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Planning Human Resources for Research Reactor Programmes

Sara Kouchehbagh

TRR-1/M1 is a TRIGA Mark III research reactor operated by the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology (TINT) in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: TINT)

For countries looking to introduce or expand a research reactor programme, developing a human resource management (HRM) strategy is typically a box to check before embarking on what is a significant investment. The IAEA supports countries on HRM through modelling tools, educational resources, publications and peer review services.  

The nuclear industry requires a high standard of quality when it comes to planning human resources, including for research reactor programmes, and it relies on a well-trained workforce for safety and sustainability. That workforce is facing several challenges, including the retirement of qualified personnel and issues related to the retainment of talent. Countries and organizations need to recognize the importance of establishing and implementing an HRM strategy to increase the number of qualified personnel in the long term — and to retain them. 

The results from the model will be used as a support document to communicate with decision makers on human resource requirements, competency and the capacity of the country to meet the requirements of a new research reactor programme.”
Kanokrat Tiyapun, Reactor Manager, Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology

“The management of human resources is the pillar of successful project development,” said Cheikh Niane, Technical Coordinator of Senegal’s first research reactor project and General Secretary of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. “We should define what is the state of our workforce to support a nuclear programme in the country, and what should be our recruitment pool.” 

Senegal is one of several countries planning its first research reactor. In December 2022, a new IAEA training service was piloted in Senegal covering the IAEA’s Human Resource Modelling Tool for New Research Reactor Programmes, which has been developed using a Nuclear Power Human Resources (NPHR) modelling tool, provided to the IAEA by the United States of America in 2011, as a basis. The NPHR helps countries to understand their workforce requirements and the flow of human resources when they are planning to start a nuclear power programme.  

The new tool for research reactor programmes supports countries to better understand human resource requirements and the need for coherent national workforce development in this field. The workshop in Senegal included a demonstration of the human resource model, the installation and configuration of the tool on participants’ computers, and training on basic skills in using dynamic modelling and exercises. It also covered good practices for workforce planning, safety and managing human resource data.  

In April 2023, a similar training session was held in Thailand, which has one operational and two planned research reactors, in order to inform personnel on the use of the modelling tool and to provide feedback on Thailand’s workforce plan. In addition, the session provided information on IAEA guidance and collaboration on how best to adapt the NPHR modelling tool for research reactors in the future. 

“Human resource development is an important component in developing infrastructure for a new research reactor, according to the IAEA Milestones Approach,” said Kanokrat Tiyapun, Reactor Manager at the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology. “The results from the model will be used as a support document to communicate with decision makers on human resource requirements, competency and the capacity of the country to meet the requirements of a new research reactor programme.”

More resources for the workforce

The IAEA also provides free online educational materials on human resource development, including online modules and publications. A newly released publication, entitled Managing Human Resources in the Field of Nuclear Energy (IAEA Nuclear Energy Series No. NG-G-2.1 (Rev. 1)), provides guidance for decision makers and senior managers responsible for the development of competent and sustainable staff. The publication covers key elements of HRM — such as workforce planning, training and development, and performance management — that need to be integrated into a country’s management strategy. The publication provides clear markers for producing effective HRM, which can be ideal for senior managers, human resource professionals and line managers. The publication is also useful for newly embarking countries, as well as those seeking to optimize their current nuclear programme.  

In addition to readily available materials, the IAEA Milestones Approach has supported nuclear newcomers in the development of their nuclear power programmes with a phased approach that is applicable to research reactor programmes. When a country chooses to pursue the development of a research reactor through the Milestones Approach, they start by reporting justifications on the need for a research reactor, ultimately leading them to the construction and commissioning of a new reactor, provided that all requirements are met along the way.  

Human resource development is one of the 19 infrastructure elements — among developing a regulatory body and legal framework and ensuring nuclear safety and security — that are part of the Milestones Approach. It can be addressed through an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review for Research Reactors (INIR-RR) mission, which helps countries to determine the status of their national nuclear infrastructure and to identify further development needs to support the project, from planning all the way to decommissioning. 

“The availability of adequate human resources is key for any project,” said Petr Chakrov, Head of the IAEA’s Research Reactor Section. “The development of these resources is a complex, dynamic process, and our new modelling tool helps countries to plan human resources for their research reactor programmes in a more comprehensive and realistic way.”


Supporting women in nuclear 

In 2020, the IAEA launched the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme (MSCFP) to support the next generation of women nuclear professionals by offering scholarships for master’s degree in nuclear-related fields. A new IAEA initiative launched in March 2023, the Lise Meitner Programme, offers early- and mid-career women multiweek training visits to nuclear facilities.

December, 2023
Vol. 64-4

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