Nuclear technology preserves works of art



Works of art which have been attacked by bacteria, fungi, mould and insects are being protected thanks to nuclear technology.

Books, furniture, archives, musical instruments, wooden sculptures and other artefacts are brought from around the world to irradiation facilities where they are treated with gamma rays.

The techniques are supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which operates projects to preserve cultural heritage artefacts using radiation.

From Bucharest, Romania, Louise Potterton has this report.


SFX church music

The peaceful world of Father Ioan was shaken one day when he found unwanted guests in his church in Izvoarele, Romania.

Insects had invaded the church’s precious icons. They were eating away at the wood and were threatening to destroy these sacred works of art.

IN: – at first
OUT: had to find another solution

The solution came from an unusual source – radiation.

SFX Noise

This noise indicates that the radioactive source has left its safe storage place in a pool of water and is active in the irradiation chamber.

The source emits gamma rays that can kill contaminants such as bacteria and fungi. It’s based at the IRASM Radiation Processing Centre in Bucharest.

Corneliu Ponta is in charge of the centre.

IN: in this facility
OUT: usually such natural

Before treatment microbiologists carry out tests on the damaged objects to find out which kind of contaminant they need to tackle and to establish the radiation dose needed to kill it.

It doesn’t alter or damage the precious works of art, they don’t become radioactive and it’s quick and effective as chief operator Valentin Moise explains

IN: one of the major
OUT: – organisms

The IRASM centre is currently involved with the renovation of a museum in city centre Bucharest.

The damp conditions were a perfect breeding ground for insects and fungi which infested the building and its contents. Such problems can be controlled using chemicals, but the museum opted for irradiation.

Rodica Antonescu is the Head of the Conservation Department at the municipal museum of Bucharest.

IN: any other method
OUT: this irradiation

After treatment works of art are returned to the museum and restored.

The IAEA operates programmes like these all over the world that promote and support the use of nuclear techniques to preserve our cultural heritage.

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May 2017
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