Happy International Women in Engineering Day! Meet Florence Dandoy, Nuclear Core and Fuel Design engineer

23 Jun 2022

We caught up with one of our women in engineering, Nuclear Core and Fuel Design engineer, Florence. We asked her about her job and career and what advice she would give to work in nuclear engineering.

Florence is an engineer in the Core and Fuel Studies department within Global Nuclear. Her department deals with everything related to the reactor core, like neutronic calculations, daily monitoring and uranium loading plans. Specifically, she supports her colleagues responsible for the Tihange 1 and Tihange 2 nuclear units in Belgium.

Florence, what’s your background and how did you end up in the nuclear sector?

I decided to study physics at university because I thought it was better to choose a difficult subject so that the rest of my life would seem simpler in comparison. And it was also very interesting to take courses that somehow tried to explain and understand the universe.

I ended up studying and working in the nuclear sector by chance. When you realize how complex nuclear technology is, you just wonder how it can possibly work and you want to understand it. You develop respect for these engineers and workers who, 40 years ago, without computers, built these reactors. So naturally, we want to keep this heritage alive.

Why did you join Tractebel?

The French-speaking university of Brussels, ULB, was very close to Electrabel and Tractebel and it was a good breeding ground for engineers for Tractebel. So, we had all heard about Tractebel as students. Tractebel was the right “match” for a physics engineer to start out in the Belgian nuclear industry. In fact, when you want to work in the nuclear industry in Belgium, the choice is limited given that it's a small country. In addition, a design office was the best match for my personality and my training. So I joined Tractebel in 2018.

What do you do exactly?

My job is quite unique, as we are the only ones doing it in Belgium. It's a "niche" job. I was lucky enough to land in the department that best matched my master's degree at the ULB (physics engineer, nuclear engineering).

My daily work is to monitor the cycle of the plant: monitor the daily operation of the plant (is my reactor okay? Is everything okay?), to do strategic studies for the management of uranium, to prepare the next nuclear fuel cycle, to carry out investigations when an issue is reported... In a nutshell, it involves many reports and calculations.

The 'Core and fuel studies' department is the geekiest within Tractebel. I feel comfortable there. My colleagues are very knowledgeable, they are very proficient in their fields, although nuclear physics and neutronics are very complex. As a result, it takes about two years of training to begin to understand what's going on. This level of complexity is what is interesting and challenging.

That's what I like most about it: my colleagues. They are top experts, from whom I can learn every day. I also love science and finalizing a technical note resulting from months of scientific work makes me feel good.

What are the main challenges in your job?

The most challenging part is paying attention all the time, staying critical, and not being lazy when it comes to understanding (yes, there are days you just don't want to). In the nuclear industry mistakes are not allowed, you have to keep the highest level of quality. Being perfect becomes even more difficult when you have a limited amount of time. You have to make the right choices every time.

Nuclear energy is quite controversial. In your view, what are the benefits of nuclear power?

Nuclear energy is obviously low-carbon and it is a baseload energy, which means that it is not intermittent like wind or solar power that cannot generate electricity when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. This is what makes it attractive at the moment. From a scientific point of view, nuclear power is a cutting-edge science.

Personally, I think that the combination of energy efficiency and savings, renewable energies and nuclear power combined with a lot of scientific research is the winning strategy.

What advice would you give those who want to pursue a career in nuclear engineering?

The best thing to do is to start by working on nuclear power plants in operation to get a feel for the reality of the field and understand how a plant works. Otherwise, it’s difficult to understand how a small modular reactor (SMR) works. Then, you have to remain open to technologies other than the ones we have in Belgium, the pressurized water reactors (PWR). Tractebel is moving into the SMR market, but as a technical engineer, you can only prepare yourself by training as well as you can.

Nowadays, the trend among young people is to change jobs every two or three years. That can't be the case in a job like this. We need experienced people. There are always new projects in research and development, international projects and innovative developments like SMRs. At Tractebel, motivated young engineers have the opportunity to acquire top-notch competences and to have a long career path full of varied and fascinating engineering challenges.


Curious about our engineering opportunities in Nuclear? Click here to see our current job offers. 

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