From Russia with knowledge: Nuclear education for African youth

On 31 August 2023 at 12:50

Nuclear energy has emerged as a significant source of power generation in the modern world, with numerous benefits associated with its use. Given its complex nature, it is of utmost importance to prioritize nuclear education society.

Nuclear energy is important for the African continent, as it holds immense potential to address various challenges on the continent today. With increasing energy demands, limited natural resources, and the urgent need to combat climate change, nuclear energy can play a pivotal role in empowering countries to become self-reliant, sustainable, and progressive societies and make a contribution to a responsible use of this powerful source of energy.

According to UN statistics, Africa is a continent of young people. 65% of the population is under 35 and almost 50% under 19, which means that Africa has tremendous potential to educate a new generation of scientists. Nuclear science will receive special attention, as its technologies are able to solve many endemic problems of African energy, healthcare, agriculture and other spheres.

Currently there are more than 5000 African students, studying nuclear science all over the world.

Some applicants choose Russian technical universities due to the high quality of education and great career prospects. Nowadays about 35,000 African students are currently studying in Russia, their number will increase even more in the coming years due to African unprecedented economic and industrial leap. Nuclear education programs include not only nuclear energy, but also various non-energy applications of nuclear technology including agriculture, healthcare, transportation, water resources and the environment protection.

While the nuclear energy is only taking its first steps in Africa, the nuclear science is already available to African youth who want to explore this impressive area of human knowledge. African students now studying nuclear in Russia will soon can become highly valuable experts in their home countries.

The nuclear educational bridge

Since 2013, free training of African youth has been organized at Russian universities with nuclear programs. Currently 256 students from African countries, including Rwanda, Ghana, Egypt, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Africa, are being trained there. The high demand of nuclear specialists provides them with excellent opportunities for career growth both at home and around the world.

In 2011 the Consortium of nuclear universities was established. This association was designed to provide nuclear educational support for projects in Russia and twelve other countries. Now the Consortium includes 18 specialized universities, such as Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) and the Tomsk Polytechnic University, training personnel for design, creation and operation of nuclear power plants.

Moreover, in 2019 nuclear scholarships for African students were introduced to help the next generation of African scientists and nuclear engineers to emerge. The purpose of this program is to support the interest of young Africans in nuclear research and opportunities.

Unleashing potential

The project “Russian Nuclear Education Ambassadors” is also closely connected with nuclear education. It is an ambitious information and educational program all over the world, aimed at promoting Russian education and advanced nuclear technologies, including in non-energy sectors. This year it gathered more than a hundred participants at the qualifying stage, and 26 students from 14 countries, including a number of African states, got into the final. The project participants completed four training programs to develop presentation skills, public speaking skills and social media skills and also had the opportunity to meet the scientists and top leaders of the nuclear sphere.

Russian Nuclear Education Ambassadors regularly take part in online events with foreign audiences and carry out active information and educational activities in social networks. This work is aimed at promoting nuclear education, popularizing nuclear and related technologies in many countries.

Open lectures

Open lectures play a crucial role in providing quality education due to they offer a unique opportunity for anyone interested in learning, regardless of their age, background, or financial status. Such series of open lectures by leading scientists from the best nuclear universities were held for students from South Africa and Namibia. The lectures were quite popular among the students - more than 500 people attended these events. The purpose of the lectures was to show students and future applicants the relevance of the challenges facing the nuclear industry, as well as the professional and career potential for talented young people in Africa in the field of nuclear energy.

Leading nuclear experts Masamba Kakh of Peoples’ Friendship University, Vera Verkhoturova of Tomsk Polytechnic University, Vasily Kornoukhov of MEPhI and Andrey Polisan of MISIS participated in the online lecture cycle. Relying on scientific research and practical experience they shared their knowledge and opinion on the most important and urgent issues - prospects of nuclear industry development, use of nuclear technologies in medicine, industry and agriculture, the impact of nuclear industry on the environment and methods to reduce the negative impact on the environment in the world.

Interactive format of such events allowed the listeners to address their questions to the speakers, learn about the latest and most interesting research in the field of nuclear energy, and get a full picture of the various non-energy uses of the peaceful atom.

Navigating a nuclear world

In addition to open lectures, Russian nuclear education also includes several projects aimed at promoting nuclear technologies among African youth.

Starting in 2015 the “Atoms Empowering Africa” online competition was held to engage talented African youth, encouraging their interest in nuclear technology studies and promoting science and engineering. To participate in the contest, entrants create and share videos on Facebook. An expert committee comprising representatives from nuclear companies and media professionals selects the most intriguing and innovative submissions.

This year a tourist tour to St. Petersburg was organized for the winners from Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia, and Nigeria. During this excursion, participants had the opportunity to visit real nuclear facilities and explore popular historical sites in Russia. Beyond museum exhibits, the guests gained rare access to Russia’s largest operational nuclear power plant, the Leningrad NPP, situated in Sosnovy Bor. Student could take a glimpse into its intricate infrastructure, including the turbine room, cooling towers, and splash pools. Most notably, these African visitors experienced a sense of working at the plant through a training session on a simulator.

From science to art

Promoting nuclear education at a young age encourages scientific curiosity and critical thinking. Kids can develop problem-solving skills, logical reasoning, and a scientific mindset that can serve them well in any field they choose to pursue later in life.

Another international and creative project for the popularization of nuclear technologies Nuclear Kids (“NucKids”) is aimed at this. NucKids is being carried out for children of employees of Russian nuclear industry enterprises and foreign partners in nuclear technologies. Over 15 years of the project’s existence, 900 children from 25 countries have become participants and members of one big community. The main goals of the project are to develop new traditions of cultural interaction between children of nuclear industry employees and create conditions for realizing the creativity of these talented children.

This year 5 countries took part in the project: Bangladesh, Hungary, the Republic of Belarus, Tanzania and the Russian Federation. Kids had a responsible task to stage a professional musical in 3 weeks. The children presented 4 performances in Ostrovets (Belarus), 3 performances in Nizhny Novgorod (Russia), 4 performances in Obninsk (Russia) and 4 performances in Moscow (Russia). It is symbolic that in the 15th anniversary season the musical was shown to the audience 15 times. The participants also had time to prepare and hold the Gala Concert “The Best Songs of Nuckids”. The concert programme included more than 30 songs, all of which were performed live by the project’s seniors and this year’s participants.

“Nuclear Kids” has an important social significance: the project allows children from different cities and countries to not only visit different parts of the world free of charge, but also work with experienced teachers, and build relations with peers sharing the same interests and ideas. By introducing kids to the nuclear science, future generations can be inspired to embrace STEM fields, contribute to scientific advancements and make well-informed decisions that positively impact today’s world.