UN atomic agency steps up efforts to tackle looming shortage of nuclear workers

2 September 2005 – Continuing its efforts to ensure the safe and economic use of nuclear science and technology, the United Nations atomic agency recently co-organized a workshop of 41 experts from 24 countries to tackle such issues as the lag in the rise of a new generation to replace the current ageing nuclear workforce.

“The purpose was to continue efforts to raise awareness of the nuclear knowledge management challenge, to share best practices, and provide a forum for the exchange of information among participating nuclear professionals,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a news release today.

“The need to manage (preserve and transfer) knowledge has been widely recognized in the international community. The need is compounded by ageing work force issues in many industries and is not limited to areas of nuclear technology,” it added of the workshop, jointly organized by the IAEA, the Abduls Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), and the World Nuclear University in Trieste, Italy.

The 22-26 August workshop heard presentations on a broad range of nuclear knowledge management issues, including the role of technology, preserving expert knowledge, and preparing the new generation of nuclear worker.

The IAEA has repeatedly spotlighted recent industry trends that include falling student enrolment, the risk of losing nuclear knowledge accumulated in the past, and the need to build capacity and share knowledge.

The nuclear workforce is ageing with more and more workers approaching retirement age without a corresponding influx of appropriately qualified younger personnel to replace them, the Agency has noted. Fewer young people are studying nuclear science, nuclear engineering and related fields at university level, and a growing number of universities are giving up their nuclear education programmes altogether.

In recognition of these and related trends, a number of IAEA advisory committees, as well as the IAEA Board of Governors and General Conference, have called for measures to better identify the nature and scope of the problem, to understand what countries are doing to address it, and to determine what co-operative international actions might be appropriate.

“Whether or not nuclear power witnesses an expansion in the coming decades, it is essential that we preserve nuclear scientific and technical competence for the safe operation of existing facilities and applications,” IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the agency’s 47th General Conference two years ago.

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