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Nuclear Power Human Resources Emerges as Key Topic at Annual IAEA Gathering


The annual Technical Meeting on Topics Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure is an opportunity for countries to provide updates on their progress and offer lessons learned from implementing the IAEA’s Milestones Approach and its 19 infrastructure issues. (Photo: IAEA)

Every year, experts from a range of countries at different stages of their nuclear power programmes—from the most advanced to those just setting out—gather at the IAEA to share experiences in developing the infrastructure for introducing this clean and reliable energy source. At this year’s gathering in Vienna last week, human resources development emerged as a key topic.

The annual Technical Meeting on Topics Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure is an opportunity for the 30 or so countries that are expanding, introducing or considering a new nuclear power programme to provide updates on their progress and offer lessons learned from implementing the IAEA’s Milestones Approach and its 19 infrastructure issues, which require specific actions over three phases to ensure a safe and sustainable nuclear power programme.

Human resources development is one such issue.

The availability of skilled staff is vital to the sustainability of the nuclear energy sector. That goes for countries preparing to introduce nuclear power as well as those that already operate reactors, such as Brazil. “Since 2015, our loss of skills and knowledge has been brutal, especially in the regulatory body,” said Daniel Palma of the Brazilian National Nuclear Energy Commission.

In his update on Brazil, which is seeking to add a third reactor to its existing fleet, Palma said that future demand for Brazilian employment in nuclear-related activities will increase at a faster rate than the supply of skilled workers. At the same time, an ageing workforce is raising the risk of losing critical skills and knowledge.

The problem is exacerbated by the mobility of skilled labour in the nuclear sector. Of the 51 reactors under construction worldwide, nine are in newcomer countries in addition to three new units recently put into operation in former newcomers Belarus and the United Arab Emirates. “Brazil is losing qualified people abroad,” Palma said, “because the projects in Brazil are not developing at the same speed.”

If experienced operating countries face such challenges, the task can be even harder for newcomers such as Bangladesh, which is now at an advanced stage of constructing its first nuclear power reactor.

“Timely recruitment, training and posting of personnel for the operator is a continuous challenge”, said Kabir Hossain of the country’s Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project. Total staff for Rooppur NPP, which will comprise two 1200 MW(e) reactors, is estimated at 1927 people, including 1620 for operation and maintenance and 307 for general administration and security, he added.

While South Africa has operated two nuclear power reactors since the mid-1980s, several other countries in Africa are either embarking on or exploring the addition of nuclear power to their energy mix. These include Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda and Sudan, all of which have hosted Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) missions. INIR missions are IAEA-led peer review that assists countries in assessing the status of their national infrastructure for introducing nuclear power. (The next INIR mission will take place in Sri Lanka next month.)

Kenya, which hosted an INIR mission in 2015 and a follow-up mission last year, has developed a roadmap to commission its first NPP by 2036 but has yet to make a final decision on whether to pursue nuclear power, according to Erick Ohaga, Director of the Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Directorate.

So far, Kenya is relying on international relationships to educate and train its nuclear workforce of the future, he said. Some 222 Kenyans have been trained via the IAEA National Liaison Office, while 36 have completed graduate degrees in nuclear-related studies in China, South Korea and the United States.

In Europe, Poland is among the most ambitious newcomers. It plans to build six reactors of up to 9 GWe of capacity by 2043, with the first commissioned by 2033 and the next five every two years. Polskie Elektrownie Jadrowe (PEJ) announced in December that the Choczewo municipality is the preferred location for the first nuclear power plant (NPP).

“We are working right now on a human resources programme, which is based on the evaluation of national potential capabilities and the gap indicating what is missing,” said Pawel Pytlarczyk, Deputy Director of the Nuclear Energy Department at the Polish Ministry of Climate and Environment. “Addressing this gap will include specialised training and post-graduate studies related to the nuclear programme.”

Nearby Estonia is also considering nuclear energy but has yet to make a final decision on whether to embark upon it. In the meantime, the Baltic nation is relying on the large pool of international resources to help prepare an interim report from its Nuclear Energy Working Group, which is due out in the autumn.

“Although Estonia does not have many nuclear experts, there are plenty available among the international organisations and other countries that are willing to provide their assistance,” said Reelika Runnel of the Ministry of the Environment of Estonia.

IAEA Milestones Approach

First issued in 2007 and revised in 2015, the IAEA Milestones Approach supports countries in creating an enabling environment for a successful nuclear power project and to understand, and prepare for, the associated commitments and obligations. This result-oriented approach comprises three phases (consider, prepare, construct), three milestones (decide, contract, commission) and 19 infrastructure issues to be addressed in each phase, such as nuclear safety, nuclear security, safeguards, legal and regulatory frameworks, radioactive waste management, human resource development and stakeholder involvement.

Over the past decade, the Milestones Approach has become a reference for Member States starting or expanding their nuclear power programmes. The Milestones Approach and supporting documents are widely used, and its framework and terminology have been broadly accepted.

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