The important role of early career nuclear graduates in fighting climate change

Global Commencement 2021 Session 1

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has significantly interrupted many aspects of everyday life, including the opportunity for many students across the globe to celebrate their graduation through an in-person commencement ceremony. This year many students may not be receiving traditional ceremonies and festivities, while transitioning or attempting to transition to professional careers at a time of great uncertainty and economic upheaval.

In this context, the NEA hosted its second annual global nuclear science and engineering commencement on 4 June 2021 to celebrate and recognise the accomplishments of the graduating classes of 2021, especially those within the nuclear science and technology fields. The event featured remarks by representatives from the global nuclear sector, the academic community and the younger generation working in nuclear science and engineering.

“With COVID-19 raging still across the world, it is very difficult for universities to hold their traditional commencement ceremonies. These ceremonies are very important because they both celebrate the accomplishments that’s students have made in completing their studies, and also give important words of advice that move students forward into their careers,” said NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV during his opening remarks. “Because of COVID-19, many of these ceremonies have been cancelled. However, we at the Nuclear Energy Agency have concluded that there is value and recognising the accomplishments of those who have been through the difficult studies of nuclear engineering, nuclear science, and other areas related to nuclear technology.”

While the graduating classes of 2021 have overcome the obstacles and challenges imposed by the pandemic, the world is also faced with the challenge of reducing CO2 emissions. As the single largest source of non-emitting electricity in the developed world, nuclear energy plays a very important role in climate change mitigation. Today’s graduates in the nuclear science and technology fields will play a large role in decarbonising the electricity sector and paving the way for a clean energy future.

Dr James Hansen, Global Commencement 2021

The important role early career graduates will play in mitigating climate change was underlined during keynote remarks given by Richard K. Lester, Japan Steel Industry Professor and Associate Provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), when he said “we know that climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face – both in terms of its potential impacts on the planet and on our societies, and in terms of the sheer scale of the international co-operation needed to tackle it.” “We are counting on you to help harness the extraordinary potential of nuclear science and technology to contribute to decarbonisation and to make a better world.” Lester also serves as Chair of the Council of Advisors of the NEA Global Forum on Nuclear Education, Science, Technology and Policy.

John L. Hopkins, President and CEO of NuScale Power John Hopkins who gave the salute from the industry added: “As countries around the world look to improve energy efficiency and sustainability, our future engineers, nuclear scientists and technology innovators, which are all of you, can have a real and positive impact where it matters most improving the quality of life for billions of people who need electricity, who need clean air and water and who need economic growth.”

Reflecting on their personal career paths, the speakers also shared advice with the next generation of the nuclear community. In her charge to the graduates, Karen Astrid Hallberg, Professor of Physics at the CNEA-Instituto Balseiro and Research Director at the Bariloche Atomic Centre in Argentina, advised graduates to be role models for the future generations. “Your professional work should be guided by the same ethical values that apply in everyday life, including intellectual honesty, fairness, objectivity, openness, respect for others and trustworthiness with yourselves, with your colleagues, students and institutions and with the general public,” she said. “You should also serve as role models for your future students and for fellow researchers and professionals, and you should exemplify responsible practices in your teaching and in your professional lives.”

 “Those of you who are moving into the field are going to find that the opportunities and challenges, the discussions ahead or going to be extraordinarily exciting. I, myself, look forward to seeing the contributions that all of you make,” Director-General Magwood noted. “You will change the society around you and you will change the nuclear industry. And I think you will change it for the better.”

The Global Nuclear Science and Engineering Commencement was open worldwide to nuclear science and engineering students, faculty, young professionals and other interested members of the public. Graduates and students were offered the opportunity to share their thoughts on the commencement in a feedback survey. Selected responses will be published in the coming days to highlight views from the graduating classes of 2021.

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