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EBRD: How women engineers are making Chernobyl safer

EBRD: How women engineers are making Chernobyl safer

 June 27, 2019

Creating a safe storage for spent fuel is one of the main ways EBRD is helping decommission Chernobyl. Three #women engineers working on the project at the power plant tell their story.

EBRD strives to enhance gender equality across its regions

When Marie Curie won her first Nobel Prize in 1903, she was the first woman to be so honoured. Over 100 years later, the number of women in science and engineering stays considerably lower than the number of men.

"The reasons why are complex. But they are surely not helped by the outdated stereotype of what engineering is about that still prevail in many parts of the EBRD regions," says Steven White, an EBRD Associate Director and Head of Nuclear Safety Account.

However, EBRD shares a commitment towards enhancing gender equality across the Bank’s operations, and this can be seen in the EBRD's work on Chernobyl.

Women engineers working on Chernobyl nuclear power plant 

After the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl, the EBRD is helping to construct one of the world’s largest dry storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. Over 21,000 used fuel assemblies from the Chernobyl reactors will be safely processed and stored on the site for a minimum of 100 years at the Interim Spent Fuel Storage. The project is funded by international donors and the EBRD through the EBRD Nuclear Safety Account.

The team, managed by the US company Holtec International, is made up of engineers from Germany, Italy, the Slovak Republic, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States. Among them are several women engineers.

Balancing their career with their personal lives

Vera Voronina works on the testing and commissioning of a forced gas drying system. Dasha Prymak is part of the engineering team responsible for the testing and commissioning of the equipment used to move the fuel to its final storage. Anastasia Kalita works on the development of testing programmes for the equipment systems.

Vera, Dasha and Anastasia share a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity for project solving. But they are also brought together in their concern about how to balance their careers with their personal lives, especially when it comes to the large pressures women still experience in society.

“There are some cultural norms that need changing. Managing the children, house and career remains a challenge," they say. 

Women Chernobyl engineers

Promoting engineering as a career for women through education

How can we improve the promotion of engineering as a career choice for women?

"It is always best to start at the origins, namely, with our education system. As a UK Engineering Ambassador for the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, I have had the opportunity to visit many schools over the years to highlight the opportunities that engineering can offer to both young girls and boys," adds Steven.

"More often than not, when I ask “What is engineering?”, the replies are confused at best or these young people simply don’t know. When you tell them that engineering is involved in almost everything around you – from accountancy to zoology – they are surprised."

Women engineers Chernobyl Ukraine

EBRD's Gender Strategy highlights challenges faced by women

There is still a long way to go. The EBRD’s Gender Strategy highlights the challenges faced in encouraging girls, in particular, to pursue the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) subjects at school. Women remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – even though they consistently outperform men when they study these subjects. International Women in Engineering Day serves to highlight the challenges women still face.

"But the fascination for engineering is infectious. Often we don’t realise how much our world is shaped by engineering, from the toothbrush to the pencil. And the next time your daughter or your friend’s daughter asks you what engineers do and what skills they need, you could ask them in return: Do you like asking questions? Do you like being creative? Do you like helping people? Do you like solving problems? Do you like having fun? Do you like making things? Do you like travelling to faraway places? Do you want to make a difference?" adds Steven.

"If they answer “yes” to any of these questions, then there is no doubt: They could be an engineer!"

Join women forging exciting careers with the EBRD 

Join talented women at the EBRD who are leading and working on exciting projects across many countries - projects that truly make a difference to the lives of women in business. 

Research the EBRD's latest job vacancies and see where your skills and experience might take you.


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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