development in the field of accelerator-based science and technology on the African continent,” he said.
NRF-iThemba LABS will be charged with the task of implementing selected programmatic activities in the field of Accelerator-Based Scientific Research and Applications through the designation as a Collaborating Centre.
The designation is a timely boost for the iThemba LABS as it is about to add another particle accelerator to its infrastructure inventory. The new accelerator, which is expected to be fully commissioned towards the end of 2022, will be a precursor to the South African Isotope Facility. In addition, this development will not only enable the science facility to advance its research, training and development agenda, but it will also impact society through the enhanced provision of radiapharmaceuticals, said the Dr Azaïez.