Raissa Malu

A travel to the shrine of the atom

I have just participated in the round table on "Young People in Nuclear Energy: Mobilizing the Next Generation of Leaders" organized in parallel with the 63rd General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

You remember the IAEA, don't you? I told you about it in the trilogy on the History of Nuclear Energy in Africa (if not, I invite you to read my three articles on the subject). Here, I would like to share with you my experience during my last trip to the Temple of the Atom! 😊

This is the second time I have been invited to the IAEA. When I arrive in front of the main courtyard of the imposing building with its water fountain and the flags of the Member States flying in the wind, I am overwhelmed by emotion. The tears come to my eyes. They are tears of joy, sadness and pride: the joy of (literally) following in the footsteps of my father, the late Prof. Dr. Ir Félix Malu wa Kalenga (he used to attend the General Conference every year); the sadness of not having had the opportunity to visit this place with him (I would have liked him to tell me about the background of this institution); the pride of being a nuclear physicist and thus (modestly) belonging to this great family. The IAEA reminds me of my father, the responsibility of physicists and the responsibility of the Democratic Republic of Congo in this human adventure.

Young people in nuclear science

After a few minutes, I come to my senses (why am I here, again?!!). This year, it is to participate in the round table on "Young people in nuclear energy, how to mobilize the next generation of leaders?" The organizers felt that as promoter of the Science and Technology Week and Ambassador of the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) for the Democratic Republic of Congo, I could bring something extra to the debate. For my part, I was happy to hear the speakers and on that occasion, I was not disapointed 😊. See for yourself!

The round table began with Mr Gaopalelwe Santswere, President of the young African nuclear generation (South Africa). Mr. Santswere is a passionate and committed nuclear physicist. He advocates for the development of networks of young African nuclear experts who will help change the narrative on the continent.

The case of the Philippines

Then spoke Roxane S. Villanueva, supervisor of the Science and Technology Education Program for the Philippine Ministry of Education (someone like me 😊). Nuclear energy generally has a negligible share in school curricula. This is a pity, because it is important to integrate it very early in order to demystify it and to know its potential, applications and risks. In the Philippines, Roxane Villanueva's team develops and offers nuclear modules for schools.

Someting else interesting, when asked to comment on the place of women in these areas where we know that they are generally under-represented, Ms Villanueva indicated that unlike other countries, in the Philippines this is not the case. The girl-boy gap in the STEMs is not so strong (great!).

The following image shows some nuclear applications.

Nucléaire

Young African scientists

Ms Villanueva was followed by Nathalie Munyampenda, Executive Director of the Next Einstein Forum (my dear boss 😉), who shared the NEF's experience with the Fellow Program, the brilliant African scientists who are changing the narrative on the continent, and the Ambassadors Program, Local Champions who are organizing the African Science Weeks. In a very convincing way, Nathalie reminded us that if we wanted to advance the nuclear issue on the continent, we had to bring all the stakeholders around the table and approach the issue from a 360° perspective: skills, infrastructure, financing, return on investment, beneficiaries, risks, etc.

The testimony that followed was moving. Mr Raphael Chesori, PhD Fellow of the IAEA, a shy and reserved but determined young scientist, told us about his journey from the Kenyan plains to the IAEA. It was his primary school teacher who gave him a taste for science. These classes made sense to him because he lived in the wild with the animals on a daily basis. He lived what the teacher told him at school. On the issue of youth engagement in nuclear power, Raphael Chesori urged us to accompany them with mentoring programs to help them travel the long and sometimes difficult path of young African scientists.

Career information

Finally, Mr Chirayu Batra, Nuclear Engineer associated with the IAEA and President of the Youth in UN Nuclear, spoke to us about careers within the agency.

It was during the questions and answers that I spoke. Based on my experience in the DRC, I scored four points. Yes, we need a network of young African nuclear scientists similar to the Next Einstein Forum. But to grow, our students need more information about the many careers in nuclear energy and the paths to get there. Secondly, we need to inform students, teachers, parents and the public at large about what nuclear energy is, its many applications and risks (this is what we do at Science and Technology Week). But risks are not the main problem. In my opinion, it is the lack of trust in our policies, governments and scientists that is the main barrier to the development of nuclear technologies in African countries!

IAEA support

The round table was interesting and informative, but what is the next step? I will come back to this at a future occasion. For the time being, I suggest that we continue the visit.

During my stay, I learned about nuclear knowledge management and human resource development in the nuclear field (essential for its security and sustainability), IAEA methodologies and models for sustainable energy planning and cultural heritage preservation activities carried out in the framework of regional technical cooperation projects (of interest to our new National Museum). The IAEA assists and accompanies Member States through training, skills development, provision of tools, risk management, control missions and equipment procurement. Each Member State benefits from the experience, expertise and knowledge of the others.

Countries interventions

The most "crispy" part 😊 is the General Conference. it is to be lived. Member States follow one another on the perch to take stock of nuclear activities in their countries, but also to settle their scores. As you guessed, the usual protagonists are the United States, Iran and North Korea with the problem of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but there are others. In general, sub-Saharan African countries (except South Africa) carefully avoid entering into "titanic fights". It's all about diplomacy!

As an image is worth a thousand words, I invite you to watch below the address of the Democratic Republic of Congo read by Professor Vincent Lukanda, General Commissioner for Atomic Energy. It provides an update on nuclear activities in our country and our priorities.

The needs in Africa

Thus ended for me the journey to the 63rd General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I walked out of the building thinking again of my father. I imagined him walking the same way to the subway to return to his hotel. Did he feel the same joys, hopes and sometimes exasperation (yes) that I had felt myself?

Do we need nuclear power in Africa? To accelerate the development of our nations, we need industrial ideas and ensure access for all to reliable, sustainable and modern energy services at an affordable cost (Sustainable Development Goal 7). However, nuclear energy contributes to this SDG.

Diversified uses

We also need nuclear power in the health sector. I will give you an example with this poster produced by the Centre Régional d'Études Nucléaires de Kinshasa on the treatment of goitre with nuclear medicine on display at the stand of the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA).

Goitre

Finally, I will conclude with agriculture, food security and industry. With nuclear research, we can develop stronger and more efficient seeds. Nuclear techniques help to extend the conservation of food and strengthen industrial products such as electrical cables.

Which development model?

The use of nuclear technologies would certainly make our African countries more competitive, but I would like to give some advice. It is urgent that we agree on and stick to the development model we want for our countries and peoples. Techniques of any kind are only means and not an end. We do not all have the same needs.

Science is fun, join us ! 😉

This post has first been published on LinkedIn. It has been translated in English by Afriscitech.

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