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New Essay Challenge: Innovations in Nuclear Site Decommissioning


Deployment trials of the Boston Dynamics SPOT robot at Sellafield in the United Kingdom. In this trial, SPOT used a high-definition video camera, a gamma imaging system and a laser scanning unit. (Photo: Sellafield Limited)

The IAEA is inviting students and young professionals to present innovative and original essays about the decommissioning of nuclear sites. Decommissioning includes the decontamination and dismantling of facilities and is a growth area set to expand in the coming years as a significant number of the world’s 439 nuclear power reactors reach retirement age. The winners of the competition will be invited to present their essays at the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Decommissioning, to be held in Vienna, Austria, in May 2023.

Professionals and students under 35 are asked to write on one of three topics. The essays can cover how to make decommissioning safer, faster and more effective or how to plan and carry out decommissioning using a circular economy model or how to incorporate a decommissioning strategy into a power plant’s design. The deadline for submission is 29 April 2022 and shortlisted authors will be asked to provide a 3-minute pre-recorded presentation by 27 June.

“We wish to encourage creative thinking about the end stages of a nuclear plant, including early decommissioning and the potential policy management overlaps with spent fuel and waste,” said Olena Mykolaichuk, Head of the IAEA’s Decommissioning and Remediation Section. “We are particularly keen for women and those from developing nations to enter, as well as those from disciplines such as engineering, law, natural or social sciences who have a focus on the nuclear industry.”

The aim of decommissioning is to return a site to a condition which enables all regulatory controls to be removed and the site reused. It involves technical and non-technical aspects and requires timely and effective management. Nearly two hundred nuclear power reactors have now been shut down worldwide, with 21 fully decommissioned.

While existing methods of decommissioning are largely proving sufficient to the task at hand, innovations are developing faster, safer, and more cost-effective ways of working. Digital technologies coupled with robots and drones provide for significant potential for doing the work more effectively, and at lower risk. However, with a large number of nuclear power plants scheduled to reach the end of their operational lives in the coming decades, the nuclear industry will need more professionals working in decommissioning.  The essay challenge and an earlier 2020 competition for young scientists and engineers are part of an initiative to highlight the career prospects and opportunities available to young people in the field

The winners will be invited to travel to Vienna, Austria, to participate in and present their essays at the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Decommissioning to be held in Vienna, Austria from 15-19 May 2023. The conference provides a unique global forum for all those working on decommissioning to come together and discuss the most current topics and innovations. All essay applicants will also be considered for contribution to other segments of the Conference programme.

For more details about the competition please click here.




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