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Summer Program Trains Young Professionals for the Nuclear Industry

Initiative Is Organized by UMass Lowell and the Czech Technical University

2019 INI Fellows Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre
This year’s International Nuclear Institute (INI) fellows included, from left, Fares Altuwaijri from Saudi Arabia, Yvonne Sefakor-Dzovor from Ghana, Hasfazilah Hassan from Malaysia, Elly Omondi from Kenya and Maciej Lemiesz from Poland.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Reactor system fundamentals and technology and advanced reactor designs were just some of the topics discussed at this year’s Intercontinental Nuclear Institute (INI). This annual summer fellowship program, organized by UMass Lowell and the Czech Technical University (CTU) in Prague, aims to help graduate students and young professionals to contribute to the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy projects and infrastructure around the world.

“The global nuclear energy industry is experiencing a resurgence as developing countries are looking to add nuclear power to their energy portfolios,” says Chemical Engineering Assoc. Prof. Sukesh Aghara, director of UMass Lowell’s nuclear engineering program.

With more than 60 new advanced nuclear reactors being built around the world and many more applying for licenses and under development, this trend has led to an increasing demand for a highly trained and qualified workforce to design, build, operate and maintain the reactors and keep them safe and secure. In fact, many INI attendees came from countries planning their first nuclear power plants. 

“The demand presents opportunities for nuclear engineering graduates to land high-paying jobs in the nuclear energy sector worldwide,” says Aghara, who also directs the university’s Integrated Nuclear Security and Safeguards Laboratory (INSSL).
Now in its fifth year, the institute is supported and recognized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of State and the Czech Government. It is co-directed by Aghara and CTU Assoc. Prof. Radek Škoda.

This year, 28 fellows from 18 countries – including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Egypt, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kenya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan – participated in the program, which consisted of four weeks of intensive hands-on education and training that focused on reactor project planning, licensing, operations, engineering, management and economics, radiation detection and protection, fuel cycle management and nuclear materials safety, security and nonproliferation.

INI co-directors Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre
The INI, which is co-directed by Assoc. Prof. Sukesh Aghara, left, of UMass Lowell and Assoc. Prof. Radek Škoda of the Czech Technical University, was held in Prague for the first half of June and then at UML’s University Crossing on East Campus for the second half.
The U.S.-Czech Civil Nuclear Cooperation Centre hosted the fellows at Chateau Štirín near Prague for the first two weeks in June; UMass Lowell hosted the attendees on campus for the last two. In addition to classroom lectures, hands-on lab exercises, reactor experiments and poster presentations, there were technical visits to several commercial nuclear power plants, research reactors and other industry complexes in the Czech Republic and New England.

“We now have more than 150 INI graduates who are involved in the nuclear energy sector worldwide. Many of them are destined to be future leaders who will shape the long-term nuclear energy policies and strategies of their respective countries and the world,” notes Aghara.

“One of the most unique aspects of the INI is the close bilateral collaboration between two continents,” says Škoda. “This makes it truly intercontinental.”

He says the institute is now one of the flagship programs of the IAEA in Vienna. 

“The INI has become well-known all around the world,” says Škoda. “And UML’s role is absolutely crucial to the success of the program. The university offers excellent facilities. It’s nicely located, and all technical sites are within two hours’ drive from campus. We also found a very strong partner with Prof. Aghara; we form a perfect team with lots of synergy.”

A Great Experience
Elly Omondi, who works for the Ministry of Energy in Kenya, says participation in the INI will help him prepare for the launch of the country’s first nuclear power plant. 

“I had a great experience,” says Omondi. “I was able to interact with people from other nationalities and learn about their cultures and share knowledge. The classroom lectures and lab exercises were very informative, and the site visits were amazing. They would be useful for me since my country is planning to construct its very first nuclear power plant by 2030.”
Maciej Lemiesz from Poland says his country is also preparing to complete its first nuclear power plant.

“I was the only one in this year’s batch of fellows who didn’t have a technical background; I’m a lawyer working for the government’s nuclear safety department and I deal mainly with legal matters. I needed technical training to better understand how things work and be able to communicate better with our engineers. At INI, I learned the differences between various reactor technologies, the major parts of a reactor system and much more,” says Lemiesz.

Hasfazilah Hassan, a female nuclear research officer and head of the security group in Malaysia’s nuclear agency, says the nuclear science degree she obtained from the country’s national university was mainly theoretical.

“INI had given me valuable hands-on experience and practical knowledge. It also expanded my network and taught me how to work in a multicultural environment,” says Hassan. “Malaysia currently has no nuclear power plant; we have only a 1-megawatt reactor used for research and training. The experience I gained at INI will help me make a meaningful contribution when my country embarks on its nuclear power program in the near future.”

Yvonne Sefakor-Dzovor of Ghana says her country is planning to add nuclear power to its energy resources; Ghana currently relies mainly on hydroelectric power. “At INI, I learned not only the technical aspect of the nuclear industry from experts in the field, but also about the socioeconomic, political and public education aspects. The program had given me the opportunity to see, for the very first time in my life, a nuclear power plant. We always hear about it, but we never had the chance.”
Fares Altuwaijri, a civil engineer from Saudi Arabia, says the government realizes that the country has a limited supply of petroleum so it began to explore nuclear energy in addition to wind and solar.

“We are newcomers to the nuclear field,” says Altuwaijri. “We are planning to build the country’s first nuclear power plant by the early 2030s. I came to the INI to gain technical knowledge, and I received more than what I had expected. The program was very helpful – I heard from fellows from other countries who have the same situation as Saudi Arabia, and learned about their issues and how they dealt with them.”