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Nuclear Information Democratization
November/December 2013 Issue


Conditions for using nuclear information is the third area that needs to undergo some major reorganization and democratization. The current system of copyrights, licenses, patents, and trademarks is counterproductive and dysfunctional from the perspective of a global society and its long-term well-being.

Even creators of some intellectual property are not always in the most favorable position. For example, the copyright of a published article does not remain with the authors; it is waived and transferred to the article’s publisher. Thus, society at large pays twice for the same work. In the case of academic work, a society initially pays through the grants given to the researchers to do the research and then later pays again through subscriptions to journals or through the purchase of published articles.

This area is probably the most difficult to change and democratize, because it involves the dismantling of some fortified publishers’ privileges and benefits. New models are emerging, such as Creative Commons ( or the GNU General Public License (GPL; in the area of software publishing. They are gaining ground and could be applied in almost any other area.


INIS has kept democratization of nuclear information at its forefront since it began in 1970. The Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA, 1956), Article III, states that the agency is authorized to foster the exchange of STI on peaceful uses of atomic energy. Article VIII, which is devoted to the exchange of information, states that the agency’s goal is to foster the exchange of scientific and technical information on the peaceful uses of atomic energy, to encourage the exchange among its members of information relating to the nature and peaceful uses of atomic energy, and that it shall serve as an intermediary among its members for this purpose.

INIS provides computerized access to a comprehensive collection of references to the world’s nuclear literature. It was designed as an international cooperative venture, requiring the active participation of its members. While it started with only 25 members, today there are 152 (128 countries and 24 international organizations;

The INIS working concept was first suggested in 1965 by two consultants, one from the USSR and one from the U.S., who advised the IAEA on an outline plan for an international nuclear information system. The concept was adopted in principle by an international meeting of experts in 1966 and further developed by the INIS study team in 1968. It was approved by the IAEA’s board of governors in February 1969 (Zheludev & Groenewegen, 1978). The world’s first truly international computerized information system was born.

Under the INIS concept, each participating member undertakes to look through literature published within its boundaries and select those documents that fall within the agreed subject scope. The countries prepare a detailed description of each item selected and send it, in some cases together with a copy of the document, to the IAEA in Vienna. Here, the incoming information is checked and combined with input from other countries into a single database collection.


INIS fulfills four separate but interdependent roles in managing international nuclear information that also play a significant role in the democratization of the nuclear information (INIS, 2010):

  • At the “political” level, INIS is proof that, in an area of human endeavor as sophisticated as nuclear science and technology, countries from diverse political, social, economic, and cultural backgrounds; from all corners of the globe; and at all levels of technical development can fruitfully cooperate and exchange information.
  • At the “technical” level, INIS is a channel for information exchange that employs the very latest technology available and, thus, has proved over the decades to be instrumental in bringing cutting-edge technology to countries or geographical areas that lacked such facilities or infrastructures.
  • At the “pragmatic” level, INIS is the tool used by scientists, engineers, technical people, and managers in the nuclear industry to keep abreast with developments in the subject areas covered by the INIS collection.
  • From the perspective of “knowledge management and preservation,” INIS is the repository for references to publications that contain the cumulative scientific knowledge in the areas of the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology as recorded in scientific journals, as well as the repository for the full texts of nonconventional literature (NCL), also known as “gray literature,” not easily available through regular commercial channels.


The INIS Membership Agreement lists the benefits of INIS members—access to a comprehensive and extensive pool of information in nuclear fields; the right of every INIS member to access the relevant nuclear information of all other INIS members; increased access to, and visibility of, a country’s national nuclear-related literature; technical cooperation and assistance in establishing and improving National INIS Centers; and help with the transfer of modern information technology and know-how to member states. It is remarkable that these goals and benefits, based on highly democratic values, were introduced at the very beginning of INIS’ existence and still remain valid.

INIS represents an extraordinary example of world cooperation where 152 members give access to their valuable nuclear information resources in order to preserve world peace and further increase the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Not only are more than 3.4 million bibliographic references to publications, documents, technical reports, noncopyrighted documentation, and other gray literature made available, but 350,000 full texts are also available. Besides being a source of information for searching, availability of full text gives INIS a special role—being a main custodian of this world information heritage and preserving this codified specialized scientific and technical knowledge.

Since its inception, INIS operated in a controlled environment where users need to register through their national INIS center, as well as the INIS Secretariat headquarters in Vienna before being given access to the collection. This changed in 2009. Now INIS gives free, open, and unrestricted access to the database to all internet users around the world. This initiative provided easy access to reliable nuclear information on the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, including nonconventional literature, and made nuclear knowledge readily available worldwide. After opening this collection, the number of users doubled.

Another advance in the popularization of INIS and the democratization of its nuclear information collection was the introduction of a new public distribution channel. INIS joined the World Wide Science Organization and made its database searchable through the web portal. This action further increased the number of INIS database searches, improved its presence in the world of science, and increased its usefulness to the scientific and technical community.


Democratization also needs to take into consideration geographic location, national diversity, and users’ language preferences. Great efforts were made to improve the accessibility and friendliness of the INIS Collection search ( The INIS/ETDE Thesaurus was incorporated, offering search descriptors in eight different languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish). A multilingual user interface and help files were introduced, covering the same eight languages. A search results page now offers better readability and an option to translate the bibliographic records into other languages using Google Translate.

In 2012, the INIS Unit and the IAEA Library merged to create the Nuclear Information Section (NIS). Existing information products and services were enhanced and new ones introduced. As a result, the bibliographic records from the IAEA Library catalogue were successfully incorporated into the INIS Collection. More than 90,000 IAEA Library bibliographic records were added to the INIS Collection Search. This enabled a simplified and more efficient single access point to both the INIS and IAEA Library collections through the INIS Collection Search web interface.

In addition to the enlarged collection, nuclear information users gained a complete view of the IAEA Library collection holdings and access to bibliographic records of its books, technical reports, and other documents collected over a period of 50 years. This year, the IAEA Meetings on Atomic Energy (MoAE) database was added to the INIS search as well. Aggregation of partial and segregated information collections or portals by combining them into a functional and easy-to-search resource represents another step toward empowering nuclear information users. This “single access point” approach to information search and retrieval saves time and effort on the side of potential users and gives them better opportunity to find the actual information they are looking for.

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Dobrica Savic is the former head of the Nuclear Information Section (NIS) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


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