ENS NEWS, N° 14: Sowing the seeds, securing the harvest

Hardly a week goes by without another disturbing report in the media confirming one of the most worrying socio-educational trends of recent years – the declining interest among young people in studying the natural sciences and, subsequently, pursuing a career in science. A BBC report recently highlighted how some colleges and universities in the UK have had to cancel certain courses or even close down departments because too few students are interested in gaining a qualification in physics, maths or chemistry. Sadly, this scenario is a familiar one in other European countries too. In France, for example, the sciences are still largely perceived by many young people as being too hard to grasp, divorced from the realities of everyday life and not the best option for cracking the job market. As a result, there are declining numbers of French students opting to pass a science-based baccalauréat and to take a science degree.

In a recent report, the IAEA stressed that the ageing workforce in the nuclear sector is a “growing concern”, adding: “A new generation of nuclear scientists and engineers is also needed in countries planning to expand the use of nuclear energy.” Well, what can we do to reverse the current trend and ensure that there is a transfusion of sufficient young blood to sustain and promote the nuclear revival?

This issue is by no means new. But the problem still persists. Is it because the world of scientific research still seems too distant for today’s youngsters, too stuffy and esoteric? Maybe it’s a question of image and positioning and science has quite simply not been “sold” effectively to young people? Science just doesn’t seem “cool” any more. Perhaps educationalists have failed to make the connection in young people’s minds between the natural sciences and the world we live in?

The anthropologist and biologist, Jacob Bronowski, might have put his finger on one aspect of the problem when he highlighted how hard work must go hand in hand with talent if science is to produce results, saying: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.”

But there are signs that the tide is turning. There are plenty of talented and committed young scientists out there to take up the baton, as the activities of the Young Generation Nuclear network regularly testify. Issue N°14 of ENS NEWS highlights the efforts that are being made in some countries to tackle the problem. It features a report on how the CEA, in France, is getting to grips with the problem thanks to a range of educational initiatives that put the emphasis on interaction, effective communications, multimedia tools and working closely in partnership with teachers and the government. In an exclusive interview for ENS NEWS, the new Director General of SCK-CEN in Belgium, Eric Van Walle, expresses his views on the subject (and several others) and highlights the training and exchange programmes that SCK-CEN offers at its Mol facilities to talented young scientists and PhD students from all over the world.

In Germany, industry in general is acutely aware of the problem and has launched a range of initiatives, including award schemes and grants, to tempt more young people to study maths, physics and chemistry.

So, it would appear that the corner is being turned in some countries, but much still remains to be done if science is to become a more attractive career option for young people today and for generations to come.

Whatever your take on the subject, ENS NEWS would like to hear your views and experiences on what is a crucial issue facing both the scientific community and industry.

ENS NEWS N°14 kicks off, as usual, with a word from the President. Frank Deconinck gives readers the low-down on the recent Annual General Conference (GC) of the IAEA, which featured a keynote speech from the IAEA’s Director General and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Mohammed ElBaradei. Bertrand Barré then gives his personal perspective on the GC.

In his regular column, Andrew Teller exposes some of the poor reasoning, factual inaccuracies and double standards that often underpin the arguments of the anti-nuclear brigade.

In the Events section of Issue N° 14, the reporting spotlight first falls on ENS TOP SEAL, where nuclear experts from Europe and beyond debated the latest research data and technological innovations related to radioactive waste management. Next the spotlight switches to Salamanca, Spain, where delegates at the “sold-out” ENS TOP FUEL conference focused on the current challenges and future direction of nuclear fuel management. The next ENS conference on the agenda is PIME 2007, which will take place in Milan, Italy, from 11-15 February - and ENS NEWS features the first in a series of teasers on the subject (please take note of the 2007 PIME Award information and send in your entries!).
Next up, in September, is the European Nuclear Conference (ENC 2007).

In this edition’s Member Societies and Corporate Members section, there is a presentation by Frank Deconinck on nuclear medical imaging, which he gave at the IYNC (International Youth Nuclear Congress), in June. Our colleagues from SKI in Sweden have contributed an article on reactor kinetics equations related to the Ringhals NPP. The section also includes two reports on SCK-CEN that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The first is a general introduction on the activities of SCK-CEN and the other is the interview with Director General, Eric Van Walle.

The European institution section features three very significant developments: the first concerns the European Commission’s announcement on the Joint Undertaking proposal on ITER; the second is a press release on the European Commission’s approval of the investment plan for the EPR construction in Flamanville that was submitted by EDF and the third is another press release, this time outlining the European Commission’s Recommendation on the management of decommissioning funds.

The World News section features an International Nuclear Energy Academy (INEA) statement by Bertrand Barré entitled HLW disposal: Status and Trends.

Enjoy the read!

Mark O’Donovan



Word from the President

Dear ENS members,

The 50th Annual General Conference of the IAEA (GC) was held, in Vienna, from 18-22 September, 2006. Because it was the 50th anniversary, the conference was attended by a larger than usual number of participants, many of them high-level state officials. Vladimír Slugen, President of the Slovak Nuclear Society and myself represented ENS.


“Still a bad idea”

by Andrew Teller

This is the judgment passed by Jeremy Rifkin, an American consultant, in the 29 September 2006 edition of the Los Angeles Times. The subject of his judgment was, of course, nuclear energy and the subtitle of his article ran “Solar power is a better investment than a dated technology that’s too expensive and dangerous”. Cost and danger are well-known objections of the anti-nuclear crowd.


ENS TOPSEAL 2006: the European Nuclear Society puts the science and technology driving radioactive waste management under the spotlight

17 - 20 September 2006, Olkiluoto, Finland

From 17-20 September 2006, over 100 nuclear scientists and engineers from across Europe, Canada, the USA, Japan and Korea converged on the Olkiluoto Information Centre in Finland to attend TOPSEAL 2006. This international topical meeting dedicated to the subject of radioactive waste management was organised by the European Nuclear Society (ENS) in co-operation with the Finnish Nuclear Society (ATS) and the OECD/NEA.


TopFuel 2006

TopFuel 2006: European Nuclear Society (ENS) puts international spotlight on nuclear fuel management

From 22-26 October, 340 researchers, nuclear engineers and scientists from across Europe and beyond congregated in the ancient university city of Salamanca, Spain, to discuss the challenges facing the developers and manufacturers of new high-performance nuclear fuels – fuels that will help meet current and future energy demand and reduce man’s over dependence upon CO2-emitting fossil fuels.



As professional communicators we all know that knowledge is power - once people are empowered with the facts they can draw their own conclusions and form their own opinions. How skilfully we connect with our audiences - providing them with clear and easy-to-understand information, emphasising key messages, conveying core values - determines how positively we are perceived. The onus on professional communicators to deliver results is, therefore, great - especially with the nuclear renaissance gathering steam. But so too are the rewards that high impact communications can bring in terms of promoting understanding, enhancing public acceptance and fostering a positive image.


ENC 2007

Mark your diary!

Sharing knowledge and providing insight on the latest developments in nuclear research and its applications - that is the aim of the European Nuclear Conference (ENC).


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