Concerns about tomorrow's nuclear workforce are focusing attention on nuclear education, research, and training -- and on ways to attract top prospects to nuclear-related careers. No "quick fix" is foreseen to troubling trends, as governments step up efforts to attract -- and retain -- the next generation of scientists, engineers, and specialists in fields of nuclear science and technology. High among the reason behind this are an emerging shortfall of specialized expertise, worrying trends in nuclear education at universities and institutes, and public perceptions of a "stagnant" industry with poor career prospects.
Several studies in recent years, and results of international conferences, have served to focus greater attention on the "people" side of nuclear's future.
In 1999, a study by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development surveyed 16 of its member countries. The study was done to address concerns about downward trends in nuclear education and training at universities. "In most countries, there are now fewer comprehensive, high-quality nuclear technology programmes at universities than before," the study found. "Failure to take appropriate steps now will seriously jeopardize the provision of adequate expertise tomorrow."
In the United States, which has the world's largest nuclear programme, a "Blue Ribbon" governmental panel examining nuclear education and research trends issued its report in May 2000, sounding an urgent call for action. The panel urged greater funding, and targeted outreach programmes, to support nuclear engineering and science education, to upgrade training and research reactors at universities, and to refresh an ageing faculty and workforce.
Trends in other regions -- notably Asia and the Pacific where nuclear technologies have firm footing for electricity generation and other applications -- are more difficult to discern. Some insights are gained from reports at international symposia on research and education for nuclear energy. One series has been co-sponsored by Japan's Tokai University Education System and the University of California-Berkeley's Department of Nuclear Engineering. Reports from China, Japan, Thailand and other countries in 1999 and 2000 have focused attention on problems to attract and retain students in nuclear engineering and related specialized fields.
At their recent general conferences, IAEA Member States have adopted resolutions calling for measures to strengthen global cooperation in areas of nuclear education and training, ranging from nuclear safety, radiation protection, and waste management to nuclear applications in hydrology and other fields. The general conference further has requested the Agency to place special emphasis on supporting the development of nuclear applications in member states "with a view to preserving nuclear knowledge, sustaining nuclear infrastructures, and fostering science, technology and engineering for enhancing nuclear safety."
A number of common threads bind the studies and symposia reviews. In the forefront for most countries surveyed is the need to recruit, attract, and retain the young generation, namely students, junior professionals, and teachers. Key objectives include revitalizing nuclear science and engineering education programmes, and renewing proactive industry outreach and recruitment campaigns.
The outlook is brighter in France, which relies upon nuclear power for over 75% of its electricity and sees no immediate concern over a shortage of young nuclear graduates. As reported by the NEA, the age breakdown of atomic engineering graduates recruited by the French atomic energy commission shows a relatively young population "capable of keeping its expertise alive for years to come".
Another common thread is the need to address public perceptions that tend to cast nuclear fields in poor light, and influence academic and career choices. In Belgium, among other countries, the NEA study reported that the number of students in nuclear engineering progressively decreased as nuclear power expansion slowed and nuclear's public image fell.
In the USA, a prime objective of education strategies is to restore public confidence and nuclear's image: "The redevelopment of a positive outlook for nuclear energy in the United States will encourage the recruitment and education of a new generation of students to meet the (human resource) needs of the next several decades," the NEA study reported.
To a large extent, perceptions may be tied to wrong impressions, signalling the need for greater investment in public communications programmes. The image of a "stagnant" technology, for example, often goes against the grain.
"Nuclear technology has been applied and is still progressing in a wide area: generation of electric and thermal power, medical diagnosis and therapy, agriculture, non-destructive testing, among other things," the NEA study states. "Nuclear education competence is important...for sensitizing a wider audience to nuclear-energy related issues." The issue crosses pro- and anti-nuclear lines.
"Whether one supports, opposes, or is neutral about nuclear energy, it is evident that there are important current and long-term future nuclear issues that require significant expertise," the NEA study noted. The issues include safe and economic operation of nuclear power and research facilities, some of which will significantly extend their planned lifetimes; decommissioning plants;
environmental protection; waste management; and radiation protection. These needs call for a steady supply of high-quality students and vigorous research.
A third common element is the need for greater collaboration between government, industry, and academic communities at national levels, between developing and industrialized countries, and between international, regional, and non-governmental bodies globally. Through such channels, good national practices, promising initiatives, and "hands-on" internship and fellowship opportunities can be shared and more widely put into practice.
When its study was done, the NEA set up an international task force on nuclear education and training. The IAEA has participated in this forum as part of its work to review and improve its educational and training programmes. Other Agency activities include projects directed at the "preservation of nuclear knowledge".
The range of IAEA-supported education and training opportunities is diverse and closely linked with technical and research programmes serving specific national development goals of the Agency’s Member States.
No one yet sees a "crisis point" in nuclear education, and countries are targeting actions on the most pressing concerns. But lead times are long for specialized training and undergraduate and advanced studies, and the goal is to prevent potential repercussions down the line. In the USA, for example, legislation was introduced to bolster government funding for nuclear education and research, and industries are recruiting more actively.
Educational doors and incentives may be opening at the right time. US analysts say that demand exceeds supply in the nuclear job market for the best and brightest minds.
Nuclear Education Curriculum
Mankind is having an increased effect on the environment through greenhouse gas emission; a very important and growing concern. Generally nuclear power is seen as a method for reducing greenhouse gas emission while still satisfying our modern society's high demand for energy. We are developing a well rounded research and education program in response to a variety of world-wide nuclear utilization subjects such as: protection of the global environment, supplying safe and stable nuclear energy, and applying radiation for healthy, productive and prosperous lives. The first systematic education on nuclear energy in the world is performed, incorporating the social, liberal arts and technical subjects as they relate to nuclear utilization.
For nuclear energy sociology, we take up three major research subjects; nuclear law and regulation, nuclear non-proliferation and the harmonization of society and nuclear technology. These fields are explored in practical study and in collaboration with people outside universities.
For nuclear energy, research project takes up three key subjects: future nuclear energy systems, radioactive waste and system maintenance engineering to obtain safe and stable nuclear power plant operation.
The research and development of radiation application is spread comprehensively in interdisciplinary fields such as medicine, biology, etc. Human resources in frontier radiation application are cultivated with the development of medical physics.
Through these studies, preparation the next generation of researchers to grasp the perspectives of these three complicated and sometimes divergent fields of nuclear energy. They will be able to understand the essential disciplines of nuclear energy, radiation application and nuclear sociology.
Some critical points that need to be addressed in Nuclear Education are:
Encourage a larger on-campus presence of employers and employees from the nuclear workforce; encourage lab/industry employees to spend a term or year at a university; encourage engineers/managers to teach classes; encourage industrial members of advisory boards to take an active interest in curriculum content.
Engage community colleges by inviting representatives to meetings such as this one; encourage 2-year technical terminal degrees in nuclear science, and encourage 4-year bridge programs.
Develop better secondary-school curriculum/textbooks and innovative delivery of information about nuclear specialties such as health physics, radiochemistry, space power, and nuclear medicine.
Expand joint outreach at the high school and community college level by university and industry representatives. Expand that to 2-year schools and use the Web, electronic media, and other forms of communication to reach a wider audience.
Attract young women and minorities to “make a difference to society” using curriculum materials designed to bring a societal and human dimension to the nuclear sciences. Also, provide greater awareness of nuclear issues to in-service and pre-service teachers.
Develop a one-stop Web site designed for an audience of potential employees/employers and students. The goal is to be an information repository for scholarship and career opportunities as well as to give an overall understanding of key nuclear related issues.
Better communicate nuclear issues to the general community and to prospective students and faculty who will be the ones who will revitalize the pipeline.
Articulate the scope of the nuclear footprint and the impact of the science across many disciplines (medical, energy, etc.).
Encourage more and better funding for faculty research through potential joint faculty/junior faculty appointments between labs and universities, and programs designed to promote junior faculty and to encourage research interests.
Support students through fellowships, internships, summer jobs, co-ops, mentoring, and part-time studies with the national laboratories and universities.
Investigate international collaborations that unite universities, laboratories, private industries, and student liaisons.
Nuclear education in public health and nursing
Twenty-three public health schools and 492 university schools of nursing were surveyed to gather specific information on educational programs related to nuclear war. Twenty public health schools and 240 nursing schools responded. Nuclear war-related content was most likely to appear in disaster nursing and in environmental health courses. Three schools of public health report that they currently offer elective courses on nuclear war. Innovative curricula included political action projects for nuclear war prevention.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research (French: Organisation européenne pour la recherché nucléaire), commonly known as CERN, is the world's largest particle physics laboratory, situated just northwest of Geneva on the border between France and Switzerland. The convention establishing CERN was signed on 29 September 1954. From the original 12 signatories of the CERN convention, membership has grown to the present 20 member states. Its main function is to provide the particle accelerators and other infrastructure needed for high-energy physics research. Numerous experiments have been constructed at CERN by International collaborations to make use of them.
The main site at Meyrin also has a large computer centre containing very powerful data processing facilities primarily for experimental data analysis, and because of the need to make them available to researchers elsewhere, has historically been (and continues to be) a major wide area networking hub.
CERN currently has approximately 2600 full-time employees. Some 7931 scientists and engineers (representing 500 universities and 80 nationalities), about half of the world's particle physics community, work on experiments conducted at CERN.
As an international facility, the CERN sites are not officially under Swiss or French jurisdiction, and some company vehicles have diplomatic number plates. This includes the organization's fleet of fire trucks.
The acronym CERN originally stood, in French, for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire. The acronym was retained for the new laboratory after the provisional council was dissolved, even though the name changed to the current Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Organization for Nuclear Research).
The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.
Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at CERN, invented the World Wide Web in 1990. The Web, as it is affectionately called, was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automatic information sharing between scientists working in different universities and institutes all over the world.
CERN is not an isolated laboratory, but rather a focus for an extensive community that now includes about 60 countries and about 8000 scientists. Although these scientists typically spend some time on the CERN site, they usually work at universities and national laboratories in their home countries. Good contact is clearly essential.
The basic idea of WWW was to merge the technologies of personal computers, computer networking and hypertext into a powerful and easy to use global information system.
The Large Hadron Collider
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 m underground. It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionise our understanding, from the miniscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe.
Two beams of subatomic particles called 'hadrons' – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of physicists from around the world will analyse the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC.
There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions, but what's for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator, as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe. For decades, the Standard Model of particle physics has served physicists well as a means of understanding the fundamental laws of Nature, but it does not tell the whole story. Only experimental data using the higher energies reached by the LHC can push knowledge forward, challenging those who seek confirmation of established knowledge, and those who dare to dream beyond the paradigm.