IAEA contributions to PHL show how "atoms" can be used for peace and development

New report chronicles breakthroughs in Philippine agriculture through support from IAEA

The IAEA, widely known as the world’s ‘Atoms for Peace and Development’ organization within the United Nations (UN) family, has delivered breakthroughs in Philippine agriculture under its Technical Cooperation programme since it started working in the country in 1958.

The IAEA is credited with the following key achievements in the Philippines:

  • 2019: National Crop Protection Centre uses nuclear applications to boost rice yields on 40 000 hectares of land by 20 to 30 per cent.
  • 2018–2019: An Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review is conducted and the first Integrated Workplan established to develop infrastructure for a nuclear power plant.
  • 2014: Electron beam and gamma irradiation facilities for food, agricultural and medical applications is inaugurated at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute.

Its recent project successes in the Philippines are described in detail as follows.

Food and agriculture

Using mutation-induced breeding, counterparts in the Philippines were able to develop new, improved varieties of foodstuffs (such as rice) which are more resilient to insects and arthropods, and to the strong winds and gusts of typhoons.

Researchers in the Philippines have found that an extract of seaweed, when processed with radiation, can make plants more resistant to typhoons and boost rice production by 20–30%. The extract, called carrageenan, comes from algae that is abundant in the sea. While carrageenan is already used widely as a gelling agent and thickener in the preparation of processed foods, this is the first time researchers — with the support of the IAEA — have applied it on a large scale as a plant growth promoter.

“It worked from the very first day I used it,” said Isagani Concepción, a supervising engineer and part-time farmer at San Manuel in the central province of Tarlac. Concepción’s four-hectare rice field was used for testing. After he applied the modified carrageenan, he noticed a 30% increase in production. “I used to get 291 cavans, now I get 378. Even spraying only a small dose is as effective as using organic fertilizer.” One cavan is a sack of approximately 50 kg. Plants also started growing more extensive roots, sturdier stems and more tillers. This, Concepción said, has made them resilient to typhoons. In Bulacan, Typhoon Lando in 2015 devastated all the control plants, which were not given irradiated carrageenan. Those treated with the new growth promoter remained standing. For farmers in East Asia, the irradiated product is pertinent at a time when rising temperatures will heat the oceans. The implication for farmers is that warming oceans can lead to more intense and frequent typhoons.

Agricultural researchers at the National Crop Protection Center of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños tested the benefits of carrageenan as a plant growth promoter on more than 5000 hectares. The IAEA provided the irradiators and the training of local experts on their use. In a study in Pulilan, a central province of Bulacan, researchers found that sprayed areas produced crops with yields 65% above that of the control group, while using only half of the recommended fertilizer dose. The technology consists of subjecting the material to radiation to reduce the molecular weight of carrageenan and thereby increase its effectiveness. Carrageenan is a mixture of natural polymers derived from weeds, with high molecular weight, explained Sunil Sabharwal, radiation processing specialist at the IAEA. Irradiation with gamma rays degrades the natural carrageenan into smaller oligomers with comparatively low molecular weight, which are known to stimulate plant growth. Farmers realized that plants also grew resilient to insects and arthropods such as centipedes when treated with radiation-processed carrageenan. At the same time, the population of spiders, which kill virus-carrying green leafhopper, increased. “We didn’t need to use pesticides because we realized more friendly insects chased away the pests. These insects have helped to decrease the number of the pests, and we have stopped using insecticides,” said Colduron. “Carrageenan plant growth promoter is the answer to harvest shortage,” Abad said. “This technology increases harvest yield and, with it, farmers’ livelihoods.”

Industrial applications

The IAEA has assisted the Philippines since 2009 to establish a semi-automated gamma irradiation facility and an electron beam facility for research and development purposes, and to provide industrial services at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute on the outskirts of Manila.

The IAEA helped procure equipment and provided expert advice for the commissioning of the gamma irradiation facility, while offering fellowship training to staff for operation and maintenance procedures.

The facilities currently provide services to over 70 clients (52 from industry and 23 academic and research institutions) for treating spices, vegetables, herbal products, and raw materials and items used for cosmetics. The facility also irradiates medical equipment to remove microbial contamination.

Energy planning and nuclear power

In 2018, the Government of the Philippines invited an IAEA team of experts to review its infrastructure with a view to including nuclear power in their energy mix.

The Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review provided detailed guidance across the three phases of nuclear power development using the IAEA’s Milestone Approach: consider, prepare and construct.

The Philippines is currently drafting legislation for nuclear safety, security and safeguards, and is in the process of establishing an independent regulatory body.

Active national projects

The IAEA also has ongoing projects in the Philippines, as follows:

  • Building Capacity for the Safe Operation and Utilization of the Research Reactor’s Subcritical Assembly for Training, Education and Research (PHI0016)
  • Establishing a Graduate Programme in Nuclear Science, Engineering and Management for Accelerated Utilization of Nuclear Applications (PHI0017)
  • Enhancing the Safety and Throughput of the Gamma Irradiation Facility Through Full Automation (PHI1019)
  • Enhancing the Utilization of the Fully Automated Philippine Nuclear Research Institute Gamma Irradiation Facility (PHI1020)
  • Enhancing Bench-scale Simulation for the Development of Continuous Extraction Technology of Uranium and Other Valuable Elements from Phosphates - Phase II (PHI2013)
  • Developing Nuclear Energy Infrastructure (PHI2014)
  • Applying Nuclear Techniques in the Attenuation of Flood and Natural Disaster-Borne Contamination (PHI5034)
  • Advancing Laboratory Capabilities to Monitor Veterinary Drug Residues and Related Contaminants in Foods (PHI5035)
  • Strengthening National Capacity in the Manufacture of Radiopharmaceuticals for Healthcare Applications (PHI6026) The Philippines also participates in 53 regional and 12 interregional projects, mostly in the area of health and nutrition, food and agriculture, and energy planning and nuclear power.

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UN entities involved in this initiative
IAEA
International Atomic Energy Agency