She's an Engineer- Rhianne Boag

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Route into engineering

My undergraduate degree was a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. During the summers I had two placements with EDF Energy and one at Sellafield Ltd. They started my interest and enthusiasm in the nuclear industry.

In my 4th year at university I applied for a graduate place on a programme called 'nucleargraduates', operated by Energus and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. This was a two-year graduate training programme where I moved around different secondments. I’ve also completed a Post Graduate Certificate in Nuclear Science and Engineering through the University of Lancaster during this time.

I then took my full-time role with International Nuclear Services as an analyst within the engineering team.

Job description

Lead Engineering Analyst at Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS)

I run computer simulations of nuclear transport packages in a range of accident conditions to determine whether or not they will survive.

The days can be quite varied, there isn’t really a typical day. Sometimes I’ll be working on long term projects. Other days can involve small sensitivity studies looking at the effect of changing one or two parameters in a model or researching new and advancing techniques.

I’ll also spend time reporting to my project team, or various stakeholder meetings. Sometimes this involves me presenting my work, other times is just a general catch up to assess project development.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not capable, or you are not good enough. Engineers come in all guises, in all walks of life. If you have good ideas, passion and a drive to see the world differently then there is an engineer inside you.

I became a Chartered Mechanical Engineer in 2018, 5 years after graduation. I still have a lot to learn but it was a great confirmation that I am on the right path.

Also knowing that the work I do is part of a bigger picture – I’m literally helping make the world a safer place! During my time as an analyst I’ve helped build safety cases for a variety of nuclear transports to prove the packages are safe to use, not only for the contents, but for the public in the highly unlikely event an accident would occur. Some of these have been recognised as critical government objectives, so to receive thanks from government ministers is always a sign of a job well done. We once even received recognition from Barack Obama when he was president for a major international project!

The nuclear industry is a fascinating one, there are many different sides to the work, not just related to electricity generation. All the earliest Magnox reactors have now ceased operation and are in various degrees of care and maintenance or decommissioning.  Alongside this there are the 7 AGR and 1 PWR power stations operated by EDF that are still generating electricity, but these are all scheduled to close by 2035. As they enter decommissioning the nuclear fuel will have to be safely managed until eventual disposal.

One of the biggest things for the nuclear industry in the next 25-50 years is the planned Geological Disposal Facility. This is a permanent solution for the UK’s higher activity radioactive waste by building an underground repository providing protection for thousands of years as the radioactive waste decays. Currently, radioactive wastes are currently being packaged in specially engineered containers and stored at over 20 nuclear sites around the country before their eventual disposal in the GDF is possible. However, the work to identify a potential site is still ongoing.

All this deals with the clean-up of legacy material, however in order to address the energy supply and demand for the future, nuclear power is still necessary to be a low carbon electricity supply. There is a lot of research and development looking at Small Modular Reactors (SMR’s), fusion and reactors known as Generation IV that could use utilise uranium more efficiently and re-use a large fraction of nuclear waste from current reactors via transmutation.

The nuclear industry requires a variety people and professions, not limited to scientists and engineers, to continue to be safe and sustainable, looking at the historical decommissioning as well as the future supply of electricity.

As part of the decommissioning of legacy nuclear material I am part of a team of engineers who can design, analyse and license nuclear transport packages to safely move radioactive material into safer locations.

Almost all my work is completed through computer simulations as it is too expensive to build and test full size transport packages to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations for the safe transport of nuclear material. The analysis I do allows package designs to be modified quickly to determine the advantages or disadvantages. It also helps identify any weakness in the designs that may not be apparent from physical testing, as a high number of scenarios can be assessed. This saves time and money before progressing designs through to manufacture.

I can also run studies to ensure older transport packages are still safe to use for a change of contents, or any proposed modifications are beneficial and substantiated.

R.Boag 3 pictures