A Changing of the Guard

Published Date: 17 January 2006

© IAEA Professor Vladislav Klener is one of nuclear sciences' old guards. At 61, he is semi-retired. "The nuclear boom is over", Prof. Kelener says. "Now we are facing a gap and we didn't educate our successors." In 15 years, half of the global workforce will retire.  The IAEA is working with countries like the Czech Republic to see that information is transfered from one generation to the next. The tacit knowledge of experts -- who know more than they might say or write down - is often the most difficult to transfer.  IT systems alone cannot replace the need for face-to-face interactions with young staff. The Czech Republic's chief nuclear regulator, Dr Dana Drabova, says that,  in five to ten years, the country will have a "gap" of employees who hold knowledge critical to nuclear power plant operations and radiation safety. "To keep the knowledge living you need an overlap of generations," she says. Helping countries like the Czech Republic survive the "information gap" is a focus of IAEA efforts internationally.  Strategies include providing hands-on help to power plant management to capture undocumented information on safety and technical insights from retiring workers. At the Czech Technical University in Prague, final year nuclear and engineering science students practice real world experiments.  They use this test research reactor to assemble an active core and make the reactor go critical.  "You can simulate everything on a computer but students only get a real feeling for the safety, and the safety culture, when they actually get to use a real reactor," says Assistant Professor Martin Kropik In early 1990, no students were enrolled at the Czech Technical University's Nuclear Science and Physical Engineering Department of Nuclear Reactors. Today, they are coming back, says Assistant Professor  Kropik. We have eight to ten students - enough to fill the course. State-of-the-art research facilities are vital to attract top-notch students to nuclear careers, says Dr. Vladimir Hnatowicz. Through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA helped the Czech Nuclear Physics Institute procure equipment like this cyclotron to produce radiopharmaceuticals needed for training and medicine, and an accelerator for high tech research. PhD student Daniel Seifert is part of the changing nuclear guard.  He laughs as he says he will never be a millionaire as a radiopharmacist.  What he does hope, however, is that his research will develop more effective treatments for understanding and treating human disease. The IAEA is working with countries to ensure that tomorrow's nuclear workforce has the knowledge people need to keep the benefits of nuclear science alive.