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Online Reactor Experiment Demonstrates Learning Tools to Boost R&D in Nuclear Science


IAEA experts present the role and impact of learning tools and programmes to help countries meet their development goals. (Photo: N. Jawerth/IAEA)

A live research reactor experiment at the 60th IAEA General Conference demonstrated the effectiveness of an internet-based IAEA learning tool several countries now use to train nuclear engineering and physics students. Displayed at the side event on ‘Nuclear Capacity Building and Efficient Training Delivery’, the experiment was one of several presentations exemplifying the role and impact of IAEA learning tools and programmes in helping countries meet their development goals using  nuclear science and technology.

“Research reactors are at the core of what you want to do with nuclear power, applications and training. While the IAEA is a facilitator, it is mainly about countries supporting each other,” said Christophe Xerri, Director of the Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology at the IAEA. “The aim is that countries will also be able to build capacity of their neighbours. That is our vision for international cooperation.”

The live demonstration, broadcast via the internet from the CEA-ISIS reactor in Saclay, France, showed the potential of the Internet Reactor Laboratory (IRL) project the IAEA launched in 2015. IRL is designed for students and professionals in the nuclear field who cannot access research reactors for hands-on training. It offers a cost-effective, practical component to their curricula by connecting university classrooms in one part of the world to an operating research reactor in another via the internet. This allows students to engage in live reactor physics experiments and learn more about reactor operations.

Since the launch of the IRL project, two host institutions and seven guest universities have become involved. One host is France’s CEA-ISIS research reactor which serves as the hub for Europe and Africa, broadcasting five experiments a year to Belarus, Lithuania, Tanzania and Tunisia. The other is Argentina’s CNEA RA-6 research reactor which serves as the hub of the project in Latin America, conducting six experiments a year with guest universities in Colombia, Cuba and Ecuador. The IRL project is expected to expand to Africa, Asia and the Pacific next year.

The IRL project benefitted from support by the United States Government through the Peaceful Uses Initiative.

From interactive platforms to online modules

Other IAEA e-learning tools presented during the side event included an interactive platform on research reactors as well as a series of online modules on spent fuel and radioactive waste management, decommissioning and environmental remediation. The modules target a variety of stakeholders, from researchers to students to high level officials.

Such tools help maintain a well-trained and knowledgeable workforce, particularly as the previous generation of nuclear professionals retires. The IAEA’s learning tools and programmes help countries build and preserve the knowledge and skills required of their nuclear professionals.

“Many countries have difficulties training new professionals in the field. The community is very small, and there is a gap in knowledge, but these tools can be used for teaching and self-learning to address this,” said Danas Ridikas, a research reactor specialist at the IAEA.

Hands-on and in the field

E-learning and distance-learning tools are complementary to hands-on and in-field training programmes. The IAEA organizes training programmes in cooperation with universities and institutes in several countries to familiarize young professionals with all aspects related to nuclear reactors in general and research reactors in particular.

Experts from different countries shared their experiences with IAEA-supported, hands-on training programmes. This included the Eastern Europe Research Reactor Initiative (EERRI) training course, which began in 2009 and involves research reactors in four countries — Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovenia — and has trained more than 90 professionals.

“An international training course is an example of how to create an opportunity that is otherwise difficult to organize for a single institute or university,” said Helmuth Böck, a Professor at the Atominstitut of Vienna University of Technology in Austria, who coordinates the EERRI training programme. “It’s also a way to build networks with an aim to transfer knowledge from one region to another.”

The National Energy Center of Sciences and Nuclear Techniques (CNESTEN) in Morocco was another example highlighted. CNESTEN recently trained 28 young professionals from around Africa and more than 60 at a national level. “As a result of this collaboration with the IAEA, Morocco is now providing technical expertise and analytical services, hosting many events with the IAEA and through the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA),” said Hamid Marah, Scientific Director of CNESTEN. “This year we also submitted an application to participate in the IRL project as a host reactor. We hope to open our research reactor to all African Member States.”

International research hubs

The side event concluded with a presentation on the International Centre based on Research Reactors (ICERR) scheme, which helps scientists get access to research reactors to carry out nuclear research and to build nuclear capacity. This included a focus on two currently designated ICERR: the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and Russia’s Scientific Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (RIAR), a subsidiary of Rosatom, which was designated earlier this week as the second centre under the scheme.

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