In the last weeks of 2020, an online forum Nuclear Education for Africa’s Future took place and highlighted once again that Zambian nuclear ambitions are decades-long. The goal of the forum was to motivate young people to receive a degree in nuclear engineering and spur interest in nuclear research. It was organized by the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN), the University of Rwanda and Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom. The forum was attended by government officials, educationalists, students, postgraduates and junior researchers from Burundi, Gambia, Ghana, Egypt, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, South Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Ethiopia and Uganda.
Russia and Rosatom have been offering free education programs to African students since 2013. At present, 256 students from Sub-Saharan Africa, including Rwanda, Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Africa, study in Russia for nuclear-related majors.
The reason for Zambian youth receiving nuclear education in Russia is the Center for nuclear science and technology (CNST) to be built in Lusaka by Rosatom. This Center is planned not for the production of energy, but scientific and commercial purposes, starting from education and training to radiopharmaceuticals production and other knowledge-dense activities. Since Zambia has started on the journey towards a peaceful and safe nuclear future, it needs its knowledgeable nuclear scientists and engineers.
Once the Center will be built, a training complex within it will contribute to the capacity building in the nuclear technology via providing opportunities for training of students of different degrees from bachelor to PhD and carrying out advanced experiments and research that provides a new level of practical competencies. As of now, Zambian future nuclear professionals are learning directly from their Russian professors.
“I would love to go back home and help my country with the knowledge that I have gained here, in every nuclear related field. Foremost, I plan to stay and advance my education and get my master’s degree, which will further advance my understanding in my field”, said Zambian student at MEPhI university Mabvuto Banda.
Rosatom works with 18 universities that offer nuclear-related study opportunities. Students can pursue everything from nuclear medicine, physics, and others. Zambian students study in Moscow at the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) and are already conducting nuclear research in everything from medicine, mineral and space exploration, oil and gas extraction, and airport operations, among others.
Another student, Amon Chileshe hopes to go back in his home country Zambia to train more Zambians who would, in turn, drive the industry in the future: “In Zambia, I see a lot of possibilities that will come with nuclear technology. But we shall need people who are well skilled and knowledgeable for us to tap into these possibilities,” he said.
According to Taonga Chilambo, she decided to study nuclear because it was very captivating. Power generation is not the only application of nuclear technology – it is also used in healthcare and food processing. She believes that nuclear energy can help Zambia overcome its energy shortage and boost the national economy.
Many Zambians struggle to believe this future because of the myths surrounding nuclear. Many misconceptions have been circulated and a conscious effort needs to be made to dispel them. Rosatom together with Zambia Atomic Agency is making strides in this direction.
A good example of such initiatives is Atoms for Africa, a Facebook-based video contest for young people. Since 2015, students and young professionals from Sub-Saharan Africa have been creating videos about the advantages of nuclear energy and technology for Africa. The best teams are awarded technical tours to nuclear facilities in Russia. Over five years, 36 winners have visited Russia. This year, the contest has started in the past week and will run until January 31. The winners will have an opportunity to visit Russia after the pandemic. More information can be found on Rosatom Africa Facebook page.