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Retaining and Sustaining Nuclear Knowledge: Third International Conference on Nuclear Knowledge Management Opens

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Participants at the Third International Nuclear Knowledge Management Conference taking place at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna. (Photo: D. Popovich/IAEA)

Many of the world's existing nuclear power plants are aging and owner-operators need to consider options of life-extension, refurbishment or decommissioning. At the same time, the operators of these facilities are experiencing a steady stream of retirements. It is important for the nuclear energy sector to ensure that there is always a well-trained workforce capable of fulfilling the responsibilities for the ongoing effective and safe management of the global fleet of nuclear power plants. These are among the key topics being addressed at the Third International Conference on Nuclear Knowledge Management — Challenges and Approaches, commencing today.

"Effective knowledge management is vital for the success in all industries, and especially in the nuclear sector. A nuclear power programme requires a long-term national commitment of people and resources and it is essential that specialist knowledge is shared and maintained," said Yukiya Amano, IAEA Director General in his opening address to over 500 delegates attending the event.

For a complex scientific industry, retaining skills, and sharing experiences and knowledge are vital for its sustainability and growth. Currently, 450 nuclear power reactors are operating in 30 countries. Many of these plants will or have reached their licensed design life and are being refurbished or upgraded to extend their operations. At the same time, there are another 60 reactors currently under construction world-wide. All this requires global efforts to ensure continuity in having strong and effective technical and scientific knowledge in this specialised field.

Highlighting the importance of this, Mr Amano said: "Even in countries that are phasing out nuclear power, critical knowledge must be maintained in order to ensure that decommissioning and environmental remediation of sites are carried out in a responsible manner." He further emphasised the need of ensuring the availability of highly qualified staff to assume responsibility for the safe, secure and sustainable operation of nuclear facilities in the coming decades. "We also need to ensure that critical knowledge is not lost when experts retire."

The Conference will also address the issue of developing and maintaining necessary knowledge for a robust safety programme and safety culture when using nuclear technology. This requires an adequate technical knowledge base and a wide range of specialized competencies.

Knowledge management also needs to be effectively coordinated and integrated across all phases of the nuclear technology lifecycle as both organizational and operational conditions can change when using nuclear equipment, installations and facilities. A proactive approach is needed to ensure due diligence.

Bridge the gap, prepare for the future

The weeklong meeting will explore global efforts to support the next generation of professionals to gain advanced and specialized knowledge in nuclear engineering and science, which is required for the safe and effective design, construction, licensing, commissioning, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of nuclear technology-based systems.

To support Member States, the IAEA has developed a number of programmes in nuclear knowledge management. The Nuclear Knowledge Management School and the Nuclear Energy Management School (established in 2015 and 2010 respectively) have trained a large cadre of young nuclear professionals. The International Nuclear Management Academy (INMA) is an initiative launched by the IAEA in 2013 to support universities that offer Master's programmes in nuclear technology management and through which nuclear professionals obtain a better understanding of the technologies, roles and responsibilities required for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of nuclear facilities.

"The challenges of sharing and transferring nuclear knowledge are not limited only to the energy sector. Nuclear technology is utilized in a range of industries including, for example, medicine and agriculture, and the technology makes a significant difference to mankind. We see opportunities to further ensure that nuclear knowledge is safely utilized and is preserved and shared for peaceful uses," said John de Grosbois, Head of the IAEA Nuclear Knowledge Management Section. "Member States are looking for more proactive and integrated lifecycle approaches to ensure the sustainability of nuclear knowledge."

Presentations at several sessions in the conference will focus on industry-wide challenges such as managing the complexity of design knowledge for nuclear plants over the long periods of their operational life and lengthy decommissioning processes. The event is expected to create better awareness among operators and regulators and other stakeholders of the latest best practices in knowledge management and the need for continued strategic leadership in this area.

Last update: 03 Dec 2018

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