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From Human Power to Nuclear Power: The Intercontinental Nuclear Institute Enters its Second Year

17 August 2016
In France, 40% of the nuclear power staff at Électricité de France (EDF) will retire within the next ten years; in the United Kingdom, 70% of the highly-skilled nuclear power workforce is expected to reach retirement age by 2025; and in Hungary, approximately 25% of nuclear professionals are above the age of 50. At a time when European nuclear professionals are increasingly eligible for retirement, the concept of ‘sustainability’ has become a watchword in the nuclear power industry. Today, sustainability in the nuclear industry is most threatened by the ageing population of specialists and the capacity gaps their retirements expose. In this new environment, the Intercontinental Nuclear Institute (INI) is providing, and has provided since its founding in 2015, an innovative solution to the challenge of sustainability by delivering pioneering, hands-on training in nuclear sciences to students and professionals across the European region.With guidance and support provided through the IAEA’s technical cooperation (TC) programme and its Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI), INI offers prospective nuclear professionals four weeks of intensive training on the basis of a curriculum developed cooperatively by the U.S.-Czech Civil Nuclear Cooperation Centre (CNCC) and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell (UML). In addition to a series of guest lectures delivered by luminaries of the nuclear industry, the Institute’s programme took students to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts and to the Temelín Nuclear Power Station in the Czech Republic, offering a closer look at the conduct and culture of nuclear power plant (NPP) operators. These tours were supplemented by close mentoring sessions, delivered by prominent research scientists and experts from the industry.The Intercontinental Nuclear Institute was founded in response to a growing challenge: The ageing population of nuclear experts in the Europe region. The engineers, physicists, and radiation protection professionals whose efforts have ensured the safe and secure operation of NPPs in Europe for the last half-century are retiring in greater numbers. By depriving national nuclear programmes of critical personnel, this wave of departures is exposing a growing capacity gap which threatens the long-term sustainability of those nuclear programmes. The combination of a retiring work force in developed countries and growing capacity needs in developing countries has created a new demand for training in NPP operation. “INI is designed to leverage existing expertise and create a network of young professionals who will bridge the technology and knowledge gap in the nuclear power sector,” explained Professor Sukesh Aghara, one of the two INI Directors who co-founded the Institute. Since the programme’s launch in June 2015, INI has equipped graduate students and young professionals with the skills and knowledge needed to comply with the highest level of safety and security, to consider the long-term needs of nuclear power programmes, and to implement the best practices of facility design and operation. In developing the curriculum for INI 2016, Radek Skoda, co-director of the Institute, explained, “We took feedback very seriously and made a few minor changes to INI 2016’s content. We included a uranium mine technical visit, and we expanded the radiochemistry, detection, and dosimetry lab sessions.” Beginning on June 26, the Institute’s 2016 curriculum kicked off with an opening ceremony at Černín Palace, attended by Raja Abdul Aziz Adnan, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security. In opening this year’s iteration of the four-week programme, Mr Adnan explained, “This course you…are participating in is fundamental for preparing and building a new generation of human capacity in our Member States. Ahead of you are fascinating weeks of lectures, visits, and practical exercises here and across the Atlantic Ocean in USA. You are our future and you are our hope.” During the second week of INI’s 2016 programme, considerable efforts were made to expose participants to the rigorous discussions which surround the development, maintenance, and decommissioning of nuclear power plants. In addition to courses provided by Professor Aghara and Director Skoda on safety, security and safeguards, and the economics of nuclear power production, respectively, participants received a lecture in ‘Error Management and Leadership in High Risk Environments,’ delivered by Joerg Wachter of Lufthansa German Airlines. On 7 July, the institute’s 27 participants visited Research Centre Rez (CVR), a research organization which specializes in developing training courses for universities and industry stakeholders. The two research reactors at the CVR facility were used in exercises by the students, conferring on them a better understanding of how nuclear facilities are directed and managed. Before departing for Massachusetts—the venue for the latter half of the Institute’s hands-on curriculum—a technical tour of an operational uranium mine was organized. Owned and excavated by the ‘Stráž pod Ralskem’ company, the mine shed light on the earlier phases of the nuclear fuel cycle, which involve the mining and milling of uranium ore before it’s eventually enriched and fabricated into fuel. In addition to comprehensive tours of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant and the University of Massachusetts Lowell Research Reactor (UMLRR), the Institute’s participants were invited to visit ISO New England, an independent transmission organization which oversees the operation of bulk electric power systems and transmission lines in the Northeast of the United States. The visit demonstrated how power generated at nuclear power plants is fed into national power grids and subsequently managed and distributed, alongside other forms of electricity. In response to the technical tours and lectures provided in the United States, Radek Prokes, a participant of the INI 2016 programme, explained, “I gained more insight into nuclear reactor issues, and began to see it as a truly complex process. I really enjoyed the Fellowship!” “The Intercontinental Nuclear Institute isn’t just a training [course]. It’s an alliance of experiences, a way of learning which gives you an opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, countries, and points of view,” explained Ebru Ekici, a course participant and a staff member at the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority. Martin Krause, Director of the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Division for Europe, delivered the closing remarks of the 2016 programme of the Intercontinental Nuclear Institute. Referring to the feedback received from participants of INI 2016, Director Krause said, “[INI] has once again succeeded at creating enthusiasm, forging friendships, and enhancing knowledge among young professionals of the nuclear industry network.” In the coming months, the 2017 Intercontinental Nuclear Institute will invite prospective participants—selected from among graduate students and young professionals in the Europe region—to apply via their respective national liaison offices. By taking on board the comprehensive recommendations and concerns of its stakeholders, the programme is vigorously applying continuous improvement fundamentals in order to deliver a cutting-edge curriculum which prepares participants for work in the fields of reactor physics, safety and security, radiation and environmental protection, economics and planning, waste management, and more.

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