National Nuclear Laboratory


Tuesday 21 September 2021

Meet some of NNL’s early years recruits

We are pleased to welcome NNL’s September 2021 intake of thirty-eight graduates and apprentices.

Following the induction period, we spoke to a few of them about their roles and why they chose to start their early careers at NNL.

Jai-kishan Patel and Elen Williams join us as graduates after completing their university degrees. While Jemma Atkinson and Luke Spencer will be embarking on apprenticeships, gaining practical experience alongside study. With an abundance of combined skills and compelling reasons for choosing a career in the nuclear sector, we’re certain all our early years recruits have a bright future ahead of them.

Welcome to NNL! Can you tell us about the area of work you are undertaking and what you have worked on since joining the organisation?

Jai: I’m a Graduate Scientist situated within the nuclear and reactor physics team in the fuels, reactors and reprocessing capability. So far, I’ve been getting up to speed in the fields of reactor physics and fuel performance by reading academic papers and studying the various codes and tools needed. A project I will be working on soon is UKSMR – an initiative led by Rolls Royce to deliver the UK’s first ever Small Modular Reactors.

Jemma: I have joined the Hot Isostatic Press (HIP) team as a Scientific Apprentice, currently based at Workington Laboratory, where we are working on producing a ceramic that has simulant nuclear waste included in the formulation so it can’t be removed in order for it to be stored safely. I am currently conducting non-active trials at the Workington Laboratory alongside my team.

Elen: My role is a Graduate Plant Chemist within the fuel, reactor, and reprocessing department of NNL. More specifically, I’ll be working on the corrosion chemistry within the reactors. I’m currently at the beginning of my career at NNL, so I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading to develop a deeper knowledge and background into the industry and the areas I’ll be working in to help with the tasks I’ll be required to do.

Luke: As a Scientific Apprentice, I’ll be working in the nuclear waste management team doing research into more efficient and effective recycling methods, addressing excess from a nuclear reactor or a decommissioned power plant. Since joining the organisation I’ve been able to talk to various people and take plenty of notes to learn more about this area of work.

Why did you apply for one of our Early Careers schemes? How did NNL stand out compared to other organisations?

Jai: NNL stood out to me as it’s an organisation which works in a wide range of areas within the nuclear industry – from reactors to applications in medical physics. The graduate scheme’s emphasis on personal development was another factor, I feel it’s very important to build vital soft skills in your early career alongside the technical skills of the role. Interacting with a community of graduates in various fields also promotes great networking opportunities.

Jemma: I applied for an apprenticeship over university because I wanted to have experience in industry and gain qualifications at the same time. I realised from work experience and experiments while studying for my A-Levels that I learn best hands-on, so I thought on the job training would be most suited to me. I was attracted to NNL by the research and innovative work they do, as well as the opportunity to work in world-leading facilities.

Elen: I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2020 knowing I wanted to pursue a career in the nuclear industry. NNL advertised an early careers scheme that emphasised their encouragement for young professionals to continually develop and learn. They were very supportive during the application process by keeping in touch and always updated me on my progress efficiently. This scheme also stood out due to the fact they offered a permanent contract which provided more security in the role.

Luke: An early career at NNL appealed to me because nuclear energy, in my opinion, is the future. I want to be a part of that prospect in whatever way I can. I applied for NNL specifically due to its relatively small workforce, which is more personable than many larger organisations. It means more focussed learning from mentors and peers, as well as an abundance of opportunities to develop key skills.

What initially attracted you to the nuclear sector? Did you discover any interesting scientific research about NNL during your interview preparation?

Jai: Nuclear energy physics has been an interest of mine starting at university – I undertook a project in nuclear fusion. Since then, it became a passion for me to work towards achieving net zero and using and developing my physics knowledge to do this. While researching NNL it was great to see the breadth of work the Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme (AFCP) do within the nuclear industry, encompassing the whole of the nuclear lifecycle start to finish.

Jemma: I was initially attracted to the nuclear sector when I undertook work experience in analytical labs that tested environmental samples for radioactivity. I also had a tour of NNL’s Preston Laboratory and the Springfields nuclear fuel production plant, where I was really interested in the nuclear fuel cycle and the challenges of waste storage and immediately realised that I wanted to pursue a career in this sector.

Elen: My interest in the nuclear sector sparked when I wrote a report for my Welsh Baccalaureate in college. During that time, a second plant was being planned on the Wylfa site on Anglesey and Naoto Kan, the former Prime Minister of Japan, visited to support the campaigns against that development. During that research, my degree and preparation for joining the industry, I have realised the importance of nuclear power to reach the carbon-neutral targets by 2050.

Luke: NNL was suggested to me by one of my tutors at college because I wasn’t entirely sure on what I wanted to do after finishing my course. From there I did some research into what exactly the organisation did, discovering more about nuclear medicine, security, as well as the environmental benefits relating to COP26.

We are really excited you chose to embark on your early career journey with us. What are your future aspirations?

Jai: The fact NNL sponsor and encourage routes to chartership really appealed to me as becoming a chartered physicist is an aim of mine. Within the first two weeks I have already been introduced to my Institute of Physics (IOP) mentor within NNL, who will support me in process of becoming chartered. From a work perspective, it is an aspiration of mine to work on projects with real impact on combating climate change and NNL are at the forefront of this.

Jemma: I aspire to achieve a chemistry degree, which I will get the opportunity to do if I successfully complete the level 4 and 5 chemistry qualifications. I’d also like to work in active labs, which I will have the chance to do when the HIP team moves to central laboratory. The apprenticeship will widen my experience in the business to help me decide which direction I’d like my career to go in the future, whether that be technical or operational.

Elen: I’m keen to get involved in projects that have the potential to greatly impact the environment as we are working towards net zero. NNL are very supportive in my development, therefore, I’m excited to broaden my skills and knowledge as well as working towards a chartership. Outreach is another interest of mine, spreading the positive outcomes from the nuclear industry and encourage others, especially school/college students and women in science, to support the work we are doing.

Luke: My aspiration is to be a leading scientist whether that be globally or within NNL. I think NNL is a great company that will really help me reach my goals, providing education for me while pushing my career forward within the company itself. Everyone always wants to help in whatever way they can, particularly as a new recruit, which is a massive part of a great future.

Outside of work, do you have any interesting hobbies or a fun fact to share about yourself?

Jai: I have a passion for music and during the first lockdown I bought some DJ equipment on a whim. Since then, I’ve been teaching myself how to DJ from online tutorials and still try to practice at least once a week.

Jemma: Outside of work I enjoy athletics – I recently became 800m county champion. I also love to bake biscuits and cakes, taking inspiration from The Great British Bake Off. Fell walking and socialising with my friends is also something I really enjoy.

Elen: I’m happiest outdoors, whether it’s paddle boarding, wild-swimming or hiking. Growing up in north-west Wales, I was spoilt for choice of beaches, and mountains in Snowdonia! After university, I spent two months in Italy where I volunteered via the platform Workaway. I spent one month on a vineyard making wine, and another on an olive farm producing fresh olive oil.

Luke: Outside of work I love to either be out on a cricket field or on a golf course somewhere, as long as the weather is nice and not raining, both aren’t fun in the rain, lasting twice as long when drenched. During the winter months when cricket season has finished, I will usually be sat at home watching the cricket or at the cricket club watching the football – there isn’t much else I do.

Thank you, Jai, Jemma, Elen and Luke.

We will be keeping a watchful eye on your progress and wish you and your fellow early years colleagues the best of luck in your new roles at NNL.

The NNL Graduate Scheme 2022 is now open, if you or someone you know would like to find out more and apply, visit: Graduate Scheme 2022 | Jobs and careers with National Nuclear Laboratory (