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Demonstrating Diversity: IAEA Supports Students, Young Professionals at the International Youth Nuclear Conference 2020

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Nearly 300 students, young professionals and government delegates from 43 countries attended the 11th edition of the International Youth Nuclear Congress, 12 of whom were sponsored through the TC programme. (Photo: IYNC)

In early March, IAEA experts joined almost 300 students, young professionals and government delegates from 43 countries in Sydney, Australia as they attended lectures, actively engaged in panel discussions and identified possible mentors at the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC). Held biennially since 1997 to galvanize and promote the role of youth in the nuclear sector, this year’s IYNC was organized under the theme ‘Diversity in Nuclear.’ To help ensure that the discussions held throughout the Congress benefitted from a diversity of voices and viewpoints, the Agency supported the attendance of 12 young professionals from all regions through the technical cooperation (TC) programme, to share with and learn from their international peers and colleagues.

“Under the theme ‘Diversity in Nuclear,’ the objective of the conference was to promote and enable the diversity of people engaged in the many peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology,” said Gustavo Gimenez, the International Organizations Chair of the IYNC.

Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, joined the Congress remotely and, in a video statement delivered during the plenary session of IYNC 2020, encouraged the participants to work closely with one another to leverage the growing diversity of the nuclear world. “This diversity of the nuclear field is what makes working in this area so exiting. At the same time, in order to ensure that the full potential of nuclear technology and applications can unfold, we need a highly skilled and diverse nuclear workforce,” said Ms Mokhtar. “We cannot afford to miss out on much-needed talents to address the development challenges that many countries still face, and for which our support is needed.”

IAEA experts spoke on panels, delivered keynote lectures and shared encouraging messages remotely to the Congress. (Photo: IYNC)

Held from 8 to 13 March, the Congress invited participants to explore and discuss questions pertaining to the role of young professionals in the nuclear industry and the place of nuclear power in national energy mixes in panel discussions chaired and attended by IAEA experts.

In a keynote presentation at a Congress side-event, IAEA Spent Fuel Management Specialist Laura McManniman underscored the growing importance of both sustainability in the nuclear field and youth engagement and examined how the two intersect. “Attracting young professionals into the nuclear industry is important to ensure the continued availability of knowledge, skills and experience,” said McManniman.

The keynote presentation, one of three thematic presentations organized during the Congress, drew a direct line between the sustainability of nuclear power and the sustainability of its workforce, and demonstrated how the two are symbiotically linked. “Engaging students and young professionals is important at all stages of a nuclear power programme’s life, as it ensures that the process of embarking, expanding or phasing out nuclear power can always rely on the availability of qualified professionals,” said McManniman.

In the field of emergency preparedness and response, experts often turn to emerging technologies in order to more effectively fulfil their responsibility to keep the public and environment safe. Andrew Bramnik, an Emergency Response Training Officer in the IAEA’s Incident & Emergency Centre, underscored this point in a presentation he delivered on the use of virtual reality technology for training radiation emergency workers.

“Demonstrating new technologies has helped to draw more attention to the nuclear industry: Not only in how the field operates but also how workers stay prepared for any type of event that might occur,” said Bramnik. “As students and young professionals enter the industry, they’re excited to find tools like virtual reality being employed to ensure that workers and the public remain safe.”

“This conference presented an opportunity for professionals and students to network and learn about cross-cutting peaceful nuclear technologies,” said Luca Capriotti, President of IYNC and General Co-Chair of IYNC2020. (Photo: IYNC)

Supporting Soon-to-Be Experts

The long-term sustainability of any endeavour in the nuclear field will rely on the availability of a cadre of well-trained, highly motivated young professionals. Sustained engagement with the youth is a core aspiration of the TC programme, and the organizing principle of IYNC. In keeping with this value, 12 students and young nuclear professionals—half male, half female—were identified, and their attendance, accommodation and travel to the Congress were sponsored through the TC programme.

This support was delivered through two ongoing TC projects—one implemented in Africa[1], and the other in the Asia and Pacific region[2]—and the aspiring nuclear professionals represented 10 countries: Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Philippines, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe were identified and sponsored.

“We were able to meet with colleagues and peers during the conference through a very proactive and efficient method of networking,” said Llorina Ranada, a young professional working at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), whose attendance was sponsored through the TC programme With the benefit provided by technical tours of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) headquarters, hands-on workshops and networking events at IYNC, Ms Ranada and the other sponsored attendees will return to their respective home institutions with new best practices, new contacts and a new outlook on the global nuclear industry. 

From the support extended to the annual Intercontinental Nuclear Institute and the International Youth Nuclear Congress to the development and dissemination of pedagogic tools for secondary school teachers in Latin America and in Asia and the Pacific, the IAEA’s commitment to engaging young minds is visible across the Agency’s portfolio of programmes and activities.

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[1] RAF0058, ‘Enhancing the Management and Ownership of the Programme (AFRA)’

[2] RAS0080, ‘Promoting Self-Reliance and Sustainability of National Nuclear Institutions’

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