We need to lose our fear of the ‘nuclear’ word

Australian Institute of Physics Congress 2022, Media releases
  • A call to action to train a nuclear savvy generation
  • Australia will need thousands of people trained in nuclear science
  • For submarines, cancer treatments, space industry, mining…

Our new submarine fleet, new cancer therapies, quantum computing, space industry and satellites, the extraction of critical minerals and monitoring the environment will all demand levels of training in nuclear science we cannot at present meet.

Australia’s physicists, meeting in Adelaide today, are calling for a national plan to boost education and training in nuclear science.

“The need is urgent. The captain of our first nuclear submarine is probably already in secondary school today,” says Dr AJ Mitchell, senior lecturer in physics at the Australian National University (ANU).

“As nuclear science takes an increasingly important part of our day-to-day life, we need to make people understand that ‘nuclear’ is not something to be scared of, but rather to cherish and appreciate,” he says.

“While some of the initial training for submarine operations can take place in the US and the UK, we must take this role on ourselves. This must be a sovereign capability. And it needs to start yesterday.”

He has brought together leaders across Australia to discuss a National Vision for Nuclear Science and Applications at the 2022 Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) Congress at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

“Today we are starting construction of an Australia-wide program of nuclear science education and training,” AJ says.

Topics include:

“Emerging radiation therapies for cancer treatment. The Bragg Centre is currently being built near the Royal Adelaide Hospital and is due to open in 2025. It will be the first facility in Australia to provide advanced radiation treatment for cancer using heavy particle beams already available in Europe,” says Associate Professor Scott Penfold from the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research.

But it demands computer modellers and machine operators trained in nuclear physics to make it work. Similar facilities are on the drawing board for Australia’s other major population centres.

Radiation in the mining industry, led by Professor Nigel Spooner of the University of Adelaide

Keeping up with demand for radiation safety skills, led by Cameron Jefferies of the Australasian Radiation Protection Society. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency already has positions it can’t fill, AJ says.

“People tend to be less afraid of things they understand. So we’re looking at changing the nuclear mindset across a whole range of industries and a general uplift in scientific literacy. So, for instance, wherever the submarine bases end up, people will be able to understand and assess the risk.”

Media contacts
Niall Byrne, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0417-131-977
Laura Boland, laura@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0408-166-426

Conference web page: https://aip-congress.org.au
Media page: www.scienceinpublic.com.au