Afnan Wajdi Bin Muhammad Nor loves going to work every day at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“I've been here for about four months and almost every week I meet people from different backgrounds and different countries,” he said. “There’s a mixing of knowledge and culture which is really exciting to see.”
The Oregon State University graduate, who completed his degree in nuclear engineering in 2019, is currently living in Vienna and working as a nuclear engineering intern.
The IAEA serves as a hub for countries to share knowledge about the nuclear field. The agency’s goal is promoting the safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
Afnan is working with the Fuel and Waste Management division to support the IAEA’s programs regarding the nuclear fuel cycle, access to and operation of research reactors, and waste management strategies. The division is focused on environmentally sound and cost-effective practices for dealing with technologies that generate radioactive waste.
“Recently, we had a consultancy meeting with experts from Brazil, Mexico, and Slovakia,” he said. “During the meeting I was sharing my opinion on the software we are developing to help with organizing the back-end management of nuclear waste.”
While he’s enjoying life in Vienna, Afnan’s further from home than he expected to be; he envisioned moving back to Malaysia after graduating. The country had plans to build their own nuclear power plants and Afnan wanted to be involved. With a change in government in 2018, however, nuclear energy development was shut down.
“It was a bummer for me. There was a time when I didn’t know what to do with my degree,” he said. “But I started thinking, ‘I can always work outside of Malaysia.’ There’s a lot of experience to be gained from different countries all over the world.”
So far, the IAEA is delivering. In addition to his work in assisting the division with consultation and technical meetings and workshops, Afnan has been involved with the division’s publications, from books that may take years to move through the publishing process to journal articles outlining cost estimates for environmental remediation projects.
Afnan says he was originally drawn to nuclear engineering for its positive impact on sustainability.
“Nuclear engineering has the potential to lower carbon emissions from their current level,” he said. “Places like the Marshall Islands are slowly going underwater due to climate change. If we fail to prevent the global temperature from rising, we could face terrifying prospects.”
Reflecting on his time at Oregon State, Afnan recalls one class in particular he took as a junior that got him thinking globally. “Sustainability for the Common Good was an eye-opening course,” he said. “It really changed how I see the world.”
After taking the sustainability course, Afnan began carefully considering how his daily actions rippled out into the world around him, especially in the face of climate change. He’s thankful for the opportunity at the IAEA to explore the sustainable potential of nuclear energy and learn hands on about the issues facing the international community.
Afnan plans to pursue additional international experiences once his year-long IAEA internship is complete in 2020. He dreams of one day having his own nuclear engineering startup or consulting firm.
“I’ve always wanted to do engineering,” he said. “Initially there was a phase where I didn’t know what kind to pursue, but I really think I made the right choice. I love learning about nuclear engineering and all the possibilities we can achieve with it.”
— Meriden Vitale