Building the vital skills for the future of nuclear energy

NEST session at the Conference on Nuclear Training and Education, A Biennial International Forum (CONTE 2021), 9-11 February

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 NEA Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology (NEST) Framework in 2019 in partnership with its member countries to help address important gaps in nuclear skills capacity building, knowledge transfer and technical innovation in an international context.

A technical panel session on NEST was held at the Conference on Nuclear Training and Education: A Biennial International Forum (CONTE 2021), which was organised by the American Nuclear Society (ANS) on 9-11 February 2021. The panel was led by Antonella di Trapani, NEA senior analyst, who provided an overview of the framework and presented the results of the first two years of its activities. She was joined by Andreas Pautz, Paul Scherrer Institute, and Todd Allen, University of Michigan. Two NEST Fellows also participated in the panel to reflect on their personal experiences of the programme: Stephen King, Texas A&M University, and Larissa Shasko, University of Saskatchewan. 

NEST aims to establish a multinational and multidisciplinary framework among partners, including academia, research organisations and industry. The main objective of NEST is to foster a new generation of nuclear experts and leaders by transmitting practical knowledge and offering hands-on training. There are currently six NEST projects in the areas of reactor safety, small modular reactor (SMR) design, decommissioningnuclear medicine and radiological protection and radioactive waste management.

The NEST project in the area of reactor safety, the NEST-HYMERES Project conducted alongside the NEA Joint Project Hydrogen containment experiments for reactor safety (HYMERES), aims to improve the understanding of hydrogen risk phenomenology in containment. Led by the Paul Scherrer Institute, the project offers hands-on training opportunities at the Multipurpose Integral Test Facility for LWR Safety Investigations (PANDA) in Switzerland. Andreas Pautz, NEST Management Board Chair and NEST-HYMERES project lead, highlighted the added value NEST brings to the participating countries. “Through international co-operation, NEST Fellows have the opportunity to work at state-of-the art facilities to learn skills and competences from leading experts in the global nuclear sector,” he noted.

Stephen King, a NEST Fellow who spent four months at the Paul Scherrer Institute in 2019 working with the NEST-HYMERES project, explained that the experience was enriching both from a professional and personal point of view. “This experience has jumpstarted development of my CFD [computational fluid dynamics] skillset that I am still working on and utilising in my current PhD research,” he said. “It was not just learning about the physics studied in the HYMERES project, such as turbulence, heat transfer, species mixing, and so on, but how to use the CFD software as a tool from an expert who taught me the best practice guidelines for setting up, running and analysing the cases.”

The NEST Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) project lead Todd Allen underlined the multidisciplinary approach of NEST “There is a lot of value in exposing students to an environment where multidisciplinary approaches to nuclear energy deployment are considered,” he said. “Deploying any new technology, including nuclear systems, requires providing a service that people want. This new deployment has a physical science and social science element and teaching students to appreciate both will make them better engineers. The NEST SMR project is helping to create the socially-engaged engineers needed for the 21st century."

Allen added that the framework has also been beneficial in terms of developing new ideas and innovations. He illustrated the achievements of the SMRs project in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, such as the weeklong online hackathon held in August 2020 during which NEST Fellows developed creative and innovative solutions around four deployment scenarios. “We have had great information and experience exchange between experts and young professionals from different disciplines,” attested Larissa Shasko, a NEST Fellow who participated in the hackathon. “Two-way knowledge transfer is a powerful driver for innovation.”

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