World Nuclear Association Blog

Binika Shah reflects on her new role at WNA

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Binika Shah joined the World Nuclear Association in February 2014 as a Senior Project Manager. She was recently interviewed by Radiation Regulator journal. Below is a section of the interview she gave to the journal.

Tell us about your career so far.

Binika ShahHaving been sponsored by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) during University, I graduated and was afforded a placement in their central environmental policy unit. Although unrelated to my academic qualification (having studied Mathematics and Physics at undergraduate level), I had always been passionate about environmental issues and took naturally to the challenge.

I followed this placement with a gap to go trotting around the world, and returned to land a contract with the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs in supporting the establishing of an agency (then known as the "Government Decontamination Service"). At the agency, I managed several Government-funded science and technology projects, looking to enhance the UK's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capabilities, as well as managing other technical information. This contract was followed by a post as an environmental consultant at an engineering consultancy firm called Atkins. The main focus of my work ended up being around legislation and policy development relating to radioactive substance management, with key projects being the revision of UK radioactive substance regulation, developing a scheme to demonstrate competence to the regulator in managing radioactive waste in the UK, and being the technical preparer for the 3rd Periodic Evaluation of Progress towards the Objective of the Radioactive Substances Strategy (in the North-East Atlantic Ocean). After several years at Atkins, I moved to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) in February 2014 as a Senior Project Manager.

What is the WNA and how does your role fit into their work?

WNA is a global organisation that promotes nuclear energy and supports the many companies that comprise the nuclear industry through the entirety of the fuel cycle (i.e. from uranium mining to decommissioning and de-licensing), together with its supply chain and associated industries. It provides a forum for sharing knowledge and insight into evolving industry developments, sharing international best practice to strengthen the nuclear industry's capabilities, and speaking authoritatively in relevant key international forums, such as the IAEA, OECD/NEA, ICRP, etc. that affect the policy and public environment in which the industry operates.

Many people may be familiar with the WNA website which provides lots of really useful information on nuclear energy - it is worth taking a look if you are unacquainted with it. Also, World Nuclear News has become the leading online news service on developments related to nuclear power, and its readership isn't limited to the nuclear industry. One final thing to mention is the World Nuclear University which provides training and education on key nuclear industry-related topics to the next generation of nuclear industry leaders

My primary role within WNA will be to support the radiological protection and the waste management & decommissioning working groups. These are essentially forums through which the industry shares leading good practice, conducts analysis, prepares position statements, and develops and implements strategies to advance collective interest in the safe and expanding worldwide use of nuclear power. The working groups are made up of representatives mainly from member organisations, and we often invite notable interested parties and relevant other organisations. I will also be attending international forums, such as relevant IAEA safety standards committees, to understand key developments, and to provide a voice for the industry in these areas.

What do you see as the greatest challenges ahead?

I would just like to focus on one area. The question in my mind is always around the waste, particularly when thinking about the sustainability of nuclear power. There are solutions out there, but the focus for industry often tends to be on the front-end as well as safety. In my opinion, the back-end of the fuel cycle is critical to the success  of a project. Many governments around the world have taken this on board, and are building into the regulatory systems the need to place due consideration on waste management and decommissioning during the early planning stages, but this is still not the case everywhere. Applying the waste hierarchy throughout the fuel cycle is crucial and the industry needs to take this on board.

How will you assess your success?

I'm not sure that I can make this into something that is "SMART" (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-framed), despite being titled a "project manager". I'd like to think that I will be supporting effective working groups that are thriving and doing some really good work to influence the industry and leading effective discussions with the wider international forum. For example, for radiological protection, this may be a system of radiological protection that can be applied by the industry in a logical manner and can be communicated to an external audience including public, decision-makers and media. For waste management and decommissioning, an example could be waste minimisation through effective and maximal recycling. 

How do you see the role of regulators?

The role of the regulator is critical to ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants across the world, and this should be done in an independent and transparent manner to ensure the credibility with the public, first and foremost. But this should not be done in such a way as to be detrimental to the industry; regulators need to work with the industry to ensure that standards are applied in a fair manner, and giving due consideration to social, economic and environmental impacts.

IAEA discusses phosphates

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WNA's Ian Emsley recently participate in an IAEA meeting on prospects of extracting uranium from phosphate rocks. The well-attended meeting attested to a high level of interest in this subject. The current availability of uranium from conventional resources led to the conclusion that it could be some time before phosphates because a major source of uranium, but the potential for such resources was huge. You can find out more about this subject in our information paper Uranium from Phosphates.

New WNA group to look at fuel technologies

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Over the last few decades the nuclear industry has made significant improvements in the reliability of zirconium-clad uranium dioxide ceramic fuel, but the essential structure and composition of nuclear fuel has barely changed. Various features have boosted the mechanical and corrosion performance of fuel assemblies, but there has been little incentive to develop fuels with higher burn-up or power density. This is due in part to the focus on reliability improvements – but is also because uranium was very cheap for a long period.

This situation is changing. While Zr-clad uranium oxide fuel offers reliable and cost-effective operating characteristics, several imperatives urge nuclear fuel improvements in terms of:

Utilization of mined uranium: there is a push to improve the sustainability credentials for uranium use, in terms of energy extraction from the original mined material.
Maximizing operational power rating: leading to plant efficiencies and economic benefits.
Minimizing spent fuel volume & radiotoxicity: The transmutation (destruction) of transuranic elements within new fuels may provide cost-effective options for dealing with these materials.
Further improving materials reliability and safety margins: lowering the risk of fuel failure (cladding breach) is always beneficial for reactor operators.

With these motivations in mind, the WNA is starting up a new Working Group to discuss and assess the range of water-reactor fuel technologies with reasonable prospects for commercialization, including: ceramic claddings, higher conductivity ceramic matrices, graphite-matrix coated-particle fuel pellets.

The Group will collate and assess these technologies in terms of potential cost savings, waste management benefits, and will identify licensing pathways and potential funding partnerships.

Julian F. Kelly recently joined WNA to take responsibility for this exciting initiative.

Julian has a materials science background (PhD - Australian National University) and for the last 3.5 years he worked for a small Norwegian energy technology company that has undertaken to develop a thorium-MOX fuel for light water reactors. He oversaw the design of a sophisticated trial irradiation experiment for this fuel, and he formulated investment strategies and major funding proposals for this advanced fuel. Julian previously served as Nuclear Counsellor/Attaché at the Australian Embassy in Vienna where he followed numerous technical issues/programs at the IAEA for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

Julian has also worked as a scientific advisor for nuclear issues for the Australian Department of Defence, and he has worked in the Australian mining sector prior to that.

Ian Emsley joins to enhance WNA's Market Report

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Ian EmsleyIan Emsley has recently joined WNA to work as Senior Project Manager on the nuclear fuel market analysis and in particular this year’s Market Report. Over time, he hopes to widen the scope of the analysis to include explicit consideration of other energy sources and the inter-fuel competitive outlook, which apart from enhancing the learning from the WNA scenario work should lead to greater opportunities for the WNA to extend and strengthen its links with other organisations analysing the future of energy supply.

Ian believes that nuclear power has received a raw deal from policy makers and the public; partly it seems through ignorance and partly through tendentious lobbying by environmental NGOs. He has been impressed by the depth of knowledge of WNA staff and believes that the WNA is well placed to present some of the facts and challenges of nuclear power in a way that will assist the formulation of more balanced assessments.

"The production of well-respected analysis of future energy market development can play a valuable role in highlighting some of the barriers to environmentally sound and secure energy provision, which is critical to meeting the aspirations of the world’s population to a decent standard of living", Ian told WNA Update, "WNA analysis of energy market development can help set the agenda for efforts to overcome these barriers insofar as they affect nuclear power."

Before starting work for the WNA in April, Ian was an independent consultant working in the field of commodity market research and environmental policy analysis. Earlier in his career, Ian spent 25 years with mining company Anglo American plc.

WNA's Greg Kaser to support member companies in developing robust supply chains

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In anticipation of an epoch of worldwide nuclear new build, WNA is devoting increased attention to supporting companies and investors in the task of constructing robust supply chains to ensure timely and efficient construction of nuclear power plants. The Supply Chain Working Group was set up in 2010 and has met three times since, in London, Beijing and Chicago. With a full agenda and the aim of publishing a market report on the global nuclear market, Greg Kaser was recruited in April 2011 to manage this initiative.

Greg KaserGreg started his career with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, working at the Risley nuclear establishment near Warrington, at Sellafield, and at the then fast reactor site of Dounreay in Scotland. Following a short placement at the European University Institute near Florence in 1987-88, during which he undertook research on the international regulation of employee safety in the nuclear industry, Greg moved into consultancy. Focussing on economic and social development, Greg undertook assignments for the European Commission, the UK Department for International Development and the Department of Trade and Industry, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. Over the last ten years, Greg acted as project director for part of the UK’s Global Threat Reduction Programme aimed at helping develop alternative employment in Russia’s closed nuclear cities.

Greg is looking to meet many of the main nuclear component suppliers over the coming months. "The industry is addressing its offer so as to position itself competitively," Greg told WNA Update. "Utilities and suppliers are investing in advanced and emerging economies to develop alternatives to fossil fuels. WNA is analysing the market potential for nuclear new build and major reactor refurbishment and upgrading. We aim to develop the knowledge base on the situation in leading markets, including licensing and policy requirements (for example, on the localization of supply). We are taking a look at market trends in standardization, modularization, procurement arrangements and financing models. Managing the supply chain to ensure quality, conformity and value is crucial to reducing perceptions of nuclear power as a risk-laden option within the investment and public policy communities."