Steering Committee discusses Ukraine, Africa, skills

NEA Steering Committee meeting, October 2023

The Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy during its 146th Session in Paris, 25-26 October 2023

The Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) convened member countries to discuss engagement with Ukraine and Africa, as well as the future of nuclear skills and education during the biannual meeting of the Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy on 25-26 October in Paris. Chaired by Dr Marta Žiaková of the Slovak Republic’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy reviews the critical pillars of the NEA’s programme of work and co-operative activities on a biannual basis.

A cornerstone of the NEA’s engagement with Ukraine is the new NEA-Ukraine Visiting Experts Programme, which will bring Ukrainian experts to the Agency for limited-term assignments. The Steering Committee was updated on plans for two individuals from Ukraine’s nuclear safety authority to work alongside NEA colleagues on topics related to the safety and regulation of small modular reactors.

During the meeting, Steering Committee delegates also discussed the Agency’s engagement with Africa. Many African countries are considering nuclear energy in their plans to increase electricity supply while reducing emissions. Delegates welcomed the Agency’s ongoing collaboration with the OECD Development Centre to develop an approach to engage interested African governments to support their efforts to maximise the development benefits associated with the deployment of nuclear energy facilities.  The Committee welcomed the Agency’s successful effort with the OECD Development Centre to convene a distinguished panel to discuss how African governments can benefit from nuclear energy.  This event was held in Paris, France during the recent Summit for a New Global Financing Pact. Further engagement is planned when Ghana, a member of the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC), will host a meeting at Ministerial level in the coming weeks. The Committee discussed the potential future involvement of the NEA in the development of nuclear energy on the continent while ensuring there was no overlap with existing international initiatives.

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The Steering Committee meeting was opened by NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV and the Chair of the Steering Committee, Dr Marta Žiaková, Slovak Republic

Some five years after it last debated the issue, the Steering Committee addressed the human capacity needs of the sector during its policy debate on 26 October. Delegates noted that there is a looming risk of there not being enough qualified people to support current operations, drive further technological developments, and lead decommissioning and waste management solutions. And because of the demographics of the present civil nuclear energy workforce, increasing numbers would have to be recruited to the nuclear industry even if the current plans for expansion were not realised. To propose solutions that meet the demands of member countries, the NEA has developed several global education initiatives, notably the Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology (NEST) Framework that offers hands-on training  opportunities for future nuclear experts, and the Global Forum on Nuclear Education, Science, Technology and Policy that helps to bridge the current gaps between the academic institutions and the nuclear energy sector. Other long-standing NEA activities, including those around nuclear knowledge management (NKM), have been utilised as instruments for training the next generation. These initiatives supplement many national and international efforts.

To that end, the Steering Committee heard from Tatiana Ivanova, Head of the NEA Division of Nuclear Science and Education; Karen Daifuku, Executive Director of the International Institute of Nuclear Energy, and Olivier Bard, Director General of the French Nuclear Industry Association (GIFEN), France; Sungyeol Choi, who leads the Integrated Major in Sustainable High-level Radioactive Waste Management at Seoul National University, Republic of Korea; Olivia Thompson, Senior Strategic Advisor at the Nuclear Innovation and Research Office (NIRO), United Kingdom; and Lori Brady, Director, Human Resources Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), United States. Following the overview of the situation in the NEA member countries, each presented the current situation in their countries. The Steering Committee also heard from Professor Paul Bowden, who serves as the NEA International School of Nuclear Law (ISNL) Co-Programme Leader. Professor Bowden outlined the particular case of nuclear law education, and Domenico Rossetti di Valdalbero, from DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, outlined the situation in the European Union. The presenters responded to questions from delegates – most of which focused on how to move from discussion to action in this field.

A number of other important topics were discussed during the meeting, including progress in work on radiological protection and public health, along with recent and forthcoming high-level events: the Third Stakeholder Involvement Workshop – Optimisation in Decision-Making; the Workshop on Radiological Protection during Armed Conflict; the Global Forum on Nuclear Education, Science, Technology and Policy Country-Specific Workshops in Korea and Romania ; and Roadmaps to New Nuclear.

Following the adoption of the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Improving the Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector,  NEA Gender Balance Task Group Chair Dr Fiona Rayment, Chief Science and Technology Officer at the United Kingdom National Nuclear Laboratory, led a discussion of how member countries that choose nuclear energy as part of their energy policies could help promote change among actors in the nuclear sector. The Committee explored the practical aspects of implementing the OECD Recommendation and noted the Agency’s recent mentoring workshops in Canada, Japan and Korea, with another due to be held in Ghana following the IFNEC meeting at Ministerial level.

Director-General Magwood and many Steering Committee delegations paid tribute to the Agency’s former Head of the Nuclear Safety Division, Javier Reig, who passed away recently. Many country representatives took the opportunity to pass on their sincere condolences to Mr. Reig’s family and friends. The Steering Committee will convene again in April 2024.

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