Human resources in the nuclear energy sector emerge as a key topic at the IAEA’s annual meeting

Each year, experts from various countries at different stages of their nuclear power programs, from the most advanced to those just beginning, gather at the IAEA to share their experiences in developing the infrastructure needed to introduce of this clean and reliable source of energy. At this year’s meeting in Vienna last week, human resource development emerged as a key topic.

The directory Technical Meeting on Topics Related to Nuclear Power Infrastructure Development is an opportunity for the more than 30 countries that are expanding, introducing or considering a new nuclear power program to take stock of their progress and present the lessons learned from the implementation of the IAEA’s phased approach and its 19 infrastructure issues, which require specific actions in three phases to ensure a safe and sustainable nuclear power program.

Human resource development is one such issue.

The availability of qualified personnel is vital for the sustainability of the nuclear energy sector. This applies both to countries preparing to introduce nuclear energy and to those already operating reactors, such as Brazil. “Since 2015, our loss of skills and knowledge has been brutal, especially in the regulatory body,” said Daniel Palma of Brazil’s National Nuclear Energy Commission.

In its update on Brazil, which is seeking to add a third reactor to its existing fleet, Palma said future demand for Brazilian jobs in nuclear-related activities will grow at a faster rate than the supply of workers. qualified. At the same time, an aging workforce increases the risk of losing essential skills and knowledge.

The problem is exacerbated by the mobility of skilled labor in the nuclear sector. From 51 reactors under construction worldwide, nine are in new entrant countries in addition to three new units recently commissioned in former new entrants, Belarus and the United Arab Emirates. “Brazil is losing qualified people abroad,” Palma said, “because projects in Brazil are not developing at the same speed.”

While experienced operating countries face such challenges, the task may be even more difficult for newcomers like Bangladesh, which is now in the advanced stages of building its first nuclear reactor.

“The timely recruitment, training and deployment of personnel for the operator is an ongoing challenge,” said Kabir Hossain of the Rooppur nuclear power project in the country. The total staff of the Rooppur nuclear power plant, which will comprise two 1,200 MWe reactors, is estimated at 1,927 people, including 1,620 for operation and maintenance and 307 for general administration and security, it said. -he adds.

While South Africa has operated two nuclear reactors since the mid-1980s, several other African countries are embarking on or exploring adding nuclear power to their energy mix. These include Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda and Sudan, all of which have hosted Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) missions. INIR missions are IAEA-led peer reviews that help countries assess the state of their national infrastructure for the introduction of nuclear energy. (The next INIR mission will take place in Sri Lanka next month.)

Kenya, which hosted an INIR mission in 2015 and a follow-up mission last year, has drawn up a roadmap to commission its first nuclear power plant by 2036, but has yet to make a final decision. on whether to pursue nuclear energy, according to Erick Ohaga, director. of the nuclear energy infrastructure department.

So far, Kenya is relying on international connections to educate and train its nuclear workforce of the future, he said. Some 222 Kenyans have been trained through the IAEA’s National Liaison Office, while 36 have earned post-graduate nuclear degrees in China, South Korea and the United States.

In Europe, Poland is among the most ambitious newcomers. It plans to build six reactors with a maximum capacity of 9 GWe by 2043, with the first to be commissioned by 2033 and the next five every two years. Polskie Elektrownie Jadrowe (PEJ) announced in December that the municipality of Choczewo was the preferred location for the first nuclear power plant (NPP).

“We are currently working on a human resources program, which is based on the assessment of potential national capabilities and the gap indicating what is missing,” said Pawel Pytlarczyk, deputy director of the nuclear energy department at the Polish Ministry of climate and environment. . “Filling this gap will require specialized training and higher education related to the nuclear program.”

Neighboring Estonia is also considering nuclear power but has not yet made a final decision on whether to go for it. In the meantime, the Baltic nation is drawing on the vast pool of international resources to help prepare an interim report from its nuclear energy task force, which is due out in the fall.

“Although Estonia does not have many nuclear experts, there are many among international organizations and other countries who are ready to help,” said Reelika Runnel of Estonia’s Ministry of Environment. .

Jessica C. Bell