Recent trends show that the nuclear industry is poised for expansion for the first time in decades. The greatest expansion is seen in Asia. Out of 15 new nuclear power plants connected to the grid during the period 2000-2002, 12 are in Asia. In 2002, all new nuclear plant construction was in Asia. Besides energy generation, nuclear technology has an important role in meeting basic human needs - clean water, modern health care and food security.
The expansion in the nuclear industry requires a sustainable, qualified and experienced workforce to ensure a high level of safety and performance as well as the next generation of innovative technologies. Even where no expansion is foreseen, it is vital that steps are taken to prevent the loss of accumulated knowledge to ensure that the operation of existing nuclear facilities meets the highest safety requirements and to prepare for decommissioning activities. Ageing of the nuclear workforce in many countries has prompted the nuclear community to initiate various programmes to address the issue of the ageing workforce, which is worsened by the declining interest in the nuclear field among the young.
In 2002, the IAEA General Conference adopted a resolution on "Nuclear Knowledge" (GC(46)/RES/11B), which was reiterated in the 2003 General Conference (GC(47)/ RES/10B). These resolutions emphasized the importance of nuclear knowledge management and called on Member States to strengthen their efforts in this activity. In response to the resolutions, the Agency convened a consultancy meeting to prepare the groundwork for the establishment of the Asian Network for Education in Nuclear Technology (ANENT).
ANENT was established in 2004 to promote, manage and preserve nuclear knowledge and to ensure the continued availability of talented and qualified human resources in the nuclear field in the Asian region. The First Coordinating Committee meeting in February 2004 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, marked the official formation of ANENT. Membership is open to universities, research centers, government agencies and other institutions involved in nuclear education and training. As of April 2004, 17 institutions and three collaborating institutions had become participating members.
ANENT operates based on the principle of cooperation for the mutual benefit of its members. The objective of ANENT is to facilitate cooperation in education, related research and training in nuclear technology through:
Countries in Asia are diverse with respect to the development and utilization of nuclear technology. Some countries have nuclear power programmes, such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, India and Pakistan. Others focus their resources on applying nuclear technology to generate new varieties of crops, generate new industrial products and processes, diagnose and treat diseases, and protect the environment. A few countries that have yet to exploit nuclear technology for power production have plans for the introduction of nuclear power programmes in the near future. On the whole, the penetration of nuclear technology applications is still below optimum in many countries in the Asian region.
Differences in the level of knowledge and resources are observed among countries in Asia, depending on the national development level and usage of nuclear technology. This diversity provides an opportunity for sharing of know-how and experience among ANENT members. On the one hand are countries that have well-developed nuclear power programmes that also have well-established education and training programmes in nuclear science, technology and engineering - they are the potential knowledge donors. For example, there are 14 universities in Japan that offer nuclear and related courses and six universities in the Republic of Korea that offer courses in nuclear engineering.
On the other hand, countries that only now are planning their nuclear power programmes need to acquire knowledge and develop their human resources - they are the recipients. Vietnam, for example, requires between 500-700 graduates with nuclear engineering and related degrees to prepare for the introduction of the nuclear power programme. At the same time, Vietnam is very short of experienced and qualified people to teach in these courses. In this case, through ANENT, the more developed countries can provide teaching staff to conduct courses in Vietnam or offer places for Vietnamese students in their universities.
The exchange of students and teaching staff would be greatly enhanced with the mutual recognition of degrees among ANENT members. This in turn would accelerate capacity building in the less-developed Member States. Human resource development is also vital for the development of innovative technologies through research and development (R&D) activities. Significant innovation could be realized through cooperation, networking and sharing of resources, both for nuclear power and non-power applications.