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Young Scientists Gain Unique Hands-on Experience at New Intercontinental Nuclear Institute

Young Scientists Gain Unique Hands-on Experience at New Intercontinental Nuclear Institute

INI Fellows received training at the Research Centre REZ, Husinec-Řež, Czech Republic, June 2015. (Photo: B. Benešová/CNCC, Czech Republic)

Knowledgeable and motivated young professionals are key to the long-term sustainability of the nuclear industry. This is why an IAEA-supported pilot initiative took 22 young nuclear engineers and scientists from across Europe to provide them with hands-on experience and mentoring at nuclear installations in the Czech Republic and the United States. Some of them had never seen a nuclear reactor before. And even those who have, gained a broader prospective.

“It is always helpful when I can visit nuclear power plants and reactors of which I have studied only at university,” said Anita Kirilova, 28, a newly recruited inspector at the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency.

The Intercontinental Nuclear Institute (INI), a four-week, joint programme by the U.S.-Czech Civil Nuclear Cooperation Centre (CNCC) in Prague and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell (UML) in the United States, provided fellows from 13 countries with information about a sustainable nuclear power programme based on the highest level of safety and security, the long-term needs for nuclear power in the energy mix of a country, best practices in design and operation, and long-term availability of the necessary resources, including human resources. Fellows also learned about the importance of non-proliferation and — thanks to the cross-Atlantic nature of the programme — could familiarize themselves with different types of technologies.

“INI brought together the best experience, technology, culture and education from European and United States teams to train the workforce of the future,” said Sukesh Aghara, INI Director at UML.

The programme is the result of a thorough gap analysis, said Radek Škoda, INI Director from the CNCC. “INI was designed with a special focus on combining classroom learning with practical experience,” he said. “Fellows had the opportunity to learn from leading experts from industry, research and technology organizations and universities, introducing them to physical facilities and activities.” The fellows also visited the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, and gained a good understanding of the New England grid system operator control centre in Holyoke, as well as information on the integrated approaches to electrical systems that are used at nuclear power plants.

I particularly appreciated the combination of practical experience and making professional contacts.
Tanja Kaiba, Department of Reactor Physics, Jožef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia

INI Fellows visited the control room of the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, U.S., July 2015. (Photo: S. Aghara/UML, United States)

“INI will help in the creation of an informed workforce capable of contributing to the long-term sustainability of nuclear power programmes by engaging young professionals early and providing them with unique practical experience and knowledge from either side of the Atlantic,” said Brian Molloy, Technical Head of Management and Human Resources at the IAEA.

INI was supported by the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative through its technical cooperation programme. The programme is planned to be repeated annually.

Networking across the Atlantic

Engaging with peers was an integral part of the experience, the fellows said.

“This fellowship has not only provided us with an overview of an advanced technological field — nuclear energy — but also a unique experience of working together at the international level, an asset for my future professional development,” said Júlia Bartos, 23, a recent graduate of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics in Hungary.

“I wish that more fellows every year had the same opportunity I had,” said Igor Salata, a 29-year-old nuclear engineer from Ukraine. Tanja Kaiba, 23, currently with the Department of Reactor Physics of the Jožef Stefan Institute in Slovenia, agreed. “I particularly appreciated the combination of practical experience and making professional contacts,” she said.

As for the instructors, they were impressed by their young colleagues:

“Their motivation, enthusiasm, sound background and eagerness to learn was refreshing and very promising,” said Danas Ridikas, a research reactor specialist at the IAEA, who provided technical guidance on the IAEA’s role and activities in nuclear energy programmes as well as on the fundamentals of research and test reactors during the training in the Czech Republic.