Immersive Read: Engineering Nuclear Industries and Nuclear Development in Human Society and Recognition

The OECD/NEA report Nuclear Education and Training: Cause for Concern? published in July 2000, quantified, for the first time, the status of nuclear education in member countries. It confirmed what many had long suspected: that, in most countries, nuclear education had declined to the point that expertise and competence in core nuclear technologies were becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. Although the overall situation appeared bleak, some encouragement could be gained from the diverse range of initiatives that were identified. If they were not responsible for an expansion in nuclear education and training, they were at least arresting its rate of decline. With the objective of building on these existing initiatives and stimulating new ones, the report made a number of recommendations to government, universities, industry and research institutes.

The reaction of governments has been varied. Some have launched, or supported, a variety of initiatives, often based on their own further studies of nuclear education and manpower requirements. Others have not undertaken any initiatives at all. This may be because they prefer to let the nuclear sector respond to market forces, or because there is a moratorium on nuclear power or simply because adequate programmes already exist.
There is considerable evidence to indicate that the two recommendations made to universities, namely that they should provide basic and attractive programmes and that they should interact early and often with potential students, are being pursued. How much of this impetus is directly attributable to the NEA report and how much is a reaction to market forces is unclear but it is indisputable that the outcome of the many initiatives currently undertaken by universities is an increase in the number of students undertaking nuclear education.

The report made two recommendations to industry: to continue to provide rigorous training programmes and to work together better with universities and research institutes to attract the younger generation. There is no doubt that the first is being pursued, although it would seem to be more out of self-interest and in response to regulatory requirements than by the recommendation of the NEA report. As regards the second, there is clear evidence that the industry, universities and research institutes continue to work together but whether more effectively than before is not apparent from the information received.

Research institutes are facing similar recruitment problems to those of the industry. In addition, the financial situation of research institutes is deteriorating in many countries due to cuts in public funding and to tough competition in the niche market in which they sell their services and products. This makes it difficult for the research institutes to fulfil the recommendation that they should attract the best students and employees by developing exciting research projects of relevance to the industry.

Faced with possible demographic downturns in their nuclear industries, many NEA member countries have undertaken studies to define the extent of the problem. In spite of the myriad initiatives underway in the area of nuclear education and training, these national surveys show that more engineers and scientists having nuclear knowledge are required than are graduating.
The continuing antipathy of students in many countries towards science, engineering and technology subjects has meant that the proportion of those graduating in these areas has fallen in recent years. As fewer and fewer high quality technical graduates become available, the competition for them is ever greater and there are signs already that the nuclear industry is losing out. This is of concern to the nuclear industry as the majority of the scientists and engineers working in it do not have nuclear specialist education.

As well as losing out directly the industry loses out indirectly because this also means that the ability of organisations to circumvent the shortage of graduates with a sizeable nuclear component to their degree by hiring good quality technical graduates and training them in house is compromised.
As it has reached maturity, the nuclear industry has developed areas of expertise that are transferable to other industries. There has thus been a flow of personnel from the nuclear sector into other sectors. This was convenient when the industry was consolidating and wished to reduce staff numbers. Now that it cannot afford any further reduction in existing competences and needs to develop new ones in the areas of decommissioning and clean up, attracting young blood, retaining staff and attracting experts from other sectors in the face of competition from industries perceived as more attractive is proving problematic in many countries.

Many of the aforementioned problems can be countered through diverse and dynamic R&D programmes. Within companies R&D is as important for training staff as for technical advancement. Where industry collaborates with universities and research institutes it is also an important source of recruits. In addition, such collaborations provide a reservoir of qualified and experienced personnel, which can service both the industry and the regulatory bodies on an ad hoc basis. Further, R&D performed in universities revitalises the education system by paving the way for new courses, providing topics for theses, and encouraging academics to become positively engaged with the industry.

To some extent, the human resource situation can be ameliorated through the mobility of researchers and experts. This is often viewed as an important part of the education and training of the individual on the one hand and an effective way of coping with a temporary peak in workload or effecting knowledge transfer on the other. However, in reality the mobility of researchers may be rather limited. It seems that some research organisations are more prepared to accept researchers than to part with their own.

Research and development

Measured in terms of man-years, all responding countries devote significant resources to radioactive waste management. In contrast, although R&D in decommissioning is pursued by all the countries responding to this study, it is an area that generally attracts few R&D resources. Plant design is an important area of research activity in many countries. This is usually aimed at improving both the safety and the efficiency of operation of existing plant rather than innovative plant design. Perhaps as a consequence, in the majority of countries, research in material development is not a leading area of activity. The commitment to research in the nuclear fuel domain varies considerably from country to country and the studies cover a wide range of uses: improving the economics of existing plant, facilitating waste management and commitment to innovative plant design.

Trends common to all countries are difficult to discern in respect of industry funded R&D. Overall, though, it would seem that there is more emphasis on operating reactors than future systems. National projects predominate over international ones. Projects embrace the short, medium and longterm; there is no common denominator. As might be expected of industry funded research, economic drivers are important but in no country are they more important than safety. The nuclear industry in most countries funds open research and very often this complements the public funding of research. Whilst the acquisition of technical knowledge is important, there is no doubt that supporting open research is a way of ensuring the continued availability of experts in key areas at universities and research centres: such experts being crucial to the independent assessment of important issues such as the reliability and safety of plants.

In recent years, publicly funded nuclear R&D has experienced a dramatic reduction in most countries. The main focus has been, and continues to be, the safety of existing nuclear power plants and waste management issues. However, in a few countries, programmes for innovative, future reactors are becoming evident. Public funding is not confined to supporting domestic R&D; increasingly it is being used to fund international collaboration. In all countries there is recognition of the need to maintain core skills and competences and this is an underlying theme of public funding. However, given that it has decreased in most countries in recent years, this responsibility is increasingly falling to the industry.

Introduction

While previous NEA (Nuclear Energy Agency) studies have focused on nuclear competence and infrastructure in specific areas of activity, such as nuclear safety or nuclear education, this study, launched by the Nuclear Development Committee (NDC) in collaboration with the Nuclear Science Committee (NSC), addresses the issues of nuclear infrastructure and competence more generally. The study identifies: Progress against the recommendations presented in an earlier study, Nuclear Education and Training: Cause for Concern? [1] Human resource issues and R&D. Mechanisms and best practice regarding international collaboration.

The life cycle of the nuclear industry is no different to that of any other industry, indeed to most forms of human activity: birth, growth, maturity, decline, rebirth and renewal or death. The nineteenth century industries such as railways, chemical manufacture, steel production have experienced the full cycle whilst newer industries such as space, aviation and nuclear are only part way through. Depending on economic development and economic needs depends where any industrial sector of a country is found on the life cycle. For the nuclear industry, some countries are at the stage of maturity; some have entered the stage of decline and are contemplating whether to favour renewal or to close the industry; others are just starting out with new build.

Although the life cycle might be a common factor of industrial activity, each industry has its own distinguishing, unique features that set it apart from the others. The nuclear energy sector is characterised by long time scales and technical excellence. The early nuclear plants were designed to operate for 30 years; today the expected lifetime is 50–60 years. When a nuclear plant is closed, decommissioning and decontamination may last as long as its operational lifespan, possibly longer. From cradle to grave may be in excess of 100 years. The rapid technical evolution of the industry would not have been possible without myriad high-quality research and development programmes. Through such programmes and through the associated links with universities and research institutes has come not only technical knowledge but also the technically competent staff necessary for the safe running of the industry.

As a result of the twin facets of long time scales and essential technical competence the industry now faces two problems: how to retain existing skills and competencies for the 50 plus years that a plant is operating when the industry in that country may be in a position of maturity or decline on the life cycle and no further build is imminent and how to develop and retain new skills and competencies in the areas of decommissioning and radioactive waste management when the latter are seen as “sunset” activities and are unappealing to many young people.

These problems are exacerbated by the increasing deregulation of energy markets around the world. The nuclear industry is now required to reduce its costs drastically in order to compete with generators that have different technology life cycle profiles to its own. Consequently, in many countries, government funding has been drastically reduced or has disappeared altogether and the profit margins of generators have been severely squeezed. The result has been lower electricity prices. The result has also been the loss of expertise as a result of downsizing to reduce salary costs, a loss of facilities to reduce operating costs and a decline in support for the university sector to reduce overheads.

All of which has led to a reduction in technical innovation and a loss of technical competences and skills. However, because different countries are at different stages of the nuclear technology life cycle, these losses are not common to all countries, either in their nature or their extent; a competence that may have declined or be lost in one country may be strong in another.
This study was undertaken by an Expert Group, established under the auspices of the NEA, consisting of representatives from 11 member countries: Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States as well as from the European Commission (EC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Information on the three aspects cited above was obtained by means of a questionnaire prepared and issued by the NEA in 2002. Members of the Expert Group took responsibility for distributing it within their own country and for collating the responses. Where a country was not represented on the Expert Group but wished to participate in the study, the NDC collected information on its behalf.

Responses were received from 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and from the European Commission. However, some of them contained very limited amount of information and, in general, the responses to the R&D section of the questionnaire, whilst providing a lot of factual information, failed to adequately quantify either human resources or facilities engaged in this activity.

Education and Training

The data gathered for the OECD/NEA report, Nuclear Education and Training: Cause for Concern? [1] confirmed that, in many countries, nuclear education and training had been in decline for a number of years and were approaching a parlous state. It was evident that unless that decline was arrested and education and training were revitalised, both the supply of suitably qualified personnel to the industry and the adequate and appropriate support for the industry through research and development would be seriously jeopardised. Given the inherent time lag of the education and training process, immediate action was required and to help stimulate it a number of recommendations to governments, universities, industries and research institutes were made in the report. These are listed in Chapter V.
Three years after their publication, with the objective of sharing good practice, a questionnaire (see Appendix 5) was issued to identify the initiatives that had been undertaken in response to these recommendations. The findings are summarised below. The country reports in Appendix 4 provide national contexts into which they may be placed. It should be noted that details of international collaborations are given separately in Chapter IV.

For various reasons, some governments have not undertaken any initiatives at all. The Italian government still has a moratorium on nuclear power. Nonetheless, researchers from the Italian Agency for Technology, Energy and Environment (ENEA) continue to attend nuclear meetings, collaborate with national and international partners in nuclear areas of investigation, and participate in international projects. However, students cannot be formally directed toward nuclear training. The Spanish government has taken a non-interventionist approach by letting the nuclear sector respond to market forces. Sweden is also without government initiatives and is looking to the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI) to assume responsibility for issues on national competence in the nuclear sector. SKI have set up, in co-operation with industry, the Swedish Centre for Nuclear Technology, which provides funds for university research, supports positions for senior researchers and organises a national graduate school. Public money is not involved; the funds are raised by a tax on utilities. France has no need for urgent action since she has a long history of supporting nuclear training including in the field of safety, primarily through post-graduate training. The relative importance of the nuclear industry in France, with its corporate engineering services, CEA nuclear research, and the Institute for Nuclear Science (INSTN), ensures the continued success of such an approach.

The reaction to the recommendation that governments should engage in strategic energy planning, including consideration of education, manpower and infrastructure, has been varied. The Korean government amended its Atomic Energy Act as long ago as 1995 so that there was a legal basis for reviewing the Comprehensive Nuclear Energy Promotion Plan (CNEPP) every five years. The CNEPP includes long-term nuclear policy objectives, investment plans and budgets. While most other governments have undertaken or encouraged some action with regard to nuclear energy, only a few have quoted their strategic energy plan in respect of their commitment to addressing nuclear energy issues. In 2003, the UK government outlined its energy policy in a White Paper. It is evident that it intends to keep the nuclear option open but since the energy sector in the United Kingdom has been deregulated for some time, any decision to proceed with new build would rest with the commercial sector and would need to meet the criteria of private investors. In the United States, a National Energy Policy was adopted in 2001, which called for the wider use of nuclear power. The Department of Energy (DOE) currently has a draft Strategic Plan that also endorses the expansion of nuclear energy. Other governments are addressing the future of nuclear energy but not in a way that can be defined as strategic planning, while, as already noted, a few have taken no action at all.

That governments should contribute to, if not take responsibility for, integrated planning to ensure that human resources are available to meet necessary obligations and address outstanding issues is the recommendation to governments that appears to have attracted the most attention.

Faced with possible demographic downturns in their nuclear industries, a number of governments have commissioned studies to define the extent of the problem. In the United Kingdom, in September 2001, the government formed an ad hoc group to conduct a study into the provision of suitably educated and trained people to satisfy the needs of the nuclear energy sector, including health and environment as well as power generation, over the next 10–15 years. The study found that 50 000 new entrants would be required over this period to meet anticipated demand. In early 2004, a permanent body, supported by industry and government, the Sector Skills Council, took responsibility for addressing such strategic issues.

The UK government is also establishing a non-governmental agency, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, to meet the environmental challenges arising from legacy wastes, spent fuel management and decommissioning of nuclear power stations and it is anticipated that this will have considerable influence on future training and education needs. The Korean government has sponsored a survey study of the number, age and qualifications of nuclear engineers in the country’s nuclear organisations. Together with the warning given by the Korean Nuclear Engineering Department Heads’ Organisation about the decline in nuclear courses, this has resulted in the expansion of the manpower development programme to include undergraduate students who major in nuclear engineering.

In Germany, an analysis of the personnel structure of and future demand for nuclear technology experts in utilities, manufacturing and service industries, regulatory and licensing authorities, as well as the education capabilities in universities, including the number of students taking nuclear courses, has shown that education and training have thus far met the demand from industry. However, if the current trend continues, a severe lack of nuclear competence is expected to occur within the next 10–20 years. Hungary is another country conducting a review that was completed in 2003, so that it too will be able to address the issues of human resources in the nuclear industry.

The reaction of other governments shows a diversity of approach. The Japanese government, through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), is actively promoting the teaching of energy and nuclear power. It provides teaching guidelines as well as subject content appropriate to each level and, since 2002, has begun to subsidise the cost of a range of measures from providing materials for teachers to teacher training.

MEXT is also expanding the training of research personnel by providing substantial support to research institutes. The Belgian government has stated the need to keep the nuclear option open by maintaining the scientific and technological potential needed to ensure optimum conditions for safety and performance. This will be achieved by preserving national nuclear know-how and by participating in R&D on future reactor designs, most of which is private sector funded. Meanwhile, Finland’s Ministry of Trade and Industry has published a report on nuclear knowledge management to which all nuclear organisations contributed.

The Canadian initiative for providing the necessary human resources to their industry is unique in that it crosses traditional government, university and industry boundaries. The University Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering (UNENE) is an alliance of universities, nuclear power utilities, research and regulatory agencies. UNENE is a not-for-profit corporation established by the Canadian industry with the purpose of assuring a sustainable supply of qualified engineers and scientists to meet the current and future needs of the Canadian nuclear industry through university education, university-based training, and by encouraging young people to choose nuclear careers. Also in North America, the US government has been very active in the last three years in instituting new programmes. The US DOE has implemented programmes for high school science teachers; a university partnership programme that is designed to increase the number of minority students engaged in nuclear-related education programmes; a programme in radio-chemistry aimed at graduate students, post-doctorates, faculty enhancement and research; a new programme of fellowships for those interested in becoming involved in the naval nuclear propulsion programme; and the Innovations in Nuclear Infrastructure and Education (INIE) programme which encourages universities to make new investments in their research reactors and their nuclear engineering academic programmes while establishing new strategic partnerships with other universities, national laboratories, and the nuclear industry. The INIE programme currently supports activities at 32 universities throughout the United States.

Of those countries reporting their efforts to support young students, R&D and facility modernisation — the third recommendation to governments — a number of initiatives have already been cited that also relate to this recommendation: the Japanese support through MEXT for teaching nuclear subjects; the Belgian government’s commitment to participate in R&D on future reactor designs; the Canadian UNENE initiative; the Swedish Centre for Nuclear Technology; and the long-established infrastructure in France.
In the United States, both the DOE and NRC have implemented programmes to attract and support students. The DOE has increased the number of government funded scholarships and fellowships available to students while the NRC has undertaken an internship programme designed to recruit students to work for the NRC, with particular emphasis on technical issues related to power plant performance. At DOE, programmes have been underway for three years to attract minorities into the nuclear arena and to increase research through the previously mentioned INIE programme that builds partnerships among universities, national laboratories (government), utilities and the private sector. Much of the INIE funding goes toward research and a large amount is designated by the recipients for modernising facilities, including research reactors, laboratories and computer labs. In Finland, the government contributes funds for nuclear safety and management research and the regulatory authority seconds younger staff with other regulatory bodies as part of international training initiatives. In Germany, the government has announced a fund to support several PhD students in nuclear safety research for operating reactors. The Korean government has established a nuclear research infrastructure development programme, accompanied by increased research funding, so that universities will have more opportunities for pursuing independent research as well as for participating in large-scale national research projects. In addition, as part of the manpower development programme, over 50 undergraduate students majoring in nuclear engineering received substantial grants in 2002 and over 70 in 2003.

For the most part, implementation of the recommendation that governments should provide support by developing “educational networks or bridges” between universities, industry and research institutes has not occurred. There are indications that progress toward this goal has been initiated but not yet achieved, for example the formation in the United Kingdom of a Nuclear Sector Skills Council, the alliance of competence in nuclear technology in Germany, the Finnish study on nuclear knowledge management and the Swedish Centre for Nuclear Technology. Perhaps the nearest to this network approach has been achieved by Canada through UNENE and the United States through the INIE programme. In contrast, France with her highly developed infrastructure does not have a formalised network.

University Initiatives

There is considerable evidence to indicate that the two recommendations made to universities, namely that they should provide basic and attractive programmes and that they should interact early and often with potential students, are being pursued. How much of this impetus is directly attributable to the NEA report and how much is a reaction to market forces is unclear but it is indisputable that the many initiatives currently undertaken by universities are to the benefit of nuclear education and training.

Previously poles apart, the nuclear industry and academe are now very often found working closely together to address the crisis in nuclear education that prevails in many countries. At the masters level, British universities have preserved existing courses, and even introduced new ones, as a result of discussions with the industry and responding to identified needs. At one university, a partnership of the university, the regulatory body and a number of companies have preserved a longstanding nuclear course that would otherwise have closed due to withdrawal of government funding. The UNENE initiative in Canada will see new nuclear professorships established in six Ontario universities and increases in funding for nuclear research in selected universities. After extensive consultations with all sectors of the nuclear industry, including the state Electricity Company, the regulatory bodies and the research agency, to determine precisely what its needs were, a French university has introduced a master’s degree in radioactive waste management. The degree content is unique in France and will contribute significantly to the education and training provision for the industry.

It is often said that research stimulates teaching. At several universities in the United Kingdom, raising the profile of research in the nuclear area, through the formation of industry-university research alliances, has aroused an interest in nuclear subjects among undergraduates. The result has been an increase in the number of students attending existing nuclear options and the introduction of new ones. This experience augurs well for the recommendation made to the Canadian industry that it might address its demographic downturn by strengthening its research links with universities and in so doing stimulate nuclear courses.

In Germany, a number of universities have formed an alliance of competence in nuclear technology. The ones that belong to the alliance are linked to a research centre. Scientists from the research centres give lectures in the universities and students have the opportunity of internships and of studying for diploma or doctoral theses at facilities near to their homes.

Raising the profile of nuclear courses and making them attractive to students is fundamental to their success. Some German universities have done this by including inter-disciplinary components, using up to date teaching materials and Internet based resources. Students are encouraged to broaden their knowledge base by being given the opportunity to edit nuclear journal and review nuclear papers. Two main technical universities in Sweden have created a competence centre for nuclear technology in order to coordinate education and research in nuclear science and technology at different departments. In some Japanese universities, new professors have been employed to strengthen the teaching staff and thereby increase the attractiveness of curricula in undergraduate schools.

To increase the attractiveness of graduate schools, some Japanese universities have initiated a system of two majors. The student studies a subject from the field of nuclear engineering together with another subject from other engineering fields. This allows nuclear specialists to broaden their knowledge and those who may not seek a career in the nuclear industry to have some knowledge of it. As well as hiring new faculty members and up dating the curriculum, some American universities have also invested in new facilities and equipment in order to attract students. The prospect of studying overseas appeals to many students.

At a Belgian university, students spend a year in a foreign nuclear institution as part of their graduate training in nuclear engineering. Representatives from that and other foreign nuclear organisations contribute to the courses through, for example, tutorials and seminars. In Korea, the nuclear manpower development programme supports a one or two week visit to a foreign nuclear facility for those students who have achieved excellent result, as well as long-term training programmes of more than six months.

In recent years, a Hungarian university has developed links with other European universities and research institutes, thereby giving its students the opportunity of pursuing part of their studies abroad. However, the flow of students is not all one way. The fact that the university has a training reactor, which is unique in Central Europe, is an encouragement for overseas students, as well as students from other Hungarian universities, to study there.

As in so many areas of modern life, the Internet is becoming increasingly important. In the United Kingdom, a web site that lists all of the university courses with a nuclear content and provides direct links to the university web sites has been successful in attracting students. In Germany, the young professionals interact with students through their web sites. This also happens in the United Kingdom. The use of Internet based resources by German universities has already been mentioned. In Italy, the universities that deal with nuclear or nuclear related subjects have been active in maintaining interesting and topical courses. The main contact with students is via the Internet and many professors have their own Web pages by which they inform students about courses.

In US universities, distance learning is well established. Students can study courses not available at their own university or pursue ones that are during a semester when they may not be taught. Korea has also established web-based education and training programmes and, working with the IAEA, has proposed expanding them to form ANENT (Asia Network of Higher Education in Nuclear Technology).

Amalgamating under subscribed courses is an effective way of preserving nuclear teaching. Five universities in Belgium, in collaboration with the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, have merged two post-graduate programmes into a single programme, taught in English. The initiative organises the degree of MSc in nuclear engineering. Five substantial grants a year are available for this purpose. In Sweden, nuclear centres have been established at two universities to promote co-operation between nuclear departments and to monitor both the nuclear courses being delivered and the number of students attending them.

The prospect of new build can stimulate teaching. In Finland, one university is currently modifying its curriculum in the light of new reactor build. Another has recently separated nuclear power plant technology from power plant technology as a major subject area in order to raise its profile with students. At the same time, this university received a nuclear safety research unit from the Technical Research Centre (VTT) and recruited additional members of staff.
Some American universities have hired recruitment specialists who are responsible for increasing the number of students applying for courses. This appears to be the main reason for the considerable increase in undergraduate enrolments for nuclear engineering that many faculties have seen over the last three years.

A number of universities organise summer schools, lasting anything from a few days to several weeks, to give secondary school students an insight into nuclear courses. In Japan, some universities promote nuclear subjects in their neighbouring schools; others open up lectures to the public. Visits to the Hungarian training reactor are encouraged and the university welcomes some 5 000 visitors a year, many of them secondary school students.

Industry initiatives

The NEA report made two recommendations that involved the industry: to continue to provide rigorous training programmes and to work together better with universities and research institutes to attract the younger generation. There is no doubt that the first is being pursued, although it would seem to be more out of self-interest and in response to regulatory requirements than by the recommendation of the NEA report. As regards the second, there is clear evidence that the industry, universities and research institutes continue to work together but whether more effectively than before is not apparent from the information received.

In many countries, recruiting high quality technical staff into the nuclear industry has become increasingly challenging and companies have to use every means at their disposal to meet their requirements. The United Kingdom is typical in that nuclear companies offer attractive salaries and benefits and use a divers range of methods to attract recruits: conventional advertising, specialist agencies and the Internet.

The use of the latter is growing rapidly: in Japan, it is commonplace to use company websites to promote recruitment. Specialist agencies need not necessarily be directly related to advertising. In Spain, a training company has been used for the last three years to recruit licensed operating personnel. Understanding why many students are antipathetic to the nuclear industry or to science and engineering subjects in general, may help overcome recruitment difficulties.

The American industry has gone further than most by trying to determine the motivational characteristics of young engineers who are making a decision on whether to enter the industry or not. It has also identified the good practice and common contributors to successful recruitment and retention programmes. To attract those with the highest potential, several countries report that companies have taken steps to improve their image. For example, a Korean electric utility, together with the government, has established the Korean Nuclear Energy Foundation to promote the understanding of nuclear energy and its contribution to society. However, one of the most effective ways of persuading students to enter the nuclear industry is to let them experience it first hand. As well as showing people around their sites many companies offer internships and scholarships.

Interactions between industry and universities and technical high schools occur in many ways. A Belgian company works with local universities and technical high schools on specific projects. In addition, it offers an annual prize for the best master level thesis on a nuclear subject. Such involvement by companies is quite common and alerts students to the industry in a positive manner. When it comes to attracting high quality staff the nuclear industry faces fierce competition from other technology sectors and the American industry is not alone in seeing more extensive and formalised involvement, partnering, as a way of recruiting both degree and non-degree personnel. Industry and academe often work together to devise and to deliver courses specific to the needs of the industry.

As well as supporting the few remaining nuclear courses British companies have helped to introduce new ones. Very often company personnel lecture on courses. This also happens in Belgium, where representatives from one company not only deliver lectures but also help students with their theses. In Sweden, a university organises and provides courses as specified by the industry.

A Canadian company has gone further and is working with universities to turn technical commercial material into educational material. Industry may help financially. A Belgian company contributes to the Belgian Nuclear Higher Education Network. In Sweden, the industry, together with the regulatory body, contributes to the funding of the Swedish Nuclear Technology Centre in order to ensure that there is adequate financial provision to replace retiring professors. Informing a broad audience of students of the needs and challenges of the industry is as important as delivering courses to a minority.

In Germany, in 2002, two symposia were held to inform students of the opportunities in the nuclear industry and to motivate them to study nuclear subjects. In addition to those from industry and academe, these were attended by representatives from government and research centres. A third such symposium took place in 2003.

Organisations pursue research and development primarily for technical information but very often R&D projects are seen as an important route for recruiting young scientists. This may be through funding post-graduate students at universities, through internships or through collaborations with research institutes. Faced with a demographic downturn, the Canadian nuclear industry commissioned a report to better define the problem and propose ways of addressing it. The principle recommendation was that nuclear R&D funding be reviewed in order to improve collaboration between Canadian universities and the industry and by so doing stimulate an increase in the number and attractiveness of nuclear courses.

Recruitment is commonly driven by succession planning and integral to that is the need for continuing training. Japanese nuclear manufacturing companies, for example, consider succession planning to be of prime importance in order to preserve and develop nuclear competencies and skills. In all countries the industry continues to provide rigorous training programmes, not only to meet its own specific needs but also very often as part of career development. In many companies, training is still done in house.

A German company has established a nuclear education centre to improve in house education and training capabilities in order to assure the safe operation of power plants. In France, power plant operators are recruited from general technical staff and are trained internally by the state Electricity Company. The relative importance of the nuclear industry, with its research organisations and the institute for nuclear science, is a warranty for the continuing provision of experienced trainers.

However, the use of outside companies to help deliver training is quite common. In Spain, a training company is not only used to recruit licensed operating personnel but also to standardise the training process. To meet the specific theoretical training needs of engineers with a more general background, the Swedish nuclear industry has developed applied nuclear training courses, provided to the industry as in house training by a jointly owned company. In Korea, a power company has established mid and long-term training and education programmes, covering managerial as well as technical issues that make use of both domestic and foreign institutes.

Many companies are investing in knowledge management systems, usually as a way of retaining information as experienced staff leave. One example is in Hungary where, because of the age profile of the employees and the lifetime extension of the power plant, knowledge management has become a prime issue. In Finland, organisations have contributed to the government report on nuclear knowledge management as a result of prospective new build. A working group has been established to develop and organise professional post-graduate training on nuclear safety for new recruits and existing staff changing post as well as for the new generation replacing retiring staff.
Although government policies are generally intractable, this does not prevent the nuclear industries in most countries from lobbying for increased government support, particularly in the areas of research and educational programmes.

Research institute initiatives

Research institutes are facing similar recruitment problems to those of the industry. In addition, the financial situation of research institutes is deteriorating in many countries due to cuts in public funding and to tough competition in the niche market where they sell their services and products. This makes it difficult for the research institutes to fulfil the recommendation of the NEA report that they should attract the best students and employees by developing exciting research projects of relevance to the industry.

Although the extent of public funding for research institutes may be declining, in most countries it is still substantial. The exceptions are the United Kingdom, where there is no longer a research institute, and Sweden where the research institute now has to operate almost entirely on a commercial basis.

In most countries, the research institutes have links with universities. These can take the form of promoting or delivering courses, awarding prizes, grants and fellowships, offering internships and allowing students to do research in well-equipped laboratories. Such activities bring undergraduate and graduate students into contact with the research institutes in a manner that can only encourage employment in the industry if not the research institute itself. One example is in Korea where there is a long-standing internship programme between a research institute and a university. Students undertake research at the institute and follow lecture courses at the university. The objectives of the programme are to develop the next generation of researchers and to encourage the co-ordination of research between the institute and the university.

The internships are often linked to employment. University contacts can have varying degrees of formality. In the United States, there are alliances between national laboratories and selected domestic or foreign universities. In France, the specialist nuclear education and training institutions have been working closely with the research institutes and the industry for many years. The recent initiative by Canada to create a national alliance between universities, nuclear utilities, research institutes and regulatory agencies will naturally be of great benefit to the research institutes in that country.

As with any other nuclear organisation, in most countries research institutes need to project a positive image in order to overcome student and public antipathy. This can often be achieved by raising the profile of work that has a wide appeal or is non-controversial, such as nuclear applications in medicine or fundamental research in physics, for example. Organising visits to the research institutes is another effective way of creating good will. For students, whether at school or university, this can also trigger an interest in doing research in the nuclear field.

Examples of best practice

  1. Collaboration between national universities
    In Germany, a number of universities have formed a network of competence in nuclear technology. In Belgium, five universities, in collaboration with the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, have merged two post-graduate programmes into a single one, taught in English.
  2. Use of the Internet
    In the United Kingdom, a web site that lists all of the university courses with a nuclear content has been successful in attracting students. In Germany, and several other countries, the young generation interacts with students through their web sites. In Italy, many professors have their own web pages by which they inform students about nuclear courses. In US universities, distance learning is well established and the Internet is but one way of delivering courses in a flexible manner. In Japan, it is commonplace to use company websites to promote recruitment.
  3. Training existing staff and recruiting new staff
    R&D is an important way of training staff as well as effecting knowledge transfer. Collaboration with universities and research institutes not only encourages an interchange of staff to mutual benefit but also is a conduit for recruitment. One British company has established a number of research alliances with universities that support a university skill base of some 150 people.

Human Resources

Faced with possible demographic downturns in their nuclear industries, many NEA member countries have undertaken studies to define the extent of the problem. In spite of the myriad initiatives underway in the area of nuclear education and training, these national surveys show that more engineers and scientists having nuclear knowledge are required than are graduating.

The continuing antipathy of students in many countries towards science, engineering and technology subjects has meant that the proportion of those graduating in these areas has fallen in recent years. As fewer and fewer high quality technical graduates become available, the competition for them is ever greater and there are signs already that the nuclear industry is losing out. This is of concern to the nuclear industry as the majority of the scientists and engineers working in it do not have nuclear specialist education.

As well as losing out directly the industry loses out indirectly because this also means that the ability of organisations to circumvent the shortage of graduates with a sizeable nuclear component to their degree by hiring good quality technical graduates and training them in house is compromised.

As it has reached maturity, the nuclear industry has developed areas of expertise that are transferable to other industries. There has thus been a flow of personnel from the nuclear sector into other sectors. This was convenient when the industry was consolidating and wished to reduce staff numbers. Now that it cannot afford any further reduction in existing competences and needs to develop new ones in the areas of decommissioning and clean up, attracting young blood, retaining staff and attracting experts from other sectors in the face of competition from industries perceived as more attractive is proving problematic in many countries.

Many of the aforementioned problems can be countered through diverse and dynamic R&D programmes. Within companies R&D is as important for training staff as for technical advancement. Where industry collaborates with universities and research institutes it is also an important source of recruits. In addition, such collaborations provide a reservoir of qualified and experienced personnel, which can service both the industry and the regulatory bodies on an ad hoc basis. Further, R&D performed in universities revitalises the education system by paving the way for new courses, providing topics for theses, and encouraging academics to become positively engaged with the industry.

To some extent the human resource situation can be ameliorated through the mobility of researchers and experts. This is often viewed as an important part of the education and training of the individual on the one hand and an effective way of coping with a temporary peak in workload or effecting knowledge transfer on the other. However, in reality the mobility of researchers may be rather limited. It seems that some research organisations are more prepared to accept researchers than to part with their own.

In recent years, a number of NEA member countries have undertaken manpower studies to assess their future requirements and their ability to meet them. The main findings of the national reports from Finland, Germany, Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States of America, complemented with data collected in the current study, are presented here. These countries are particularly interesting since, between them, they represent the three principal stages of the nuclear power lifecycle: building more, undecided and phase-out.

In the autumn of 2000, the Finnish Ministry of Trade and Industry published the report of a study on nuclear knowledge management in Finland, the objective of which was to identify actions that would help to maintain nuclear competence at a high level both currently and in the future. As part of the study, the demand for and the supply of newly qualified personnel were estimated. All the relevant organisations, such as the regulator, research centres, universities and power utilities, contributed to this work. At the time of the study, the decision to construct a new NPP had yet to be taken. When it was, in autumn 2002, the power companies and the regulator re-evaluated the situation together and some new short-term actions were initiated.

According to the report, the age distribution in most organisations is such that the number of retirees will double or even triple over the next 5–10 years. However, the current education and training capacity is estimated as being sufficient to replace those who leave. This is because the research centres, the regulator and the power companies closely collaborate with the universities so that supply and demand are as evenly matched as possible. One course recently organised in Finland is a good example of this collaboration. The power companies, the safety authority STUK, the technical research centre VTT and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, all of which are involved in the project to licence and to construct a new NPP, organised a six-week full-time further education course for all those recently recruited into their organisations. The course was co-ordinated by a university and most of the lecturers were experts from the participating organisations. The structure and the general content of the course was developed by the IAEA, but adapted to the needs of Finland.

An alternative source of specialist personnel is to re-employ those who have a nuclear education but who have left the sector. This is illustrated by the experience of the Finnish Power Company TVO in connection with a new NPP. Seeking to employ 24 people, they received 658 applications. Amongst them were 15 who had a nuclear degree, had previously worked in the nuclear sector and who were willing to return to it. This is a significant number, matching as it does the number graduating each year in nuclear engineering.

In Germany, an Alliance of Competence in Nuclear Technology (Kompetenzverbund Kerntechnik) was established in March 2000 that included the main nuclear research centres and their neighbouring universities. As its first step, the alliance carried out a study of both the future requirement for, and the personnel structure of, nuclear technology experts working in utilities, manufacturing and service industries and the regulatory and licensing authorities. At the same time the educational capabilities of universities, including the numbers of students studying nuclear subjects, were also assessed.

It is estimated that the number of engineers working in the nuclear sector in Germany will decrease by around 10% over the next 10 years. The estimated requirement for new engineers, largely to replace those who retire, is around 25% of the total working in the sector — based on the current policy of decommissioning all NPPs after 40 years operation. In the light of these estimates, it is encouraging that, latterly, the number of degrees awarded annually in mechanical and electro-technical engineering has slightly increased in Germany. Also, that the number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded currently corresponds to the average annual need. However, if the present trend continues, a severe lack of nuclear competence can be expected before all the units have been shutdown.

Every year the Korean Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) carries out a routine survey of the status of the nuclear sector. Whilst this is primarily to get an overview of the sector, it does include manpower and nuclear education and training. In 2003, MOST broached this subject specifically by sponsoring a study of the manpower status of Korean nuclear industries, research institutes and educational organisations.

The study showed the age distribution in Korean organisations in the nuclear sector to be particularly narrow: the age range 36–40 forms by far the largest group and that between 41–45 the second largest group. Because of the economic recession in recent years, organisations have cut back on recruitment, which has accentuated this picture.

Because of this age profile, only a small fraction of nuclear experts will retire in the next 10–15 years. But with the very low recruitment rate of the last 5–10 years set to continue, replacement could become a major issue beyond this time frame. As regards specific competences, the study revealed that during the next five years about 20% of nuclear engineers would retire. As a consequence, other engineers will most probably replace nuclear engineers.

In 2001, the Swedish nuclear power inspectorate (SKI) undertook a survey of strategic competence areas to quantify present needs and those in 10 years time. The survey also assessed the extent to which specific nuclear competence needs were currently being met by universities and institutes of technology. Eleven competence areas, such as reactor and core physics, fuel technology, nuclear engineer and process control, were defined. The power utilities, the other major industrial companies and the regulator were involved in this survey.

According to the report, the age distribution of personnel in the participating organisations is such that the risk of losing a large proportion of competence through retirement during the next 5–10 years is low. In addition, the changes in needs of personnel in different competence areas are generally small. Total annual recruitment is estimated to be about 50 people and the current educational capacity of universities in Sweden is estimated as being sufficient to meet this requirement. However, initiatives such as those described in the education and training appedix are needed to maintain this education capacity in the future.

A report commissioned by the UK government in September 2001 and published a year later, concluded that the recruitment demands of the power, fuel, defence and clean up sub-sectors of the nuclear industry were being satisfied but that the problem of finding suitable candidates was becoming increasingly difficult. The report identified a number of skill areas which gave cause for concern, including: radiological protection, radiochemistry, safety case writing, criticality assessment and nuclear safety research.

The power, fuel, defence and clean up sub-sectors were estimated as requiring approximately 1 000 graduates a year for the next 15 years; currently they recruit around 560. Of these, some 700 would be replacements for retirements and 300 in response to the growth in nuclear clean up. By virtue of the knowledge and skills required, the majority of these new entrants would be drawn from the engineering and physical science disciplines.

Yet, the antipathy of students towards these subject areas has meant that enrolment in them fell by 26% in the eight years prior to 2001. If this trend is not reversed, the nuclear and radiological sector may be seeking to recruit the equivalent of 10% of all UK engineering and physical science graduates in 10 years’ time, even though the nuclear sector constitutes less than 1% of the national labour market engaged in engineering activity.

Furthermore, nuclear education in British universities is in an extremely fragile state. There is not one university undergraduate course with any significant nuclear content to it. At the postgraduate level, only four master courses with an entirely nuclear curriculum survive, producing just over 40 graduates a year. The industry is thus dependent upon recruiting good quality technical graduates and training them in nuclear topics in house.

In addition to graduates, some 8 000 people with trade skills will be required over the next 15 years, highlighting the need for apprenticeships. Yet, the United Kingdom does not currently have a strong apprenticeship system. In total, it was estimated that over the next 15 years the power, fuel, defence and clean up sub-sectors of the nuclear industry would require some 28 000 new entrants, excluding potential demand from new build. This figure rises to around 50 000 if the health sub-sector is included.

A significant reaction of the nuclear industry to the challenge of ensuring an adequate supply of suitably qualified and experienced staff has been to join forces with the oil and gas extraction, chemicals manufacturing and petroleum industries, which also face similar problems, to form a Sector Skills Council (SSC). The SSC will promote collaborative action by employers in the nuclear industry to define job requirements at a national rather than company level and to identify current skills gaps and latent skills shortages. Educational and training institutes will only have one organisation with which to deal and the unambiguous messages coming from it should facilitate the development and implementation of appropriate courses. Provision will be demand-led, not supply-driven.

Given the UK emphasis on clean up, it is likely that the requirements of the new nonGovernmental Agency, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, will have a major influence on nuclear skills development in the United Kingdom.
In 2000, the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC), advising the US Department of Energy (DOE), published a report on the future of university nuclear engineering programmes and university research and training reactors. According to this report, the number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded annually in the United States fell by almost 75% between 1980 and 1998. As a consequence, demand for nuclear engineers exceeded supply. The report put forward several recommendations aimed at maintaining human resources in the nuclear sector.

In the last few years the DOE has launched several initiatives to address the questions raised by the NERAC report. The decline in nuclear engineering has since been reversed, with enrolment at least doubling in the last five years. However, this trend of increasing enrolments might not be sufficient to meet the manpower requirements of a new build programme. Encouragingly, the number of PhD degrees awarded annually has remained fairly constant but the number of engineering degrees in general has fallen slightly, as is the case in many other OECD member countries.

These national surveys show that employers require more engineers and scientists having a nuclear component to their education than those graduating. The proportion of nuclear engineers and scientists graduating each year expressed as a percentage of the number of mechanical engineers graduating each year in countries such as Finland, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States of America, is less than 1%. In Korea, it is much higher at 13%. Yet, the estimated required mix of new engineers and scientists working in the nuclear sectors of these countries is about 30% nuclear to 70% non-nuclear.

The fact that the majority of the experts working in the sector do not have nuclear related degrees emphasises the importance of in-house training and further education. Collaboration between industry and academia to deliver these aspects can be to mutual advantage. Indeed, in the last few years the extent of industry involvement in scientific education and training has increased.

The earlier NEA study indicated that the age distribution of faculty members was rather high in many countries. This situation, together with the decreasing number of students taking nuclear courses, raised a concern that when senior staff members retire, they would not be replaced. Recently, some encouraging examples, for example Sweden, have been reported, where the posts of the retiring professors have been maintained and successors have been nominated. In most cases, this would not have been possible without industry-academia collaboration.

Countries, which have in their defence sector nuclear naval propulsion and nuclear weapon programmes, e.g. France, United Kingdom and the United States of America, have an additional source of nuclear education. The characteristic of the military is a continuous turnover of manpower creating a constant need for new recruits and generating a steady source of trained and experienced personnel. The civilian nuclear power sector may profit from the defence sector activities in several ways: those educated by the defence sector can form an important source of educated and trained workers; the military education and training organisations can share resources with their civilian counterparts to deliver courses; civilians can take up spare capacity on military courses and vice-versa.

Mobility

The international mobility of highly skilled workers, in particular human resources in science and technology, is currently an important policy issue in most OECD member countries. To mitigate possible shortages, an increasing number of countries are implementing measures to facilitate the recruitment of skilled foreign workers. The positive effects for the host countries are the stimulation of innovation capacity, an increase in human resources and the international dissemination of knowledge. For the donor countries, the loss of human resources can be at least partially offset by the return of migrants and the development of networks facilitating the circulation of skilled workers between their host countries and their countries of origin. The mobility of skilled workers can also promote investment in training in both the donor and host countries.

According to the responses received for this study, the mobility of researchers is rather limited (Table 2). It seems that while research organisations are reluctant to send their own experts abroad they welcome foreign researchers. For example, in Spanish organisations, Spanish researchers are not sent abroad yet there is a high proportion of foreign researchers in some disciplines. Similarly, the number of Swedish researchers sent abroad is nominal, but in some disciplines, such as waste management, there are a considerable number of foreign researchers.

The data obtained were limited solely to researchers who stay abroad for a limited period, a maximum of a few years. Without any data on those who emigrate permanently, it is impossible to draw any conclusions about the total mobility of researchers or its significance. However, it can be estimated that overall mobility is no different in the nuclear sector to other technology sectors, i.e. migration is mainly from less developed countries into OECD member countries, rather than from one OECD member country to another.

Examples of best practice

  1. Education and training integral part of R&D
    Education and training (E&T) is one of the thematic areas of the 6th Euratom R&D Framework Programme. The aim is to develop a harmonised approach to education in nuclear sciences and engineering and to provide support for fellowships, training courses networks and grants for young researchers. E&T is also one of the main objectives of the Finnish national research programmes.
  2. Collaboration between industry, universities and research institutes
    A Belgian company works with local universities and technical high schools on specific projects. British companies work with universities to develop new courses and support both new and existing courses through visiting lecturers and by providing work placements for students. The Canadian initiative UNENE — University Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering — crosses traditional boundaries to ensure a sustainable supply of appropriately qualified engineers and scientists to meet the needs of the Canadian nuclear industry. In Sweden, industry together with the regulatory body contributes to the funding of the Swedish Nuclear Technology Centre in order to ensure that there is adequate financial provision to replace retiring professors.
  3. Encourage mobility of young generation
    At a Belgian university students spend time in a foreign institution as part of their graduate training in nuclear engineering. In Korea, outstanding students are supported so that they can visit an overseas facility. A Hungarian university has developed links with other European universities and research institutes, thereby giving its students the opportunity of pursuing part of their studies abroad.
  4. Preserving independent expertise and facilities
    The funding of R&D by the private sector helps through private funding the continued availability of experts and facilities in universities and research centres. Joint funding is more efficient than single company funding. In the United States, members of EPRI and the Owners Group agree on jointly funded projects. Industry funding for R&D can complement public funding, as is the case in Germany, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Spain and the United States. Where there is little or no public funding, industry can act alone. In 2000, the nuclear industry of the United Kingdom had some 250 research contracts with universities worth about GBP 10 million. Since 2004, Finnish nuclear power companies have had to finance national nuclear safety and waste management research programmes to ensure the availability of the expertise for public authorities.

International Collaborations

The general trend towards a more global economy has been accompanied by a closer integration of the knowledge economy and an expansion of knowledge transactions. As a consequence, the production and application of scientific and technology knowledge has become a more collective effort. Virtually all forms of collaboration, such as co-operative research and international strategic alliances, show signs of increasing.

International research collaboration, excluding industrial collaboration, can take a number of different forms. Some examples, in increasing order of complexity, are:

  1. Research collaborations between individual scientists. Formalities can be relatively simple, for example an exchange of letter, with little or no funding implications.
  2. Collaborations based on agreements between research institutions. Usually a more formal approach is required, particularly if funding for the participants comes ultimately from government or from its associated agencies.
  3. Collaborations requiring significant capital or operational funding. Even if funds do not cross national boundaries, a formal approach is usually inevitable, with correspondingly more complex arrangements. Such collaborations can be based on an existing facilities or organisation or may require the establishment of new arrangements.
  4. Collaborations designed to provide a new capital facility, for example a facility that would not be within the capability of a single partner country, necessitating formal agreements.
    The involvement of policymakers and governments will vary depending on circumstances. At the simplest level (1) no involvement is usually required. Beyond this, government is responsible for maintaining a general framework within which international collaboration can take place. For the provision of a new large-scale facility at considerable cost (4), government involvement is inevitable.

Financial support by national government is only given if the international programme objectives align with the national nuclear strategy. None of the countries responding to this questionnaire reported that participation in any international programme was explicitly forbidden. However, government funding is seldom available to support any involvement in work programmes which conflict with national policy.

Collaboration of research institutes

Nuclear research has never been a solely national activity. Collaboration, information exchange and even exchange of personal resources have always accompanied the development of nuclear power, as far as the political constraints of the day have allowed. It is largely as a result of international collaboration that nuclear power has become a reliable energy source within a single generation, accounting for a significant proportion of the electricity produced in many nations today. It is, therefore, not surprising that excellent links still continue e.g. between European countries, the United States, Korea and Japan.

The history of civil international nuclear collaboration in Europe goes back to 1957, when Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the Euratom Treaty with the intention of creating the conditions necessary for the development of a strong nuclear industry in Europe. Today, the Treaty still offers the basis for joint European research programmes for nuclear fission and fusion, having more partners today to support it. The member countries make their financial contribution to the organisation, which, in turn, supports financially the joint research programmes of their members.

In the United States, the NERI programme is funding national laboratories, universities and industry. However, international collaboration is welcome and organised within the framework of International-NERI programmes on a leveraged, cost shared quid pro quo basis. Each of the International-NERI collaborating partners provides funding for their respective project participants and a 50:50 matching contribution is provided by the United States.
In Japan, JAERI is financially supporting international programmes on a case-by-case basis. An “a priori” assessment and a retrospective evaluation are carried out in common with the practice for domestic collaborators. JNC actively co-operates with France, the United States and other advanced nuclear countries in the area of advanced nuclear technology and disposal of high-level radioactive waste.

Other opportunities for international collaboration are provided by the IAEA Co-ordinated Research Programmes and OECD/NEA Working Groups, Joint Projects (JP) and Information Exchange Programmes (IEP). The JPs and the IEPs enable interested countries to pursue research, scientific inter-comparison exercises or share data with respect to particular areas or problems. The projects are carried out under the auspices, and with the support, of the NEA secretariat, but the participants cover all the costs. Such projects, primarily in the areas of nuclear safety and waste management, are one of the NEA’s major strengths. The Halden-Project is often cited as one of the best examples of a long-lasting JP. Approximately 100 organisations from seventeen countries participate in this Project.

Back in the 1960–70s, the object of international collaboration was primarily to find answers to those many questions which emerged during the development of this completely new technology. Information exchange and temporary exchange of personnel, accelerated by the new means of communication and transportation, enabled a rate of development to be achieved that had never been experienced before.

The accidents at Three Mile Island and, later, at Chernobyl created a new emphasis on nuclear safety research in the 1980–90s. A large, worldwide community was already trying to minimise the residual risks of nuclear power and to quantify assumptions about severe accident phenomena; international collaboration was a kind of quality assurance process. Codes and experimental data were benchmarked against each other to check their validity and the safety performances of individual plants were published.

Today, an important area of international collaboration is nuclear waste management. In Europe, almost 50% of the public research programmes are dedicated to nuclear waste management. International collaboration is needed to identify the alternative options and to find the optimum, to identify the risks of each option, or to explore innovative, new approaches such as partitioning and transmutation.

Nuclear safety research for existing installations, although still a high priority in some countries, has tended to decrease in international programmes. For example, in the 6th European Framework programme the nuclear severe accident research programmes for existing installations will have a share of only about 3% of all nuclear fission programmes.

The development of future nuclear power plants still plays a minor role in European public organisations, with the exception of France perhaps. The priorities of new research topics are different, however, Japan, South Korea and the United States. In these countries, a significant or even predominant portion of the R&D resources is used for advanced, innovative plant development and design. International collaboration allows resources to be shared, an important aspect since some nuclear research facilities have been closed and R&D manpower has been significantly reduced.

In the next decade, there will be a new challenge for international collaboration. Those scientists and engineers who developed and built nuclear power plants are going to retire within the next few years; a new, young generation of nuclear engineers needs to be motivated, educated and trained to keep the nuclear option open for the future. Irrespective of whether individual countries are to phase out the nuclear option, there is a consensus that the expertise in nuclear technology needs to be maintained. There is no doubt that only a joint, concerted, international effort can succeed in forming a critical mass of young researchers having the spirit to revitalise an endangered technology.

The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) is an initiative which will help to solve this problem. It is composed of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom, the United States and Eurotom, which are interested in jointly developing the future of nuclear energy. NEA has been invited to provide technical secretariat services for the R&D phase of the GIF activities. By selecting six candidate concepts for future nuclear power plant technology, they have sketched a clear vision for future research and development. A Roadmap helps to structure the envisaged R&D into its various disciplines, and defines milestones and tasks. GIF is a formal, government-sanctioned organisation committed to collaboratively pursuing R&D on Generation IV systems. The objective of GIF is to develop future nuclear energy systems that can be licensed, constructed and operated in a manner that will provide competitively priced and reliable energy products which satisfactorily address nuclear safety, waste and proliferation concerns which are expressed by society. The objective is to have them available for international deployment before 2030.

The European Commission intends to spend EUR 190 million from their Euratom budget for international collaboration of their member countries during the five years of the 6th Framework Programme (FP-6), started in 2003. Nuclear fusion covers by far the largest part of the programme. Almost half of the resources in the field of nuclear fission are directed to management of radioactive waste, including research on geological disposal as well as partitioning and transmutation or other waste reducing concepts. The nuclear technologies and safety, and radiation protection represent around equal parts of the programme.

Collaboration of industries with industries is limited, of course, by the constraints of the competitive market. Nevertheless, international industrial companies have had to rationalise their structures by merging and by acquisition in response to the decreasing market for nuclear power plants, e.g. Westinghouse with BNFL and parts of ABB or Framatome with parts of Siemens. The new synergies have enabled manpower to be reduced while still maintaining a minimum level of nuclear competence, which will enable them to be a viable supplier in future. Indeed, recent decisions to proceed to construct EPRs in Finland and France are evidence of the value of this approach.

The pre-competitive research, on the other hand, has never been restricted, so that industries have collaborated with research centres in most of the research programmes listed above. Several worldwide industrial companies have an interest in GIF. They may provide financial support in addition to national funding, offer their test facilities for the common use of the forum, and conduct research projects using their own resources.

The aim of the FP-6 is to intensify and deepen the collaboration at programme and project level in order to make better use of resources (both human resources and experimental facilities) and promote a common European view on key problems and approaches, in accordance with the needs of the European research area. Also the networking is promoted with third countries, in particular Canada, Japan, the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union (NIS) and the United States.

Whereas nuclear research centres have a well-established acceptance of international collaboration and the nuclear industry is international, the opportunities for universities to collaborate with international partners tends to be more fragmented.

Students go abroad for part of their curriculum to become specialised in a particular topic or to get a different perspective and broaden their experience. This trend has strongly increased during the last 15 years. However, it is mostly done on the basis of individual initiatives, encouraged by scholarship systems and not the result of formal agreements and understandings between universities.

The situation seems not to be very different for researchers in universities. However, it should be noted that very little information was provided on international collaboration by universities in the answers to the questionnaire. One reason might be that in most countries having, or having had, a nuclear programme, organisations specifically devoted to nuclear research exist, draining the major part of public funding, so that universities were not so much involved in nuclear research.

As regards education and training, the need of the nuclear sector to recruit young engineers and scientists and the decrease in young people interested in science and engineering, recently resulted in a new approach, the creation of university networks. Examples exist in several countries such as Belgium and Canada. These networks aim at putting together the efforts to provide high level education programmes and to encourage students to choose nuclear careers. The programmes also involve the nuclear industry.

Euratom FP-6 contains an specific action on “Education and Training”, with the aim to better integrate European education and training in nuclear safety and radiation protection to combat the decline in both student numbers and teaching establishments, thus providing the necessary competence and expertise for the continued safe use of nuclear energy and other uses of radiation in industry and medicine. This approach has been implemented by setting up the European Nuclear Engineering Network (ENEN): it involves 22 universities or institutes from 17 countries of the EU or candidate countries. ENEN aims to harmonise nuclear curricula in Europe and intends to deliver an ENEN Diploma which would be recognised by all participants. In the near future, ENEN expects to extend its field to cover both education and training.
Other international arrangements were recently agreed in Europe on nuclear engineering education: bilateral agreements (French INSTN with Belgian ULB or Spanish UPM), multilateral agreements (Hungarian INT BUTE, Netherlands TU Delft, German University of Dresden and Forschungszentrum Rossendorf).

Following the IAEA senior meeting on “Managing Nuclear Knowledge” in June 2002, a meeting was organised in Korea to initiate the establishment of a regional Asian Network for Higher Education in Nuclear Technology (ANENT). The objectives of the ANENT are to promote, manage and preserve nuclear knowledge and to ensure the continued availability of talented and qualified manpower in the nuclear field in the Asian region. It also intends to enhance the quality of the human resources for the sustainability of nuclear technology and to facilitate co-operation in higher education, related research and training in nuclear technology in the Asian region.

Finally, the networking approach has also been adopted recently at a worldwide level with the launching, in September 2003, of the World Nuclear University (WNU): the initiative came from the World Nuclear Association.
Examples of best practice

International university networks

Regional initiatives such as The European Nuclear Engineering Network and the Asian Network on Education and Nuclear Training bring together universities in different countries to provide degrees in nuclear subjects that are beyond the capability of any individual university. The World Nuclear University is an example of government, industry and academia collaborating to support education and training. The mobility of students, teachers and experts is an integral part of such initiatives.

Securing access to nuclear expertise via international organisations
Many European countries encourage their nuclear organisations to participate in the Euratom Framework Programmes in order to enlarge the pool of expertise. International projects, such as NEA Joint Projects, offer a cost efficient option way of obtaining experimental data and of retaining and developing the competences necessary to keep the nuclear option open. Collaboration can also be effected through international organisations such as the NEA — the NEA Halden programme being just one example.

R&D can be accelerated through international collaboration. The Euratom Framework Programmes cover most aspects of nuclear activity from new reactor systems to decommissioning old ones. GIF, relevant for long-term development of innovative reactors, and INPRO, focused on users requirements are two examples of collaborative R&D.

In Conclusion

In spite of the ambivalent situation vis-à-vis nuclear energy, where and some countries have decided to build new reactors, some countries hesitate and some others avow their intention to phase out nuclear facilities, nuclear energy still accounts for a significant proportion of capacity throughout the world and particularly in OECD member countries. In so doing it saves precious fossil fuels and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, nuclear technology is far wider than electricity production. It covers a wide range of applications from medical diagnosis and treatment to the examination and testing of materials. With this holistic view in mind, the following recommendations are made. They are intended to help preserve and develop nuclear competences, no matter what their ultimate peaceful applications may be.

Countries have recognised the issues and there has been good progress against the recommendations of the report but more needs to be done.

Three years after its publication, it is clear that, in most countries, there is a high level of awareness of the report Nuclear Education: Cause for Concern? More importantly, it is clear that it has been the catalyst for action. There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that without it some existing initiatives would have atrophied and that there would not have been the necessary impetus to start new ones. Certainly, the report has prompted a number of countries to conduct surveys in order to quantify more accurately their future manpower requirements. The benefit of these surveys is not limited to the national initiatives that they in turn have prompted. Taken together, they give a much clearer picture of the global situation and have already been the spur for international collaborations. Initiatives are starting to improve the situation but it is still early days and more needs to be done.

While there is a wide range of activities in all countries, there is no evidence of a breakthrough in addressing the demographic down turn; nevertheless, such activities have begun to ameliorate the situation.

The number and diversity of initiatives currently underway suggest that the situation is beginning to improve. However, in spite of the wide range of activities being undertaken by member countries, where demographic studies have been undertaken, they still indicate a shortfall of qualified personnel in the near future. Recruiting and retaining those with specialist nuclear expertise, such as reactor core physics for example, is a particular concern. All the more so if the ability of universities to teach nuclear subjects continues to decline.

The provision of necessary specialist nuclear education is under threat.

Because of its maturity, the demand for specialist nuclear education is lower now than it has been for many years and as a consequence the number of academics delivering nuclear courses has declined considerably. Yet the need for specialist education remains if the safe operation of plants is to be guaranteed.

Countries should seek to borrow good practice from other countries to enhance their domestic programmes.

While all countries have made progress, very often this has been through the logical extension and development of existing activities. One of the objectives of this study is to identify initiatives with the view to sharing good practice. Borrowing ideas from other countries could well be the route to both complementing and maximising the effectiveness of domestic activity.

Countries should widen their knowledge base through national and international initiatives.

There is a limit to the number and diversity of initiatives that countries can undertake on their own. While specific skills and competences might be under threat in one country, they may be far more secure in another. To retain all the necessary nuclear skills and competences of which the industry has need will require a greater degree of international collaboration than has occurred before.

Government, academia, industry and research organisations should collaborate both nationally and internationally to secure access to essential nuclear expertise.

The safe and efficient use of nuclear power demands a certain number of experts in nuclear specific areas: nuclear reactor engineering, reactor physics, radio-chemistry and radiation protection, for example. Since the required number of experts in these essential disciplines may be small in some countries there is a danger that the educational provision to supply them may disappear. There is, therefore, a need for government, academia, industry and research organisations to collaborate together in order to secure sustainable groups of expertise. Governments need to provide the strategic direction which ensures that sufficient education resources in critical nuclear specific areas are secured. Where essential expertise is in short supply or unavailable in one country, then access to its provision should be sought within another country.

Conducting manpower surveys is an important way of assessing present and future competence requirements.

Prior to the report Nuclear Education and Training: Cause for Concern? few, if any, countries had a clear understanding of their present or future manpower needs. The report confirmed what many had suspected for some time, that nuclear education and training had been in decline for a number of years and there was a serious risk of skill shortages in the near future. The potential insecurity of supply prompted a number of countries to accurately assess their needs and take steps to guarantee that they could be met.

Attracting high quality technical graduates into the nuclear sector is a challenge.

Being a mature industry, the nuclear sector has developed areas of expertise that are transferable to other industries. As a result, the sector has lost personnel to fast expanding sectors such as information technology. Replacing them should not be a problem given that many of the engineers and scientists working in the sector do not have a nuclear qualification and the numbers required represent only a small fraction of the total number of graduates in these fields. Yet, attracting high quality technical graduates into the industry in the face of competition from other industries perceived to be more attractive is increasingly problematic.

To ensure that supply and demand are as evenly matched as possible, it is worthwhile carrying out a manpower assessment every few years.

In a changing world it is evident that the manpower and competence requirements of the nuclear sector of any country will gradually change. Manpower surveys help to ensure that supply will meet demand. Simply identifying areas in which recruitment is proving difficult by talking to recruitment officers in nuclear companies and organisations would help universities and training institutions to develop the appropriate courses.

Industry and research organisations should increase their interaction with university science and engineering departments in order to raise the profile of the nuclear industry so that more students consider it when deciding on career choices.

With the nuclear industry facing fierce competition from other science, engineering and technology industries, it is incumbent upon those working within it to present the challenges and opportunities that the sector has to offer. A particularly important target group is those at university and on the brink of making career choices.

In recent years, publicly funded nuclear R&D has experienced a drastic reduction in most countries.

It is a natural consequence of a maturing industry that the public funding of research and development should decline. In some countries that decline has been accelerated by the decision to let market forces prevail, in others by the decision to phase out nuclear power. Increasingly, industry funds open research as a means of ensuring the continued availability of experts and facilities in universities and research centres.

The main focus of R&D is the safety of existing nuclear power plants and waste management issues. Commitment to innovative, future reactors is far from preeminent in most countries.

With the decline in public funding, the burden of R&D has fallen to the industry. Not surprisingly, this has been focussed on issues of immediate importance such as safety and waste management. In an increasingly competitive environment, it would seem only limited funds are available to support longer-term issues such as new reactor systems.

Publicly controlled funding of nuclear R&D should not be allowed to decline to the point that the retention of skills and competences are jeopardised.

The underlying theme of public funding or publicly controlled funding, in all countries, is the need to maintain core skills and competences. Yet, given that public funding has decreased in most countries in recent years, this responsibility is increasingly falling to industry. The danger is that the industry will narrowly focus on those skills and competences that it needs for the near-term. Strategic planning is needed to accommodate longer-term needs and this can only be effected in the absence of commercial pressures.

Those responsible for funding nuclear research and development should seek to ensure that education and training aspects are an integral part of activities.

In some countries, funding for nuclear research is dealt with in isolation from funding for nuclear teaching within the same university. In other countries, it is recognised that good teaching and good research go together and a more integrated approach to funding is taken. Although there would be benefit in increasing the funding of nuclear teaching to cover research as well, it is more likely that good research will beget good teaching rather than vice versa.

If nuclear power is to continue to evolve, commitment to developing innovative new plant is required. A mix of industry and public funding would seem an appropriate way forward.

Countries cannot take their nuclear programmes forward, or even merely keep their nuclear option open, without some commitment to innovative plants. Given that the benefits will be both on a national basis and a company basis, it seems appropriate that a mix of industry and public funding should support endeavours in this area.

International collaboration in nuclear research and skills provision is well established and has become an essential way in which countries are able to meet their responsibilities.

International collaboration among civilian nuclear research organisations dates back to the birth of the industry and links made in the 1950s still exist today. Both bilateral and multilateral collaboration continue to operate effectively but increasingly the nuclear agencies are playing an important role in co-ordinating international activities on both research and skills related issues.

The recent Generation IV International Forum (GIF) is a good example of how countries and organisations can come together to collaborate on an issue in which they have a common interest. In this case the development of future nuclear power plants. However, collaboration by industry beyond the early research stage can be limited by commercial interests.

--

--

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store