Dec 13, 2019

Ep 245: Alice Cunha da Silva - Nuclear Engineer & Chair of INAC 2019, Brazilian Association of Nuclear Energy (ABEN)

Nuclear Engineer & Chair of INAC 2019
Brazilian Association of Nuclear Energy
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Show notes

Nuclear Outreach in Brazil’s Communities (0:12)
0:12-8:59 (Alice Cunha da Silva explains how a degree in computer science led her all over the world to discover her passion for nuclear engineering and how she shares that passion with her community)

Q: How did you learn about nuclear to begin with?
A: Alice Cunha da Silva has a technical degree in computer science. In Brazil, students must complete an internship in order to get their degree and Alice ended up fixing computers at a nuclear company for her internship. She had to go to the power plants while on the job, not having any idea what the buildings or reactor was. Her college, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, had just opened a nuclear engineering course and Alice became part of the second class of nuclear engineers. Alice’s curiosity led her to discover what was going on inside the nuclear plants and she fell in love with nuclear at that point.

During college, Alice took all the opportunities she had to be involved during her five years of studying engineering. She was the president of student sections, presented research work at international conferences, and was an intern at Oak Ridge National Lab, which was her first trip outside of Brazil. For Alice, nuclear is a mission. It’s a passion of life. The technology has the power of changing the world, and not only energy, but all the applications for nuclear technology that touches people’s lives. She tries to leverage her connections in the organizations she is part of to do projects that would make people know about nuclear. One of Alice’s projects is Nuclear Science Week; this year was the first year Brazil hosted the event and associated activities. They took journalists inside a research reactor in Sao Paulo and also took professors from basic education, since they are multipliers of the information. Events during Nuclear Science Week included tours of nuclear medicine labs, informational events on the street, and presentations to public education students. The focus of Nuclear Science Week in Brazil was reaching out to people who had no idea what nuclear is and the impact it has on their lives. Alice created the Nuclear Ambassadors program in 2017 with the idea to get groups to create long term activities on communication of nuclear and focus on the sustainability goals of the United Nations, showing how nuclear can help achieve those goals. More than 20 groups around the country applied and another project is launching soon. These two projects in communications show to the citizens in Brazil, and perhaps expanded to Latin America, the importance of nuclear technology in their lives and get support.

A Shift in Brazil’s Nuclear Political Climate (8:59)
8:59-16:53 (How Brazil runs its nuclear industry a little differently, from its focus on communication strategies to its operational structures)

Q: Tell me about how you communicate with people about nuclear.
A: The perception of risk that people have and the fear they have is not something logical that can be put in numbers. For an engineer, the risk is a number and the amount of risk an activity has is known because it can be calculated and is a probability. For a non-engineer or non-technical person, risk is not a number. The risk is a feeling, but some risks they take willingly. The projects Alice Cunha da Silva creates and runs are based on dialogue, two-way communication. She didn’t want just lectures and conferences, which are great for another purpose, but not for talking to people about nuclear in different perspectives. Alice is a councilwoman in the Brazilian Association of Nuclear Energy, joining when she proposed the Nuclear Ambassadors program.

Brazil is facing a different reality now because the government is very positive about nuclear and are looking into expansion and creating inter-ministry working groups. There is a push for improving nuclear activities around the country. Electronuclear, the operator of the Brazilian utilities, is doing an amazing program to show people how nuclear is good. The government has created a working group that is looking into a strategy for nuclear communication in the country. Brazil has one of the biggest reserves of uranium in the world and was able to develop their technology for enrichment, going from the mining to the fuel.

Growth and Challenges of the Nuclear Industry (16:53)
16:53-23:54 (Alice shares her perspective on growth and challenges in Brazil’s nuclear industry)

Q: From your perspective, how do you see the growth of the nuclear industry developing?
A: Alice Cunha da Silva sees very positive growth of the nuclear industry in Brazil. When the structures were being constructed and people started to study it, the level of discussions changed. Before, the technology had to be defended and now, the technology has to be made visible. Brazil is a big country and there are several sides of government. In this moment in Brazil, the challenge is cost and financing. It’s also a challenge to have people that are not pro-nuclear as decision-makers, but it is a different scenario than before which has more in-depth discussions about how to make it possible. Brazil is starting to look into different possibilities of technology, a decision made by the government. The companies that run the nuclear power plants are state-owned companies, so the government has a lot of influence on the decisions. Electronuclear is the sole organization running nuclear power plants in Brazil. Up to this point, Electronuclear has also been the builder of the plants, but that may change going forward. There is a working group formed by different actors in the government - not only the Ministry of Mines and Energy, but different players - looking into different business models for Angra 3.

International Nuclear Atlantic Conference (23:54)
23:54-32:32 (An inside look into the engaging discussions and participation at the International Nuclear Atlantic Conference)

Q: What are some of the goals and outcomes of the International Nuclear Atlantic Conference (INAC)?
A: The International Nuclear Atlantic Conference (INAC) is a mark on the Brazilian nuclear industry and is the largest nuclear conference in Latin America. This year, the theme of the conference is Nuclear New Horizons: Fueling our Future, looking into the positive perspective of expanding nuclear and knowing the possibilities this technology has to better society. The INAC is comprised of four major events: the Meeting of Nuclear Applications, the Meeting on Nuclear Reactor Physics and Thermal Hydraulics, and Jr Poster. Jr Posters are students who present their research work during the conference, receiving more than 900 abstract applications and 687 full papers accepted and presenting posters and oral presentations. Discussions include nuclear medicine, new reactor technology, and space applications, among others.

Some new discussions were added, including Women in Nuclear. Diversity is important, not only because women have a place in that area, but also because it improves production and efficiency. Women in Nuclear is a global organization, of which Brazil has a chapter. One of the goals of Women in Nuclear is to demystify nuclear technology and also bring more women and girls into science. Having role models for young girls in different areas of science is a step towards bringing more women into science careers. A new mentoring program was also brought into INAC to bridge the gap between senior and more experienced professionals with young professionals. The Nuclear Ambassadors award is new this year and there is also a new workshop about thorium.

Alice Cunha da Silva’s wish for the future is improvement of the recognition of the importance of nuclear. This will come with communication and policy implementation. Some countries are using nuclear as a health measure for pollution. Seeing Brazil move towards expansion of this program, the challenge is that cooperation between different players happens in order to grow the use of nuclear technology, not only in reactors, but also in medicine. There is a lot of room for development in this area. Alice’s goal is to contribute to the expansion of nuclear by doing her part working and developing different programs, believing that, if you want a better world, nuclear has to be involved in that. More use of nuclear technology in Brazil and around the world will improve people’s lives in all different areas.

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