Young Professionals in Nuclear Field Connect with the IAEA at International Congress in China

IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation Dazhu Yang at the International Youth Nuclear Congress in Hangzhou, China (Photo: L. Kollar/IAEA)

The IAEA took an active part in the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC) in July this year, which focused on the theme ‘Nuclear Powering our Life’. Over 400 young professionals from around the world attended the Congress, where they learned about the peaceful applications of nuclear technology, nuclear security, public and emergency communications, as well as the IAEA’s junior professional and internship programmes.

“Radiation technology is everywhere in our lives, in fields as diverse as agriculture, industry, medicine and energy. Countries are eager to take advantage of the benefits of nuclear energy and technology,” said Dazhu Yang, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation during his opening speech at the Congress on 25 July 2016 in Hangzhou, China. “At the IAEA, we strengthen links between science and development, and build and reinforce scientific networks.”

The IYNC is organized in a different country once every two years. This year it was held in China, which has a dynamic nuclear power programme that has 35 nuclear reactors producing electricity and 20 more are under construction.

Nuclear forensics

A highlight of the Congress was a workshop on nuclear forensics led by Kathleen Schoofs, a nuclear security officer in the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security. Participants learned about the conduct of a nuclear forensics examination through an interactive exercise involving the investigation of a nuclear security event.

Nuclear forensics involves the examination of nuclear or other radioactive material as well as evidence that is contaminated with radionuclides, in support of law enforcement investigations or nuclear security vulnerability assessments. Many Member States, with the help of the IAEA, are now developing nuclear forensics as a tool to aid their efforts in the prevention of, and response to, a range of serious nuclear security threats. Much more than sophisticated analytical instrumentation alone, a successful nuclear forensics examination relies on the awareness of all responders and scientists to collect evidence safely and securely; establish an analytical plan; conduct high confidence analysis in the laboratory; interpret the results and present defensible findings. 

Schoofs, together with her co-organizer, Joaquina Zappey, a doctoral student at the European Commission’s Institute of Transuranium Elements, won the award for ‘Best Workshop Concept’ from the IYNC.

Communication and knowledge management

Another focus of the Congress was effective communication, both with the public and stakeholders.

The discussions also explored the IAEA’s work in emergency preparedness and response. Participants heard more about the IAEA’s online tools to help Member States in the event of nuclear or radiological emergencies, as well as IAEA publications in this field. They received detailed information on the work of the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre, which is the global focal point for emergency preparedness and response for nuclear and radiological safety or security related incidents and emergencies.

In addition, the role of the IAEA in maintaining and preserving nuclear knowledge was highlighted. This includes the development of methodologies and guidance documents for planning, designing and implementing knowledge management programmes and facilitating nuclear education. The Agency also provides support, networking opportunities and experience exchange, and helps Member States in developing human resources for nuclear infrastructure.

Encouraging the youth

Supporting the future generation of professionals in the nuclear field includes fostering an interest in nuclear science and technology and helping young people learn about the opportunities in the field. To this end, Congress participants received information about the IAEA’s Junior Professional Officers and internship programmes, which encourage a wider interest in nuclear science and technology and the work of the IAEA. They also heard about specific projects designed to encourage youth participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“There are many opportunities for young professionals in the IAEA,” Yang said. “At headquarters, we benefit immensely from the input of Junior Professional Officers and interns. You will be responsible for the next wave of discoveries and for finding new ways to ensure that humankind can benefit from nuclear science and technology”.

The IAEA also actively reaches out to younger generations to help them learn about how nuclear science and technology helps mankind. This includes, among others, developing a compendium of educational material on nuclear science and technology aimed at teaching middle and secondary school students.