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Changemakers convene in London for much anticipated Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation

The first Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation since 2019 took place on the 17-19 July in London, hosted this year by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL).

Formed in 2019, the forum is a collective effort to accelerate cultural and behavioural transformation, for the nuclear industry to play its critical part in tackling the global climate crisis. Co-organisers included EPRI, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). This year, they were joined by EDF, in their capacity as a nuclear power organisation operating in the host nation.

An evening reception hosted at the Painted Hall in the heart of maritime Greenwich, known as Britain’s Sistine Chapel, officially welcomed nearly 200 delegates from across the globe attending the event. The iconic Old Royal Naval College is recognised as ‘the most popular filming location in the world’ and has a rich nuclear heritage. In the late 20th century, the site was equipped with its own miniature nuclear reactor, known as JASON to train officers in operations on-board nuclear submarines.

Fran Scott, BBC science presenter and Royal Institution science content producer moderated the immersive two-day gathering at the IET Savoy Place, London. With a focus to drive change, the first day began with a ‘top four innovations panel’, which covered advances since the previous forum in machine learning, advanced manufacturing and innovative frameworks for sharing comparable data to inspire early careers scientists, keen to get involved.

Prominent speeches from Ming Tang, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at NHS England, and Sama Bilbao y Leon, Director General of the World Nuclear Association placed an emphasis on the importance of culture and behaviours in facilitating successful technical innovation, and how it is this combination that is vital to drive real change – essential in the global effort to tackle challenges such as climate change.

Acknowledging their responsibility, speakers identified concrete solutions through comprehensive reports and clear data to offer benefits both for industry and the planet, focusing on the forum’s four key behaviours – being a challenger, embracing diversity, being a role model and having courage.

Interactive workshops and a prize giving ‘recharge’ reception by NNL’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Paul Howarth concluded the day, exploring the key behaviours needed to innovate at speed, so that the nuclear sector can play its part in tackling some of society’s most urgent challenges. Delegates were empowered to bring the behaviours to life, to become a positive force within their own organisations and networks, embracing their role as ‘agents of change’.

Day two provided a lively atmosphere for changemakers to compare and contrast approaches to four ‘grand challenge’ workshops. Each focussed on how the nuclear field can play a bigger role in decarbonising the global energy system, to create a culture where safety and security are viewed through the lens of innovation to attract and retain the best talent to the sector. Sessions were hosted by subject-matter experts, who outlined the challenge and then invited attendees to come up with ideas they could take back and implement in their spheres of influence.

A panel session rounded out the day’s programming, where hosts shared the ideas and learnings generated in the sessions. NNL’s Science and Technology Director, Dr Paul Nevitt led a fascinating session on how we play a bigger role in decarbonising the global energy system. Participants left feeling motivated, to play their role to help make nuclear a realistic career path for more people, whatever their background.

Memorable highlights of the two-day forum included a session on role models with Dr Rahul Mandal, a research scientist at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) better known as the 2018 Great BritishBake Off winner, and a surprise moment where spectators joined in a rap by academic, communicator, performer, and writer Jon Chase.

Each gained fantastic engagement with the audience against the impressive backdrop of the capital’s skyline and most importantly, helped to instil the key messages and aims of the event for driving change by focusing on the instilled four key behaviours set out on the first day of the forum.

Organisers recognised that this effort could not be led by one person or organisation alone, and that momentum was needed to rally stakeholders from all aspects of the sector together to start connecting the dots and build a mutual vision for the nuclear industry’s future.

Dr Rob Whittleston, Director for International Engagement, Security & Non-Proliferation at NNL, said: “It was an honour to host the forum. The sector must not only continue conversations about the benefits of nuclear as an integral part of our current and future society, but also face into how innovative and disruptive thinking is essential to make that a reality. We hope attendees have an even greater enthusiasm for innovation at all levels and encouraged learning from other industries through our key behaviours, to break barriers and create a cleaner, more sustainable future for all.”

EPRI Senior Vice President of Energy Systems Resources, Neil Wilmshurst, said: “In 2019, my fellow co-organisers and I said this could not be a once-and-done effort. Accelerating nuclear technologies and changing traditional mindsets in this industry to drive innovation requires persistent, enduring collaboration at every level. Efforts like the forum are going to be critical to all stakeholders as we strive to meet our climate goals and make the global energy transformation.”

“Delegates at this year’s forum continued the journey begun in the Republic of Korea in 2019; focusing their attention on delivering innovations that help ensure nuclear power remains a reliable partner for a secure and sustainable future,” said Ed Bradley, Team Leader for NPP Operation and Engineering Support at the IAEA. He added: “At the event, participants developed actionable recommendations to deploy innovations on a global scale to extend nuclear power benefits beyond the generation of electricity, to reduce the cost of plant operation, to attract and retain capable staff, and efficiently improve safety.”

Philippe Guiberteau, Special Advisor for Technology Policy Activities at the NEA, said: “We really need to start thinking outside the box and to be inspired by other sectors, because nuclear innovation is not only about technical breakthroughs but also about global process optimisation. To drive change in the industry, we must challenge ourselves to adopt a holistic approach that can address the urgency of nuclear innovation for broader strategic objectives such as climate change.”

The Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation will return in 2024, with an announcement to follow on which organisation will welcome agents of change as they continue to drive this important agenda forward. 

For more information visit: www.globalnuclearinnovation.com