Moustafa Bahran: “The NCAE has two tasks: peaceful use of nuclear energy & radiation control [Archives:1999/10/Science & Technology]

March 8 1999

Science, engineering, technology and other fields of the hard sciences are the backbone of modern economic progress. Any society that wants to make headway in the world today, needs to make its mark in these fields.
But, though those fields have economic advantages, some of them, such as nuclear technology, chemical production, etc., have military applications. It is this twist that has rendered the world a less safer place.
The Republic of Yemen is a late starter in the sciences. Actually, there are those who would argue that we have not started yet. But, over the last few years, the political leadership has shown interest in this dimension. Professor Moustafa Yahia Bahran spearheads Yemen’s efforts in this regard. Moustafa, 40, is a graduate of the Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Oklahoma, USA. Today, he is Professor of Nuclear and Particle Physics at the Department of Physics at Sana’a University. He is also Presidential Science and technology Advisor, as well as the Founder and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Yemeni Scientific Research Foundation.
Last week, he was named Chairman of the National Committee for Atomic Energy (NCAE), a newly established organ.
Mr. Bahran is an active scientist. He participates in many international conferences and meetings.
Mohammed Bin Sallam of Yemen Times filed the interview below.
Q: You have been the presidential advisor of science and technology since 1995, what exactly have you been doing?
A: It is very hard to list all the work done over three years. But I will attempt to briefly cover the major activities. The office of the Presidential Science and Technology Advisor (OPSTA) does the following:
– Organize various technical and expert gatherings. Between April of 1996 and October 1998, we have organized seven symposia, conferences, and meetings in areas of science and technology, peaceful application of nuclear energy, cyber economy and research and development.
– We have established the Yemeni Scientific Research Foundation (YSRF) based on the recommendations of the April 1996 Symposium, entitled “The Status and Future of Science and Scientific Research in the Republic of Yemen.
– We have established the Document Delivery Service (DDS) for Yemeni Scientists which provides free of charge any piece of literature in any scientific field from any where in the world to the Yemeni scientific community. This is a three old service. I take this opportunity to invite all Yemeni scientists to take advantage of this service by contacting OPSTA.
– We have established the Yemeni Scientist Index (work in progress) which is a data base that attempts to list enough information about every scientist in the Republic of Yemen to be distributed to all interested parties.
Q: What does the National Committee for Radiation Safety do?
A: The NCRS, in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has the following projects:
– Upgrading Analytical Laboratories of the General Corporation for Minerals and Geological Surveys at the Ministry of Oil (project completed).
– Rinderpest Surveillance at the Central Veterinary Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture (project completed).
– National Center for Radiation Oncology at Republican Hospital in Sanaa (project in progress).
– Upgrading Radiation Protection Infrastructure (in progress).
– Feretigation at Al Erah Station of the General Authority for Agricultural Research and Extension (in progress).
– Isotopic Hydrology at the National Water Resources Authority (project approved and about to start)
– Projects under negotiation include the following:
1- Screening for Newborn for Thyroid Deficiency at Aden Health Office.
2- Non Destructive Testing of indusrial products with the Ministry of Industry.
3- Screening and Management of Cancer at the Central Health Laboratories.
4- Improvement of Diagnosis of Animal Diseases in Yemen Using Nuclear Related Elisa Technology at the Central Health Laboratory, Ministry of Agriculture
5- Animal and Plant Breeding Testing, General Authority for Research and Extension – Ministry of Agriculture
6- Rusts and Drought and salinity Tolerance of Grains with the General Authority for Agricultural Research and Extension. 7- Insect Control with the General Authority for Agricultural Research and Extension.
The above projects include equipment, training and expertise, for example:
– More than 30 training opportunities abroad have been arranged for more than 20 different persons.
– Twenty fellowships abroad ranging between three months to 2 years have been granted to 19 different persons.
– Six scientific visits mostly in health sector.
– More than 24 IAEA experts have been received (for example one medical expert left Sana’a on the 24th of last month, another medical expert is leaving this Thursday and an agriculture expert is arriving this Friday).
Q: What efforts are there to assist universities and research institutes in developing suitable technologies for Yemen?
A: Neither OPSTA nor YSRF has enough funds to assist universities. Yet, certainly OPSTA is doing everything in its power to do just that. I would like to speak about the YSRF, in detail, as follows:
YSRF was established on the 25th of September 1996 based on the recommendation of the now famous science conference of April 1996 organized by OPSTA. The main promise of YSRF was to support the Yemeni Scientific community through grants to carry out research proposals and other services.
The main idea was to convince the private sector to finance such studies through YSRF in service of the developmental process in general and the private sector in particular. YSRF finance comes through donations from government and the private sector.
In September 1996, a large number of a well known businessmen committed themselves to certain donations to YSRF, but only a small number of them did actually deliver. Thus YSRF does not have yet the budget that it aspired for.
I want to use this opportunity to thank our donors and tell them that their contribution has paid off. I also invite those donors who did not carry through with their commitments to come and see for themselves the excellent work that has been accomplished. Briefly, let me outline what has been accomplished under these circumstances.
– We have established our offices in the former USAID buildings.
– YSRF organizes a yearly conference called Science Conference covering all scientific fields. Last year’s Science Conference 98 was held in Sana’a during 11-13 October 1998.
The Science Conference 99 will be held in Aden during 11-13, October 1999.
Once again, I take this opportunity to welcome all Yemeni scientists to actively participate in this important yearly event.
– YSRF has instituted what is probably the first internationally refereed scientific journal in the Republic. It is called “The Yemeni Journal of Science” (YJS). YJS will publish original internationally refereed research papers in all facets of science. The first issue plans to publish the papers of Science Conference 98 once refereed.
– YSRF had invited research proposals to be submitted before December 1997 in order to be financed some time in the middle of 1998. This being the first experience of YSRF staff supervising this process, the per review and refereeing took longer time that expected. We do this in cooperation with Iowa State University. But, it was finally finished in December 1998. On 18 February, 1999, the Board of Directors of YSRF approved to start financing a number of the mentioned proposals. We are now in the process of delivering funds to the granted scientists.
I take this opportunity to call on our Yemeni colleagues to submit new proposals for the year 99 before July 31st of this year accompanied with an application form that can be obtained from YSRF office.
– YSRF has instituted a book series with a proposed name “Science Book” in order to publish original scientific books authored by Yemeni scientists in all field of science.
Q: Recently, the cabinet passed a proposed presidential decree establishing the National Committee for Atomic Energy (NCAE). What is the background and purpose of this?
A: NCAE is going to replace both the NCRS, and the Yemeni General Atomic Energy, which had existed on paper. The NCAE comes to answer a requirement submitted to the Yemeni government by IAEA in order to further technical cooperation between the Republic of Yemen and the IAEA in the field of peaceful applications of nuclear energy. In fact, a number of visits by IAEA officials have stressed the need for such organization.
The NCAE is going to have a dual job. It will promote peaceful application of nuclear energy, and will protect the public and the environment from the hazards of ionizing radiation (basically continuing and enhancing NCRS activities). It will do its work in coordination with all concerned government agencies. In other words, the actual peaceful application of nuclear programs will be carried out by government and/or the private sector. It is important also to mention that NCAE is very much needed to carry out urgent needs such as protecting the public from the non-regulated ill-organized X-Ray facilities.
Another area of responsibility is the monitoring radiation levels in foodstuffs and other products in the market. We have to ascertain suitability of such products for human consumption. Or to assess radiation content and adherence to the legal standards.
Those are just examples of many other tasks that are assigned to the NCAE. Let me stress here that the NCAE is committed to peaceful application of nuclear energy. Its other job is radiation control on imports and other products for the well being of the public as well as a requirement of the international community.