Viewpoint: The importance of young people in nuclear

28 November 2022

The President of the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC), Lena Andriolo, explains what the organisation can do for its members - and what young people can bring to the nuclear sector.

Lena Andriolo (Image: IYNC)

What is the International Youth Nuclear Congress?

IYNC is a global organisation of young nuclear professionals that supports knowledge transfer between generations and across international boundaries, promotes the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology, and communicates the benefits of nuclear power as part of a low carbon energy mix. IYNC is above all a global network relying on its national representatives and existing nuclear Young Generation Networks – the so called YGNs. Currently our network extends over 46 countries. We have several activities, our major one being the organisation of a biennial conference. This year’s conference in Koryiama in Japan, taking place from 27 November to 2 December, provides a forum for about 400 young professionals in the nuclear field to discuss and collaborate on knowledge transfer, nuclear science and technology research and implementation, professional development, and communication. In particular, the conference brings together young professionals looking to further their careers and senior leaders who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise with a younger generation.

The theme of this year's conference is "You are the core". Behind every technological innovation are personal stories, full of individual curiosity and commitment. The aim is to explore the human-driven narratives behind all that there is to nuclear.

How did you become involved in the IYNC and what is your role as president?

I first participated in 2014. As a participant in the event, I got to see all the diversity the nuclear field had to offer. Youth around the world was coming together to discuss new ideas, share best practices and perform knowledge transfer with more experienced participants and speakers. I got so inspired by the energy of the young volunteers who organised the conference and the entire nuclear youth community that I decided to join the IYNC - and I have been passionate about it ever since.

Now as president, I am responsible for the general management of the organisation - i.e. leading our organisation to achieve its strategic vision of the community - and the co-organisation of our biennial conference. In my role, I have the privilege to collaborate with several diverse teams of dedicated and smart volunteers from around the globe who are committed to support IYNC in fulfilling its mission through its activities and to prosper as a "network of networks" with more than 46 active countries being affiliated to it.

Why is the young generation important to the global nuclear sector?

The nuclear sector is facing a major challenge - its ageing nuclear workforce. In order to achieve net-zero by 2050, the scientific community agrees that nuclear in combination with other low-carbon energy sources is a must. The nuclear sector therefore needs to ensure the continuous build-up of a qualified workforce ready to build and operate advanced systems like small modular reactors (SMRs). Engaging youth is vital to succeed in this endeavour. In addition, given that nuclear projects are long-term projects, the connection between generations plays a vital role in their success.

The young professionals who are already in the nuclear field also contribute to the positive and fresh image of the nuclear sector, by communicating in a different way to previous generations - for example via the use of social media, which contributes to the attractivity of our field.

What does IYNC bring to its members?

The nuclear industry is a global industry, it relies on diverse expertise that makes international cooperation key for workforce development. This is at the essence of IYNC. We are a network of networks which allows youth from around the globe to connect, to confront ideas interculturally and share the best of practices of every country, hence supporting knowledge transfer and the build-up of a highly-qualified and skilled workforce. We support the creation of young generation networks (YGNs) in nuclear as well as local, regional, and international projects that foster cooperation and advance IYNC’s mission. Young volunteers joining the IYNC become part of a global community, which enables the youth from all around the world to connect and to get inspired.

We trigger long-term relationships and eventually support the growth of people both personally and professionally. Volunteering at IYNC allows you to feel empowered and become future leaders. I personally am in this leadership position thanks to the opportunities that IYNC gave me to develop. It also enabled me to network with young and more experienced people from all continents and meet with C-level executives, who I would not have met otherwise.

Do you see interest from youth around the world in the development of nuclear science and technology?

Definitely. Especially in the African region, youth is pushing to get nuclear into the discussion and to establish the right frameworks for its deployment. We have, for example, seen countries like Senegal establishing YGNs recently. Also, in countries where frameworks are already in place, youth has gained a renewed interested in nuclear technology development. One of the main reasons for it is the positive role nuclear plays in the fight against climate change - important information we got from our World Young Generation in Nuclear Thermometer project which is currently ongoing.

Finally, it is important to stress that the nuclear field is a very diverse one, meaning that we will not only need skilled engineers and scientists but also other professionals such as economists, managers, communication specialists etc. The diversity is what makes our field special and exciting for every age.