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Putting the ‘E’ in Nucl-e-ar: IAEA Develops Online Learning Tools for Member States


National Atomic Energy Agengy. (Photo: CNEA, Argentina)

Developing a nuclear programme is a major undertaking that requires careful planning, preparation and investment in time, institutions and human resources, and can take at least a decade. Fostering the efficient and safe use of nuclear energy and assisting countries to learn from each other’s experience is among the key roles of the IAEA and the Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI).

To help experts’ and policymakers’ ease into the complex process of starting and running a nuclear power programme, industry professionals can now access a series of IAEA-developed online learning modules based on the IAEA’s “Milestones” approach to the introduction of nuclear power.

“The IAEA has accumulated decades of experience working with Member States, and this is reflected in the Milestones approach that provides guidance for any country embarking on a nuclear power programme,” said Milko Kovachev, Head of the IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section. The approach distinguishes three phases for nuclear power programme development and 19 key nuclear infrastructure challenges to be addressed during the process.

Close to 7400 users from 50 countries, both nuclear “newcomers” and those with existing programmes, have already used the online learning modules, which have been available since 2013.

“I have been able to brief senior Government officials in my country on nuclear power using the online modules,” said Emmanuel Wandera, Senior Corporate Affairs and Communication Officer at the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board. “The content is well presented and the language is easy to understand. For countries with slow internet, the downloading option has made it easier to access and share the modules.”

The online portal includes 14 modules that comprehensively explore the ins and outs of nuclear power infrastructure development, covering areas ranging from human resources strategy, to construction management, to how to conduct a feasibility study. Each course begins with a high-level summary targeting decision makers followed by more detailed explanations.

The modules target a variety of stakeholders, including policymakers, advisers and senior government officials, regulatory bodies and operators. The modules can also help researchers, academics and students in the nuclear field better understand the “big picture” of developing nuclear power programmes.

As many of the same principles apply for the infrastructure development for any new nuclear power plant, those involved in expanding existing nuclear power programmes may also find the learning programme to be a valuable resource, Kovachev said.

Going online to get hands-on 

Taking interactive online learning to the next level, the IAEA-supported Internet Reactor Laboratory connects university classrooms in one part of the world to an operating research reactor in another via the Internet.

Using hardware and software installed in the host research reactor, real-time data is sent over the internet to the participating classroom, where students are able to see the live display of the reactor’s control panel. Using a video conference link, students can conduct experiments by asking the reactor operators in the control room to change reactor settings and see real-time output. This practical experience enhances their education in nuclear engineering, physics and basic aspects of reactor operation.

Since the launch of the project in 2015, two host institutions and seven guest universities have been engaged.

Argentina’s RA-6 research reactor is serving as the hub of the project in Latin America, conducting six experiments a year with guest universities in Ecuador, Colombia and Cuba, said Pablo Cantero of the Argentinean National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA). France’s CEA-ISIS research reactor is the hub for Europe and Africa, broadcasting five experiments a year to Belarus, Lithuania, Tanzania and Tunisia.

The IAEA will continue to enhance Member States’ access to online tools and other educational resources. “We have created a single, unified  web  portal,” said  John  de  Grosbois,  Head of the IAEA Nuclear Knowledge Management Section. “This one-stop-shop will make it easier for users to  find and access all of the IAEA’s e-learning material and other training resources.”

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