Nuclear skills and education are an increasingly important challenge for NEA member countries, all of which need to have a new generation of scientists and engineers to ensure the continued safe and efficient use of nuclear technologies for a wide range of industrial, scientific and medical purposes. The NEA therefore launched the Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology (NEST) Framework, which aims to support member countries in the development of highly-trained experts to lead the nuclear sector in the years to come.
The NEA hosted a live discussion with NEST Fellows Larissa Shasko and Stephen King on 8 April 2021 to explore the importance of education, training, and knowledge management to the nuclear sector. Dr Antonella Di Trapani, Head of the NEA Nuclear Education Team, engaged in a discussion with the fellows about their NEST experiences and the value they have seen thus far from their participation in the programme. Afterwards, these representatives of the next generation nuclear experts had a conversation with NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV on the future of nuclear energy.
“The Nuclear Education Science and Technology Framework, otherwise known as the NEST Framework, is an NEA initiative devoted to addressing the important gaps in nuclear skills, capacity building, knowledge transfer and technical innovation in an international context,” Dr Di Trapani said during her opening remarks. “NEST provides students with the opportunity to build their international network, develop important technical and non-technical skills and apply nuclear knowledge to address real-world issues.”
NEST aims to foster a new generation of nuclear experts and leaders by transmitting practical knowledge and offering hands-on training. NEST Fellows are master’s degree students, doctoral researchers or young professionals who do an international fellowship from one to four months with a NEST project. There are currently six NEST projects in the areas of reactor safety, small modular reactor (SMR) design, decommissioning, nuclear medicine and radiological protection and radioactive waste management.
Larissa Shasko is a PhD student at Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. Her research focuses on the perceptions of the risks and benefits of low-dose radiation exposure. As part of her NEST fellowship, she participated in the 2020 Small Modular Reactor Hackathon that was organised under the umbrella of the NEST SMR project hosted by the NEA and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
During the WebChat, Shasko noted that the hackathon gave her and other participating fellows a better understanding of the international nuclear community and the career opportunities in the global nuclear sector. “It was an opportunity to meet other early career professional from places beyond just our own countries,” she said. “And I think that’s really where innovation stems from. It’s this idea of taking the knowledge that we have as a global community and seeing how we can bring that together and grow together instead of trying to each work in our own silo.”
Stephen King, a PhD student in Science of Interdisciplinary Engineering at Texas A&M University in the United States who spent four months at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland during 2019 working with the NEST-HYMERES project, agreed with Shasko. “This field is truly an international field. One of the benefits from NEST, that I did not see as an opportunity anywhere else, was to go to an international location and interact with other young engineers and students, who are PhD and master’s students just like I was, and build a connection with them,” he said. “I think that this was such an opportunity that I could not have had in the United States; to be able to connect with somebody from Canada, Romania, the Czech Republic, Russia and other countries, and build these connections and maintain them as we age and develop our careers.”
“We are very proud of the fact we have so many countries participating in NEST, and we are hoping to grow NEST and expand this experience and make it available to as many students as possible,” Director-General Magwood added. “Because [if] the result of NEST is to bring people like the two of you into the field…it’s very much worth every minute we spent building this programme.”