WNU in 2021 and Beyond
25 August 2021
A Q&A with WNU's New Director Isis Leslie
Isis Leslie has been appointed Director of World Nuclear University (WNU). Isis previously held the position of Programme Coordinator for WNU's Summer Institute between 2009 and 2014, and was also Staff Director for both the World Nuclear Association's Security Working Group as well as the Sustainable Used Fuel Management Working Group. Isis has a professional background in international nuclear security and non-proliferation, and has previously worked with nuclear research and safety institutions, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), World Institute of Nuclear Security (WINS), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as a contractor for Tetra Tech.
WNU spoke with Isis about her new role as Director and about how WNU plans to support its global network of educational and institutional partners in a post-pandemic world.
WNU: As the new Director, what do you envision as the future of World Nuclear University?
IL: WNU has a bright future ahead – many countries are reconsidering nuclear energy’s role in a low-carbon future, and we hope to maintain our position at the forefront of international training, providing unique opportunities for our participants to listen to and interact with the leaders of the industry, and bringing an international perspective to the future leaders of the industry.
WNU: What attributes of WNU programming set it apart from other nuclear education and professional development programmes?
IL: Through our partnerships with not only our founding partners but also the global nuclear industry, WNU is able to offer flexible and adaptive programming with a truly international perspective, incorporating a wide range of expert speakers from all over the globe. We work closely with a wide range of partners to identify the key leadership and training needs across the nuclear industry, governments and academia, and we work to respond promptly to these needs. For example, when leadership in nuclear power plant long-term operation was flagged as a key issue facing the nuclear industry today, we created a two-week intensive virtual course with mentored action learning challenges to support leadership capabilities in this area (the Strategic Leadership Academy).
WNU: How does WNU collaborate with its founding partners, World Nuclear Association, World Association of Nuclear Operators, International Atomic Energy Agency, and Nuclear Energy Agency?
IL: WNU has very close relations with its founding partners – for each of our leadership programmes we establish a programme committee with members drawn from the founding partners as well as from the industry, and we incorporate the key aims of our founding partners into each of our programmes. The Director General of the WNA, Sama Bilbao y León, is our President, and she is very closely involved with the running of the WNU and with the design and content of our programmes – she also helps us to maintain good relations with our industry partners. All of our partners are very supportive and proactive, providing insights, experts and in the case of the IAEA, funding through the technical cooperation programme.
WNU: Historically, WNU’s programmes, such as its Summer Institute and School on Radiation Technologies, have been held in person. How will WNU’s programming adapt to a post-pandemic world?
IL: WNU has been able to hold most of our courses effectively online for the duration of the pandemic. One of our unique offerings in many of our programmes is small group work led by expert mentors, and we are ensuring that we are able to incorporate this alongside the more traditional knowledge development model used by so many training providers during the pandemic. WNU carefully assesses applicants for each programme, and we keep groups small so that we are able to create an environment where each person is able to contribute and interact with our esteemed speakers, and we were able to show that this can be done effectively online with our recent Strategic Leadership Academy. However, for our most immersive programme, the Summer Institute, we decided that the virtual format would simply not allow us to create the right experience so central to its success.
WNU: In your opinion, what is the most critical challenge facing the nuclear industry today?
IL: Coming from a security background, I should say insider threats or transport security, but truthfully, I think that the most pressing issue facing nuclear today is the public misunderstanding of the importance of nuclear in creating a resilient and stable low-carbon energy system. Nuclear can function as a great partner to renewables and other clean sources of energy, and can help ensure that energy is affordable and reliable. However, without public support, nuclear will continue to be phased out, leading to a higher reliance in the short-term on fossil fuels.
WNU: Finally, what is one nuclear technology, innovation, or solution on the horizon that excites you and why?
IL: I love the idea of nuclear fusion! Derek Sutherland of CTFusion spoke at a recent course we hosted with Tsinghua University on the nuclear industry today - the work they and the others working on fusion are doing is fascinating and presents some really exciting possibilities for the future of clean energy production. I also have a 6-year-old who is fascinated with science and space, and we have been talking about some of the nuclear applications which might help facilitate space travel, which is always a winner!