Word from the President
The greatest risk to the future of the nuclear industry today is a systemic failure to pass on to subsequent generations the vital knowledge that has been acquired over the decades. Since the Chernobyl catastrophe investment in automatic monitoring and safety control systems has been increasing continuously. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for investment in education and training. This failure prevented an optimal transfer of the knowledge that is the life-blood of our industry. This special edition of ENS NEWS focuses on this crucial subject and provides an overview of some of the efforts that are being made to invest more in education and training and thereby secure a bright future for the nuclear industry.
When it comes to education and training, training people to become highly-qualified plant operators has always been - and remains today - a top priority. To become a qualified plant operator requires a very high level of education in nuclear physics and technology. This can be obtained from a broad range of academic and research institutions operating at both a national and international level. Competence in nuclear physics requires a sound basic competence in mathematics and a good analytical mind. Furthermore, trainee plant operators need to acquire a lot of technical knowledge and specialised skills, which they get from intensive training courses. Without doubt this kind of education faces a considerable challenge when it comes to attracting young people today. Their perception of how attractive a career in nuclear physics or engineering is still leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, a decrease in the number of employees in the nuclear sector and the “ageing” of the current generation of experts seems to be a serious problem in many countries. I’m afraid that, in my view, associating nuclear with well-accepted contemporary buzzwords like “bio” and “nano,” will not help to make a career in nuclear seem more attractive to young people.
And yet, as this special edition of ENS NEWS shows, the nuclear community is conscious of the need to better manage that knowledge. Industry and academia are increasingly working in partnership to offer current and prospective students a broader range of qualifications and training. Students can obtain a bachelor’s degree (BSc) or graduate qualifications, such as an MSc or a PhD. They can also complete specialised training courses as part of a continuous education programme, carry out work on research projects, follow e-learning modules, learn to create databases, and take part in workshops, seminars and simulation exercises. Provided there is a shared interest from both employer and employee (or future employee), all methods of learning and training are valuable.
High expectations and, therefore, a great burden of responsibility rest upon the shoulders of university professors teaching nuclear sciences. Universities do not just provide a first-class education, but also help to attract students to the nuclear industry. This education provides a basis for learning about the safety culture of a nuclear power plant and helps enhance public acceptance of the nuclear industry. Readers at a university (professors, senior lecturers etc.) can stimulate students’ interest in nuclear physics, or at the very least, address their fears regarding certain nuclear issues. Initial contacts and first impressions are very important. At the same time universities can make an optimal selection of students. Students are completely free to choose whether or not to study the nuclear option. The problem is, though, that the number choosing it is limited. A university education is not simply a means of acquiring knowledge. It forms people’s minds and attitudes for the rest of their lives. Theoretical and applied knowledge, together with the development of a professional and consistent approach, help instil and promote that vital safety culture.
Lectures and seminars are also open to the general public, which can help to enhance the public image of this academic field. This investment in education is primarily aimed at the next generation. During their discussions with students teachers can provide professional guidance and orientation, giving advice based on their abilities, needs and interests.
Good teaching encourages the personal and academic development of students and helps to shape their personality. Graduates have to learn to take full responsibility for the kind of academic education they decide to pursue. They are the future of the nuclear industry and this decision is fundamental to their personal fulfilment and to the future prosperity of the industry.