CELEBRATING WOMEN IN NUCLEAR ENERGY
I grew up in rural Limpopo – Nzhelele at Ha-Mavhunga, to be precise. I initially wanted to become and aeronautical engineer, but financial constraints led me to studying a BSc at the University of Venda.
Entering the world of nuclear didn’t cross my mind until my third year, when I had to complete a nuclear physics module. Growing up, I wasn’t even aware that South Africa used nuclear energy to generate electricity at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station.
I was further exposed to the nuclear energy field when one of my lecturers helped me to obtain a vacation job at iThemba LABS in the Western Cape after I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2006. I became so fascinated with nuclear that I ended up getting my PhD without taking a break from studying. Most of my time in academia was spent doing research on and studying the structure of the nuclei of elements on the periodic table and performing nuclear experiments at iThemba LABS. I also had the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time when I carried out on of my experiments at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland in 2009. Twelve years later, I don’t regret any of it.
I’ve always been involved in looking at the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. My interest has been in the aspects of the process that produce waste; not what happens to it. Now, I’m seeing what the back end of the cycle entails and the discovery is incredible. There are so many puzzles to crack and, as a nuclear experimentalist, I am always fascinated.
A hot topic in nuclear waste management across the globe right now is the establishment of deep geological repositories for the disposal of high-level waste, particularly spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power generation reactors like Koeberg. The scientific community is asking questions about what will happen to the spent fuel and whether direct disposal or recycling is more advantageous. As an experimentalist, it’s my job to ensure that South Africa provides safe, sustainable and publicly acceptable solutions to the challenge of spent nuclear fuel management.
Young women who are interested in getting involved in the nuclear field should make a point of working hard in silence and letting either success make the noise. I live by a saying from my Tshivenda culture that I was told as a young girl: Munna wau thoma wa musadzi ndi pfunzo. Always remember to believe in yourself.