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IAEA Research Reactor School in Morocco Sharpens Skills for Young Experts from Africa and Asia


Twelve scientists from Africa and Asia studied research reactor physics, operation and utilization during a workshop organized by the IAEA in Morocco on 15-26 May 2023. (Photo: IAEA)

Young nuclear professionals from Africa to Asia took advantage of the IAEA’s newest International Centre Based on Research Reactors (ICERR), acquiring new technical skills and knowledge during a two-week workshop hosted by the National Centre for Nuclear Energy, Sciences and Technology of Morocco (CNESTEN) and its MA-R1 reactor.

The IAEA Research Reactor School, the third one to have been held in Africa, focused on reactor physics, safe operation and utilization. Thirteen young professionals—with degrees in nuclear engineering, physics, or related fields—representing Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Thailand, and Tanzania took part in the intensive training sessions at Rabat-based CNESTEN.

Earlier this year, CNESTEN was designated as an ICERR, enabling it to function as a global learning platform for scientists from around the world, particularly Africa. Last month’s workshop was the first IAEA activity hosted by CNESTEN under the ICERR programme, where designated centres make their research reactors and other resources available to organizations and institutions of other IAEA Member States for capacity building and research and development.

“The school was highly educative, informative, engaging, and valuable,” said Yahaya Musa, who works in medical physics at the Centre for Energy Research and Training in Zaria, Nigeria. “The programme enhanced my research reactor operation and experiments knowledge and developed my skills in these areas. The training was well coordinated and organized, and I am very pleased with what I learned and the overall experience.”

Research reactors are powerful tools. They help countries carry out scientific research, education and training while also producing vital neutrons for use in medicine, agriculture and industry. Of the world’s 222 currently operational research reactors, seven are located in Africa, which is rapidly developing its capacities in this area.

Africa has been the focus of two regional IAEA technical cooperation projects in support of countries embarking on nuclear power and those with operational research reactors, providing tailored training for the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers. Last December, Senegal hosted a mission on a new IAEA training tool that provides modelling to develop the skilled workforce needed for new research reactor programmes, from planning to operation.

Morocco’s MA-R1 reactor, a standard TRIGA MARK II design of 2 MW thermal power, provides neutron activation analysis services and radioisotope production for medical applications while also supporting research and training. “CNESTEN is dedicated to fostering regional and institutional collaboration as an integral part of the ICERR network, said Hamid Marah, Director General of CNESTEN. “We gladly offered our infrastructure, scientific expertise, and technical resources to IAEA Member States.” 

In 2018, the MA-R1 reactor became part of the IAEA’s Internet Reactor Laboratory (IRL) scheme, in which a host reactor is connected virtually with classrooms in other countries to provide practical insight into reactor physics, operation and applications. However, the training on a real reactor is even more rewarding, according to Andrey Sitnikov, Technical Lead of the IAEA Research Reactor Section. “Only a handful of few students in Africa have access to training on a real research reactor while studying,” he said. “These schools provide a great opportunity for young professionals to gain precious practical experience, whether they hail from nuclear newcomer countries or more experienced ones.”

The IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy organizes Research Reactor Schools annually in different countries, with the support of the Agency’s technical cooperation programme. The schools are part of the Agency’s comprehensive set of services, including the IRL and ICERR schemes, aimed at supporting the development of skills and knowledge needed for research reactors.

“There are lot of things that I gained and learned from this school,” said Mohamad Amirudin Bin Mohamad Rosli, Research Officer at the Malaysian Nuclear Agency. “Although in my country we have the same type of reactor, the way to operate and handle the reactor is different. The experiments provided were very useful, interactive, and easy to understand, and the organizer was extremely helpful.”

The next Research Reactor School is scheduled to be held in September 2023 at the Bariloche Atomic Centre and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This will be the first school for the Latin American region and all the activities will be conducted in Spanish. Those interested in participating are invited to apply through their country’s Permanent Mission to the IAEA.

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