Volume 8, Number 2
Interning at the IAEA, Personal Experiences
By Sarah Poe,
Master’s Candidate Spring 2011, Monterey Institute of International Studies
Since August of this year, I have had the hugely rewarding opportunity to intern in Vienna, Austria, at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In just a few short months, I have learned so much, and enjoyed so many experiences that will, no doubt, serve me well as I pursue a professional career in nuclear nonproliferation.
For the past two years I have been studying for a Master’s degree in nuclear nonproliferation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, while also working as a graduate research assistant at the Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Last summer, I researched safeguards-related issues at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) as part of the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative (NGSI). Because of these experiences, I found myself well-prepared to make the most of my time at the IAEA.
From the beginning of my time in Vienna, there have been endless opportunities to get involved and better understand how the Agency functions. However, the best part of interning at the Agency has been meeting with experts in the field, all of whom have offered helpful advice. Working in the Division of Public Information has given me great exposure to the wider role of the Agency and its various functions.
Part of my responsibilities in the Division has been assisting with responses to inquiries from journalists and the general public. Through this research, I have attained a far greater understanding not only of the Agency’s activities but of the public’s perceptions of those activities as well. Alongside these responsibilities, I was encouraged to get as involved as possible, and I have made every effort to do so.
During the first week, I joined with other IAEA interns for a photo and question-and-answer session with the Director General, Yukiya Amano. Mr Amano seemed to enjoy our company and our questions and eagerly encouraged us to return to the Agency one day as full-time staff.
Another memorable experience was a very informative tour of the IAEA’s laboratory in Seibersdorf. There, a host of knowledgeable experts explained their work to us with huge enthusiasm. We visited the Clean Lab, where environmental sampling kits for inspectors are prepared, and the Nuclear Materials Lab, where radioactive samples are analyzed.
While there, we were also introduced to a diverse variety of other nuclear applications. Since my own studies have focused on nonproliferation and arms control, I found the application of nuclear technology to increase crop yields and for insect control particularly illuminating.
The Insect Pest Control Lab, where fruit flies, tsetse flies and mosquitoes are sterilized, was most memorable for its distinct smell. Staying on environmental matters, months later I toured the IAEA’s isotope hydrology lab where nuclear technology is used to trace water back to its source.
In September, I had the privilege of attending the IAEA Board of Governors weeklong meeting. Since these meetings are closed to the general public, this was a very special opportunity to see how the meeting proceeds, almost literally ‘behind closed doors’. I found the statements and debates fascinating, especially after participating in a Board of Governors simulation during an intensive summer safeguards course hosted by LLNL and NGSI.
The September Board meeting led straight into the IAEA’s 54th General Conference and Scientific Forum the following week. Each day was full of events and meetings. The General Conference is a particularly exciting time to be at the Vienna International Centre (where the IAEA is based), a time of great convergence among politicians and delegates from around the world.
Finally, in November, I attended the IAEA’s weeklong Safeguards Symposium. Since the Symposium only occurs every four years, I was incredibly fortunate to be at the Agency at a time when the event was being held. Each session and poster presentation was highly informative, and I learned a great deal over the course of the week.
By way of a conclusion, my few months at the IAEA have been an incredible, unforgettable and frequently exciting experience. What’s more, Vienna is a wonderful city to live in. I hope to return one day with more experience to really make a difference.