IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency

09/18/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 09/18/2019 10:25

Youth in Nuclear: Engaging the Next Generation of Leaders

Encouraging young people to pursue careers in nuclear science and technology can help countries maximize the benefits of atomic energy for development; however, many countries, particularly developing countries, often face challenges with youth engagement. How to tap into the potential of youth was the topic of a panel discussion at a side event held on the margins of the IAEA's 63rd General Conference.

'There is only one way to prepare for the challenges of the future, it is engaging youth,' said Cornel Feruta, IAEA Acting Director General, during his opening remarks. 'We at the IAEA have been trying to do more to associate youth to our efforts. This a long-term investment, and we need to expose the young generation to the benefits of science and technology. At the IAEA, there will always be a hand that will help the young generation to fulfill its responsibility and its expectations.'

The event, 'Youth in Nuclear: Engaging the Next Generation of Leaders', brought together young and established professionals to explore the potential contributions of young people to achieve the socio-economic benefits of nuclear science and technology, youth engagement, and the opportunities and challenges young people face in embracing careers and employment related to the nuclear field.

The event placed particular emphasis on youth in Africa; many African countries are scaling up the use of nuclear science toward development, and some are considering the introduction of nuclear power programmes. With over 60% of the population in Africa under 25, the continent has the world's largest youth population relative to its size.

'I cannot overemphasize the importance and need for faster socio-economic development of our continent and the need to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2063,' said Nada Kruger, Resident Representative of Namibia to the IAEA and the chair of the Vienna-based African Group. 'Youth are our future. We need to encourage them and create conducive opportunities for them to take the lead in the development of applications of nuclear science and technology.'

Unlocking the potential of young people

During the panel discussion, participants examined how to develop young people's skills and knowledge to reap the benefits of nuclear science. They discussed the important role of policymakers, established professionals and organizations in raising interest in the nuclear field and providing opportunities to build knowledge, skills and networks.

'Nuclear technology is a viable way to drive the economy, drive socio-economic development, and ensure that young people are employed and employable. When you have a nuclear industry, you also provide the highest quality of education. This is what we're trying to do with engaging with youth and influencing countries around the continent,' said Gaopalelwe Santswere, President of the African Young Generation in Nuclear (AYGN), a youth-led, non-profit and non-partisan organization that brings together national networks of young professionals in nuclear and other related fields.

'There are a lot of activities that are nuclear related, but there are a lot of missed opportunities because we are not communicating and exposing the young to nuclear science and technology. The African Young Generation in Nuclear provides a structure for that communication,' Santswere said.

Communication and narrative were key themes of the panel discussion. Nathalie Munyampenda, Managing Director of the Next Einstein Forum (NEF), spoke about the importance of changing how youth and decision makers understand, engage, and coordinate discussions around science to shape policies and influence development.

'As young people, we are the next generation of leaders, and we need to be aware that it's not just enough to develop good scientists, but we need to also understand that a professor won't change Africa. We need jobs. We need industries. We need to ask and answer questions in language people understand,' Munyampenda said.