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Celebrating 37 Years of Post-Graduate Educational Courses in Radiation Protection and the Safety of Radiation Sources

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The General Conference side-event was attended by PGEC alumni and lecturers alike. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

On the second day of the IAEA’s 63rd General Conference, 17 September, more than 30 Member State delegates, experts in the field and academic counterparts to the technical cooperation programme gathered to celebrate the 100th edition of the Agency’s Post-Graduate Educational Courses (PGEC) in Radiation Protection and the Safety of Radiation Sources, and to discuss the priorities for forthcoming iterations of the programme.

Radiation sources are used daily in almost every country in health care, research and industry. The use of these sources necessitates a comprehensive framework of legislation, regulations and safety culture to ensure that they are deployed safely. PGEC responds to this need by equipping national regulatory authorities of IAEA Member States with the technical knowledge and practical experience needed to ensure appropriate protection of workers, patients, public and the environment. The course, based on a syllabus published in the Training Course Series, lasts on average five months.

“PGEC supports Member States to cope with the immediate needs of education and training of graduate level staff earmarked for positions in radiation protection. PGEC graduates have gone on to occupy minister-level positions, they have become operators and regulators, and some are even colleagues of ours here at the IAEA,” said Dazhu Yang, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation, during his opening remarks.

Established in 1981, the first PGEC in Radiation Protection and Source Safety was held in Argentina and was attended by participants from Latin America and the Caribbean. Comprised in equal parts of theoretical and practical elements, the course in Argentina established the model for effective training in the area of radiation protection.

Diana Umbra, a chemist who previously worked at Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA), attended the first Post-Graduate Educational Course in 1981. “I remember the great quantity of learning material, it was one of the richest courses in terms of covering various topics,” she said. “It was the first course with participation from Latin America, and I remember the great sense of camaraderie.”

In the intervening 37 years, more than 1800 students and young professionals from 120 countries have benefitted from this competency building mechanism.  The PGEC had a positive impact on participants’ professional careers, and significantly contributed to strengthening national radiation safety infrastructure.

A 2015 IAEA survey showed that 74 percent of students experienced a long-term positive impact of the course on their professional development, and nine out of 10 students would recommend the PGEC to their peers and colleagues.

The curricular contents of the PGEC are designed to accommodate young professionals and graduates — often working or studying in the fields of physics, chemistry, life sciences or engineering — who are expected to become regulators, qualified experts in radiation protection, trainers on topics related to radiation protection and safety. To ensure that the training meets the specific needs of national regulators, participation is typically limited to 20 to 30 trainees, and because PGECs are held in a  regional training centre, the IAEA offers training in English, French, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish.

“PGECs have a significant impact on the professional development of their participants. Many report that the knowledge and skills they have gained during the course has helped them improve their performance, take on new responsibilities and even land promotions,” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “Your discussions and conclusions will help improve PGECs so that they can continue to meet Member States’ needs and expectations.”

The 100th PGEC was organized in cooperation with the Malaysian Nuclear Agency and concluded on 19 October 2018. “As a member of the regulatory body, I will work to see that all the things that I’ve learned at this course are going to be applied at home, especially when we do pre-licensing inspections and verification inspections,” said Norman Jay Barro of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute.

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