“We are living decisive times for nuclear energy”
María Josefa Moracho Ramírez is Senior Nuclear Safety Officer at the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with headquarters in Vienna. Her career path from physics to nuclear safety sets an example to many women in the world of science. Foro Nuclear is reproducing an interview from IAEA dedicated to this expert in nuclear safety.
Since she was a young girl, physics were her passion. “Physics is very connected to nature, and I liked to observe, gather information and use it to build patterns. I had the feeling that physics would help me understand the ‘why’ of natural phenomena around me,” she says.
“I was particularly fascinated by nuclear energy because of our ability to produce such a huge amount of energy"
She first came into contact with nuclear energy while studying applied physics at the Autonomous University of Madrid. “I was particularly fascinated by nuclear Energy because of our ability to produce such a huge amount of energy,” she says. María Josefa went on to complete a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, and in 1993 joined Spain’s Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) as an assessor and inspector in Probabilistic Safety Assessment (PSAs) of nuclear power plants.
Interaction of humans and technology
In 1995, María Josefa Moracho began to research the interaction of humans and technology, as well as its repercussion on nuclear energy. That year she moved to Norway as a guest scientist at the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, to conduct research on human and behavioral factors influencing complex human-machine interaction. “There was a nuclear power plant simulator, and I worked with a group of scientists, professors, psychologists and senior regulators carrying out scenario-based experiments, for example, nuclear power plant accidents, to determine the interaction among the people and the systems and how they could be more effective,” she recalls.
In 1999 she joined the European Commission as the scientific secretary of the former European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) and contributed to the nuclear safety evaluations within the framework of the EU’s enlargement negotiations with several countries that had nuclear power plants. In 2003 she returned to the CSN in Spain, to focus on gathering operational experience feedback in nuclear installations and collaborate with the Reactor Harmonisation Working Group of the Western Nuclear Regulatory Authorities (WENRA).
Renewed interest in nuclear energy
After 30 years working in the nuclear field, she loves “working in an environment where we can look at aspects related to nuclear safety from a global perspective and to be able to give guidance based on the wealth of knowledge we have gathered from hundreds of experts with different perspectives, from across the globe,” says María Josefa Moracho regarding her current position at IAEA. Apart from this, she adds, “we are living decisive times for nuclear energy. A renewed interest in its role in the energy transition and the security of supply can lead us to an accelerated demand that calls for reinforced international cooperation. We are all compelled to join our efforts and transfer knowledge to the new generations.”
“We are living decisive times for nuclear energy, since there is a renewed interest in it because of its role in the energy transition"”
Joining the IAEA
In 2006, this physicist and expert in nuclear power started working at IAEA as Nuclear Safety Officer, carrying out nuclear installation safety training. “My job was very much related to building regulatory knowledge and competence in countries looking to embark on nuclear power programmes,” she says. “So my attention was on effective training – not just presenting the IAEA’s safety standards, but identifying the gaps between the book and the application.” Over the past 15 years she has conducted 55 nuclear safety workshops and assistance missions all over the world, with the goal of promoting the safety requirements and facilitating knowledge transfer.
Promoting nuclear safety and facilitating knowledge transfer are some of María Josefa Moracho’s tasks as expert in nuclear safety at IAEA
Since taking on the role of Senior Safety Officer at the IAEA in 2015 and launching the first International School on Nuclear and Radiological Leadership for Safety in 2017, her role has broadened to include coordinating work to strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of IAEA peer review and advisory services.
María Josefa Moracho is well recognized in her field, with special emphasis on her work in the Nuclear and Radiological Leadership for Safety course. According to IAEA, the Member States consider this an important contribution to nuclear safety.
“The concept of a ‘safety culture’ is something that I identified for myself as very important, early on in my career,” she says. “It’s related to a culture of behavior, and if you’ve been a trainer, you know that training for influencing behaviors is very complicated, although fascinating.”
“A strong safety and security culture helps to prevent accidents”
"In organizations dealing with nuclear and radioactive material, a strong safety and security culture helps to prevent accidents," she assures. The term ‘culture’ refers to the way in which safety and security is perceived, valued, prioritised and integrated into organizations. It involves leadership and other human factors. “Developing effective training to influence culture and change behaviours is challenging,” Moracho Ramirez says.
Since she loves to take on challenges, María Josefa Moracho has pioneered the concept of the IAEA’s first-ever International School on Nuclear and Radiological Leadership for Safety. The school focuses on fostering a culture of safety and on demonstrating the links between leadership and safety. Since its launch in 2017 it has attracted more tan 200 early to mid-career nuclear professionals.
“Before the school existed, safety publications tended to relate more to ensure effective management systems, rather than the role of leadership in effective nuclear safety. With the School we introduced this focus, and combined it with interactive, experimental learning, based on real-life, nuclear-related scenarios,” she concludes.