The role of nuclear energy in SDG 6

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), established by the United Nations, focuses on ensuring universal access to safe drinking water and sustainable management of water resources by 2030, making this goal central to health, equity, and sustainable development worldwide. In this context, nuclear energy has emerged as a promising tool to address the global water crisis and make progress towards achieving SDG 6.

Within the framework of this SDG, the following targets have been set for the period up to 2030:

  • Achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
  • Achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and people in vulnerable situations.
  • Improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and minimizing the release of chemicals and hazardous materials, halving the percentage of untreated wastewater and significantly increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
  • Significantly increase the efficient use of water resources in all sectors and ensure the sustainability of freshwater abstraction and supply to address water scarcity and significantly reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.
  • Implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation, as appropriate.
  • Protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including forests, mountains, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes.
  • Expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water and sanitation activities and programs, such as water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling, and reuse technologies.
  • Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

The role of nuclear energy in SDG 6

Nuclear energy, often associated with electricity generation, has a significant impact on SDG 6 through a number of different applications:

  • Water Desalination

One of the most significant contributions of nuclear power to SDG 6 is its role in seawater desalination. This process involves using nuclear power to generate heat that converts seawater into steam, leaving salt and other impurities behind. This steam is then condensed, producing potable water suitable for human and agricultural consumption.

This technology has proven crucial in arid and coastal regions where fresh water is scarce but access to seawater is plentiful.

  • Wastewater Treatment

In addition to desalination, nuclear power is used in wastewater treatment. Nuclear reactors can sterilise and decontaminate this water, removing harmful micro-organisms and compounds, allowing it to be safely reused or returned to the environment without posing a risk to public health.

  • Water Resources Monitoring and Management

Nuclear technology offers advanced tools for monitoring and managing water resources. Radioactive isotopes, for example, can be used to track water circulation and better understand ground and surface flows. This allows for better watershed management and more accurate planning for the long-term sustainability of water resources.

In conclusion, nuclear energy, with its ability to desalinate water, treat wastewater, and improve water resources management, plays a crucial role in achieving SDG 6. Its responsible and sustainable deployment, combined with technological innovation and commitment to safety and the environment, make it an invaluable resource for ensuring water sustainability and making progress toward achieving global sustainable development goals.

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