Formerly of International Atomic Energy Agency
What do you do?
I work for a consulting company. We help foreign technology to develop market-entry strategies for the Chinese market. My work primarily focuses on developing market entry and growth strategy for companies in the cleantech industry and energy in general. I am based in Beijing, the company has offices all over Asia.
I was working in a section in the Department of Safeguards called Strategic Planning and External Coordination. I was working on Safeguards project planning, alongside one of my friends from the Monterey Institute, where I studied. With my background in nuclear safeguards and technical cooperation, he had recommended me.
My job was to help countries with civil nuclear projects in the Member Safeguards Support Programme (MSSP) to develop technical cooperation projects in safeguards verification with the agency. Not every country has the same level of know-how in terms of civil nuclear development, so the Department I was working in helps countries that are developing nuclear energy form safeguards policy structure and framework for technical collaboration. We advised them on introducing the energy in a safe and sound way.
The agency wants to ensure that regardless of the type of technology a country was using in civil nuclear, the agency could verify that there would be no hazard, either manmade or in nature, or any concern of terrorists that could influence the implementation of the civil nuclear energy projects. Also, if this nuclear energy reactor was to be in use for a few years, the agency would verify no fuel rods had been mistakenly replaced or left out or was defective. With scientists and policy experts from all Member States, the IAEA’s nuclear verification covers a broad spectrum of technology ranging from IT technology assisted verification to physical or chemical technology detection.
How did your studies prepare you for this job?
At the Middlebury Institute (formerly known as Monterey Institute of International Studies), I took classes on policy analysis that focused specifically on nonproliferation, nuclear forensics, science and technology on safeguards, etc.. Everything I’ve learned in classes directly applied to my work at the agency.
I had the opportunity to collaborate with 15 project managers, as part of the job was understanding the policy issues and having some technical knowledge, interacting and following up with engineers was crucial on the job.
What was the biggest project you worked on during your time at the IAEA?
Every two years, the IAEA produces The Biennial Safeguards Review for the Development and Implementation Support Programme. The report thoroughly reviews safeguards projects that were carried out in the past two years and assesses the progress so far. The report also gives an outlook of how much effort both by project team and financially the IAEA should put in for the next few years. My biggest output for my year in the agency was the biennial report for the 2016 and '17 Development and Implementation Support Programme.
Why did you become interested in nuclear problematics?
By the time I graduated from high school, China had begun to actively invest in nuclear energy. China has three state-owned nuclear enterprises, they are leading the construction of 20+ nuclear power plants in China, most of these reactors adopts the world’s most advanced nuclear technology. With the rapid development of nuclear energy, the safeguards/safety/security policy development have to pace up. I came across the program at Monterey by a professor from undergrad. After learning more about its scope and depth I became increasingly interested in this particular issue as it lies at the intersection of economics/clean energy planning and international security. It was also a good time for me to get involved in nuclear energy as China has been increasing its effort and international cooperation in nuclear energy development.
Are you planning to work in the nuclear energy sector again?
In the future, nuclear is going to be a part of the energy mix for countries that are seriously committed to increasing energy efficiency and lowering their carbon footprint. One of the possible forms of future nuclear reactors is small modular reactors (SMR), I hope to have the opportunity to learn more about the development of an SMR from the concept development, financing, safety/security policy design, also explore what could be potential roadmaps for the SMR, etc.
I've got this image of the nuclear sector as male-dominated. What has your experience of it been?
When I was working at the IAEA, I had the opportunity to work with many female nuclear engineers, analysts and inspectors. The agency has been doing more and more to encourage women to apply. I see women that I have been working with at the agency as role models – one time I worked with one of the Safeguards chief inspectors for a special inspection Task Force. She was not only a team leader, she was also a mother of two. Her job requires extensive travelling, she travelled 100 days out of 295 working days, worked long hours during inspection trips. She also has to fulfil her duty as a mother and raise two kids. Hearing the stories from women senior inspectors and engineers gives you a fine definition of working hard, they are truly inspirational, and I hope to see more women working in nuclear engineering and nuclear policy.
You're back in China now, but you've also worked abroad a lot. What directed your move from country to country?
I moved a lot after I graduated from college. I moved to Nepal because of the internship with the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs. Then I moved to Vienna for IAEA. Most of my moves were work-prompted. Now I'm back in China, I would like to continue my work in energy and security. Chinese energy development is being developed and is catching up in new energy and cleantech fast. The energy community is very vibrant in Beijing, so I hope to stay here and add my voice to the blend.
How do you see the field of non-proliferation and nuclear energy, in general, evolving in China?
For nuclear energy, the Chinese State-owned nuclear enterprises have expanded their business not only domestically but also internationally. There is a lot done in nuclear energy in the past decade.
For the development of nonproliferation, I think one simple indicator of effort in nonproliferation is the number of government employees that are put in nuclear security/safety offices. Using the US as an example, the Department Of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department Of Defense and the Department of State all have designated offices in nuclear nonproliferation. While In China, offices in charge of nonproliferation policy tends to be smaller, which may not quite proportioned to the size of the industry.