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Training in Texas: IAEA and Texas A and M University Build Capacities in Managing Water-cooled Reactors

The Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University recently hosted a two-week International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) interregional training course that familiarized participants with the physics and technology behind water-cooled reactors. Held from 7 to 18 December 2015, the course used a suite of reactor simulators, covering a variety of water-cooled reactor technologies, in order to mimic reactor fundamentals and to train the 25 participating delegates from 22 different countries who are aspiring to apply nuclear technology in their home countries.

The course provided an overview of the design characteristics associated with pressurized water reactors (PWRs), boiling water reactors (BWRs) and pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs), as well as their respective safety systems and design basis events.

The training course, which was funded through the IAEA's technical cooperation programme under an ongoing interregional project1, was hosted at Texas A&M under the cooperation agreement between the two organizations, which was formalized through a Practical Arrangement in 2014.

The IAEA has offered a course in nuclear reactor simulation and education for almost 20 years, according to IAEA senior nuclear engineer Chad Painter. The training course is in line with IAEA initiatives to build capacities in countries either developing or considering developing nuclear faculties, to provide national staff with a better understanding of these technologies. The course targeted delegates from 'nuclear newcomer' Member States who had academic training in nuclear engineering or had ties to nuclear project assessments and/or developments within their home countries. In working to build capacities in these countries which are seeking to introduce nuclear power into their national energy mix, the IAEA is also helping to secure the safe use of nuclear assets in the future.

"In this particular programme, we are pushing the technology education as Member States make a determination [on pursuing nuclear power] after looking at their projected energy needs in optimum energy mix in the future. As these countries come to some sort of a decision that they want to pursue a nuclear programme, we want to make sure these Member States pursue it in a safe and secure way," explained Mr Painter. "It helps them to avoid huge mistakes and we want to have them achieve their goals in a way that is going to be safe-because a reactor safety issue in one country affects the nuclear industries around the world," he continued.

Mr Painter noted that the course approach was practical because it is more cost-effective and less time-consuming than alternative methods. The training event is one of several collaborative efforts that Texas A&M and the IAEA have undertaken in the past, which include programmes to promote more women in science, technology, engineering and math majors (STEM), to develop electron beam technologies, and to provide educational training and public outreach programme, among others.

"The course served as a great event of nuclear engineering globalization and our department at Texas A&M University was honored to be part of it," said Professor of Nuclear Engineering Dr. Pavel Tsvetkov, who teaches a course based on nuclear reactor simulators. "The IAEA training course gave us and our students the opportunity to engage with the lecturers, share, observe and discuss various simulators and teaching techniques involving these simulators. I will certainly be taking this experience and the lessons learnt from it into my course to further enhance the state-of-the-art quality of our academic programs that we have continued to develop through these global experiences."

Since their inception in the 1950s, water-cooled reactors have been at the centre of the nuclear power industry. Today, pressurized water reactors still constitute the large majority of all nuclear power plants in the Western hemisphere. Although the global nuclear community continues to develop new reactor designs and research new methods to extend fuel cycles, water-cooled reactors will continue to play an important role, and may even serve as a bridge for developing countries in their steady march towards newer, more promising reactors. With the help of the IAEA, Member States are crossing that bridge and moving closer to a cleaner, more sustainable future.

1 INT/2/014: ‘Supporting Member States to Evaluate Nuclear Reactor Technology for Near-Term Deployment’

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