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Education and training — there is currently limited coordinated education and training opportunities that seek to develop and exploit knowledge about radioactive waste. Greater collaboration between the industry, higher education establishments and experts is encouraged as with greater cooperation between Member States to provide a wide range of accessible programmes.

Source: Knowledge management for radioactive waste management organisations


Delivery of nuclear education is important in R&D organizations whose principal function involves teaching and the supply of qualified students to the nuclear industry where recent trends indicate a growing demand. Successful delivery of educational and training programmes requires a transfer of knowledge (see Ref. [6]). A multi-strand approach is needed and the tools used to facilitate education and training closely align with the tools used for successful KM delivery. This relationship is becoming more apparent given recent developments to deliver nuclear training courses ‘on-line’ in a virtual classroom environment. The IAEA itself is involved in this process and has contributed through programmes such as the World Nuclear University (WNU) and Asian Network for Education in Nuclear Technology (ANENT). A number of techniques used in KM are relevant here and are provided in the flowing list.

  1. Applicable organizational functions:
  2. Related KM tools/techniques to consider:

Source: Knowledge Management for Nuclear Research and Development Organizations


Access to higher education that is specifically designed to prepare staff for radioactive waste management programmes is currently very limited. There is a tendency, which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, to target post-graduate scientists and engineers and to offer incentives to join the industry after the completion of studies. Having joined, ad-hoc programmes are then put in place in an attempt to equip them with the specialist skills required. However, these programmes are often focused on the front-end of the fuel cycle and few resources are available for adapting graduate’s specialities to waste management activities. This weakness is now being recognized in some countries and degree-level students are now being incentivized to consider the nuclear industry as a career earlier in their studies. However, unlike nuclear engineering degrees, which are more plentiful when there is an expansion of nuclear power production, waste management programmes are unlikely to require as many specialists. Knowledge management has a very important role, therefore, in not only maintaining a knowledge base but expanding upon it through the transfer of knowledge between successive generations of managers and technicians. The combination of degree, masters and doctorate training in radioactive waste management activities, combined with access to an expanding knowledge base is key to assuring continuity of knowledge within the waste management organization. The challenge of equipping young graduates for a career in the radioactive waste management sector is further discussed in Section 9.

The critical component in knowledge creation

Earlier in this report, it was argued that knowledge has a significant ‘people dimension’. In terms of radioactive waste management, nuclear knowledge requires the presence and involvement of skilled workers. The education and training of these workers is a very important component. University (and equivalent higher education establishments), can be considered as the ’catalyst’ for transforming learners to ’knowers’, and is therefore at the heart of the knowledge management strategy.

Universities are knowledge organizations; their core objectives are to generate, acquire, safeguard and transfer knowledge. To contribute to the continuity of nuclear knowledge, universities must be supported by the nuclear industry so that it has access to experienced lecturers and motivated students. Recent surveys suggest that academic establishments have found it increasingly difficult to fulfil this mission. The global stagnation of nuclear energy in the last 20 to 30 years is thought to be a contributory factor in the reduction of the number of young people entering the nuclear industry.

A recent study of the IAEA [28] stated: “Because of the poor image that nuclear energy has had in some countries, teaching in nuclear technology and nuclear safety at universities has also diminished considerably. It follows that new researchers are not entering such programmes, raising concerns about the continuity of knowledge even in universities.” In 2004 the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) performed a comprehensive international background review on education and training related to radioactive waste management [29]. The conclusion of the report underlines: “an overall weakness in education and training across most sectors identified by the NWMO”.

But the same report also states: “a growing initiative in several countries over only the last two or three years has been for industry organizations and, in some cases, government agencies, to club together to co-ordinate efforts to support university level courses. As a result, there are supported networks of ‘nuclear universities’ (at the European level but also at the national level in a few countries, for example, Canada and Belgium), but waste management is not a dominant theme in any of these as yet.”

Although waste management is only one of a number of nuclear activities, the lack of commitment to specialist education is worrying, especially since the study of radioactive waste management and, particularly, high-level waste (HLW) disposal is a complex subject.

Since the early 1970s, both national governments and international organizations have stimulated the development of R&D programmes, involving universities, to identify technical and socially acceptable solutions to the long term management of radioactive waste. Academic research, particularly in the field geological disposal, has enabled significant progress to be made. The conclusions of this research are now being corroborated with the development of underground laboratories — contributing to the evolution of theory into practice.

Although academic research programmes have played an important role in improving scientific knowledge about radioactive waste management, their impact on education has been largely imperceptible. The failure of knowledge transfer from academic research to education may threaten what must be one of the primary learning objectives — to develop a more skilled workforce than the previous generation. The inherent feed-back between education and research will eventually become so irrelevant that there would be a decline in research and a loss of critical domain knowledge. A European survey within EU Sixth Framework Programme concluded in 2005 with the following observations:

  1. The survey confirms the emergence of a generation gap;
  2. There are no strong legislative drivers for education and training in this area;
  3. Staff with expertise in:
    • earth sciences and rock engineering;
    • civil engineering and underground construction and mining;
    • nuclear and chemical engineering;
    • radiation protection and safety assessment;

is currently utilized and will continue to be required;

  1. Public relations and communication is a growing area as social acceptability has an increasingly important role to play;
  2. New and replacement staff educated to MSc and PhD level are required to meet the target of a minimum of 200 new staff in the next five years;
  3. There is a strong demand for both internal and external training provision.

Effective knowledge management strategies rely on the capacity to perform a full range of allied functions, including education and research. The paucity of academic educational programmes focusing on radioactive waste management is not the problem in itself, but is merely a symptom of the problem.

Developing state-sponsored education and training programme

Assembling the critical mass in terms of students, teachers and facilities for launching an academic educational programme on radioactive waste management is likely to be beyond the capability of any single university. In a time of shrinking resources, universities are more likely to be sympathetic if they are part of a collaborative project. There are some examples of successful collaborations where inter-disciplinary programmes have combined vocational and traditional approaches, giving students a broad knowledge base in their field of expertise. Some specific courses in radioactive waste management have been established , but such examples are few.

To develop a long-term strategy, the educational programme must be open to all relevant and interested parties outside the consortium. The support and participation of international organizations (for example, IAEA, NEA and EC) can help establish national programmes. One of the main objectives of the educational programme must be to expose students to the wide range of disciplines used in the field of radioactive waste management. The goal is not to laboriously teach all concepts to all students, but to provide them with a necessary foundation where they can enhance their own knowledge during their professional life or their future academic research. The broad range of experience needed to develop and support a radioactive waste management curriculum means that greater efficiency is possible if universities join forces and share the burden.

Finally, the programme must seek to boost academic research. As many scientific subjects related to the radioactive waste management still belong to the research domain, the programme must be tailored in such a way to arouse top level students’ interest in pursuing radioactive waste management studies at PhD level.

Working with education and training partners overseas

Seeking the solution to radioactive waste management education is common to all Member States with nuclear power programmes. Since the required skills and experience are scarce and public funds limited, it may be preferable to extend the national collaboration overseas. This would have the advantage of exploring issues that are not currently particular to the host country, thereby enriching the educational experience. Opportunities should be sought to establish partnerships with educational establishments overseas — this would promote the development of the knowledge sharing culture still further.

Factors affecting the growth of relevant education and training

The average age of academic staff is increasing while the recruitment of the young generation is falling continually. At the same time, there is a general downward trend in public funding and support for higher education and research on radioactive waste issues in most countries, and notably in Europe. The availability of education and training programmes to support the management of HLW is a major cause for concern.

What motivation is there to support education in the field of HLW management? Even without considering the time taken in the preceding phases, waste disposal could cover a period exceeding 100 years. Even where purpose built radioactive waste storage facilities exist, it is expected that these facilities will hold high-level waste for only 50–100 years. Given the timescales, the relatively immature radioactive waste disposal programmes in many Member States, and pressures on the politicians to address ‘higher priority’ social funding requirements, there is a temptation to delay radioactive waste management education programmes. In some countries, any form of public funding for the apparent support of a nuclear power programme will come under great scrutiny. The political sensitivity of anything to do with nuclear is such that it is seen as a ‘vote loser’.

Another problem with public support and funding is the number of new staff needed in this field. The renewal of the radioactive waste management manpower at

European level over the next five years requires only about 200 educated persons (see Footnote 1). Although the small size of the radioactive waste community could facilitate funding for the renewal of manpower, no decision-maker in charge of the public education policy is likely to allocate substantial funds to a sector where a very few number of students is concerned, without raising concerns on the use of limited public resources.

The small size of the radioactive waste community also leads to limited employment opportunity in this field. Despite the quality of a curriculum, if students cannot envisage a career with potential upward mobility, they may look elsewhere. The organizational structure of many universities may also contribute to the lack of a specialized course that must cover aspects of, for example, geology, civil engineering, mining, hydrogeology, chemistry, geophysics, mechanics and computing. Most universities, notably in Europe, are such that their traditional internal structure acts as a powerful inhibitor of interdisciplinary activities [30]. The transition towards multidisciplinary topics is not easily accepted and sometimes rejected by the faculty members if it is though likely that such a course would have an adverse effect on the allocation of funding. Even if the collaboration between university, industry and non-academic research institutions is at the top of the agenda, there is a real fear among many faculty members that such partnerships may lead to the loss of individual academic freedom, independence, and autonomy over their research and teaching activities.

An emerging approach that should be encouraged is the use of radioactive waste management programme scientists and engineers to inform specific cross-disciplinary courses. This will at least allow science and engineering students to see how their area of interest contributes to radioactive waste management.

Training programmes can offset the lack of academic educational programmes. Both private and public organizations are supplying radioactive waste management training in most Member States. In-house training is the common practice in most radioactive waste management organizations enabling the transfer of knowledge and experience of older generations. Expertise is maintained through organization of courses, conferences and seminars. Several surveys performed both in European Union countries and OECD member countries show that value of training is highly regarded by almost all radioactive waste management organizations.

Training needs on radioactive waste management are currently met by the existing mechanisms. However, the provision of skilled trainers meets the same difficulties as the provision of academic staffs. As stated by the Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA) [31]: “…with early retirement schemes operating in many organizations, a considerable number of those trainers are likely to retire over next few years. Given the deteriorating university situation, the provision of suitable trainers in the near future is a matter of concern”.

Although training complements formal education, the expertise in radioactive waste management can by no means be maintained only through training programmes. Expertise in this field is based on a wide area of science and needs deeply rooted education that can be only provided by university institutions. Training is one of the main IAEA’s tools for sharing knowledge and building capacities in its Member States.

Source: Knowledge management for radioactive waste management organisations


Framework for achieving competence

In creating a nuclear engineering educational programme within the higher education context, it is recognized that various approaches are used in different countries. The approach can be determined by several factors. These can include the development, status and traditions of higher education in a particular country, the model upon which the institutions of higher education were established, the evolution of colleges and universities, and the national goals and roles of higher education. In addition, many colleges and universities may have a largely educational and teaching mission, while in other instances there may be a strong research component.

For countries utilizing nuclear energy, the most important outcome is to produce a competent nuclear engineer for the operation of the nuclear power industry. The path to reach that level of competence can be varied, and is outlined in Figure 1. These approaches are discussed in more detail below.

FIG. 1. Various approaches for producing a competent nuclear engineer.

Three scenarios are outlined in Figure 1. These represent approaches that are currently used successfully in three different countries with extensive nuclear energy capabilities. In each of the three scenarios, a distinction is made between the education of a nuclear engineer at the university level and the training in industry that follows. Typically, the industry training will build upon the basic education gained at the university, and will often be specific to a particular nuclear power plant, the systems and requirements, and the detailed information to perform responsibilities and serve as a technical staff member at that particular plant.

In Scenario 1, much of the information is covered in the university programme. As a result, less time is needed for the industrial training component for the nuclear engineer. In Scenario 2, for a variety of reasons, the educational component may be broader and not cover as much information specifically focused on industry and a particular nuclear power plant. As a result, more industrial training will be needed to qualify the individual to work in the industrial setting. Finally, in Scenario 3, the university preparation can be very broad. In fact, the students completing the university degree programme may not even be nuclear engineers. Consequently, the training portion will be much more extensive. This function may be carried out as well by national training organizations that are well positioned to serve the broad needs of the nuclear industry. This may be followed up by more specific training focused on a particular plant where the nuclear engineer will be employed. This would typically be done by the utility. In the case of countries considering the first time use of nuclear energy, the nuclear industry may not be developed enough to ensure sufficient training and it is important that practical knowledge and real world information are covered by the academic education and that support from the vendor is sought for the necessary specific training as shown in Scenario 1. For instance, academic education should cover accident analysis and probabilistic safety analysis (PSA) including external event, available NPP designs, lessons learned from major accidents and non-electric application of nuclear plant.

It is emphasized that all of these options are equally valid. The principal and most important goal is to assure that the person going through these educational and training programmes has the background and qualifications to be a competent professional nuclear engineer, and fully prepared to successfully perform the required duties within the nuclear power industry.

Source: Nuclear engineering education: A competence-based approach in curricula development


[6] INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, Comparative Analysis of Methods and Tools for Knowledge Preservation, IAEA Nuclear Energy Series, No. NG-T-6.7, IAEA, Vienna (2011).

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