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Karol ensures optimal and safe operation at a nuclear power plant

Karol Łuszczek graduated from the master’s programme in Nuclear Energy Engineering in 2016. He now works as a lead core designer for Westinghouse.

Karol Łuszczek
Master's programme in Nuclear Energy Engineering

Hi Karol! Tell us about yourself.

Hi! I am Karol, and I come from Poland. I graduated from the master's programme in Nuclear Energy Engineering at KTH in 2016 and have been working as a reactor physicist ever since.

What attracted you to the study of nuclear engineering?

I become fascinated with it the very first time I learned about the chain fission reaction in the physics class in high school. It also appealed to me as a healthy mix of physics and engineer. As I couldn't decide between studying one over the other, nuclear engineering seemed like a good compromise. It is a field where you need to understand the underlying principles well, but also add a bit of engineering ingenuity to make it work.

How did you learn about the nuclear engineering programme at KTH?

A couple of my older colleagues from the same department in Poland visited KTH as exchange students (many in the nuclear engineering programme). They brought back positive opinions of it and of living in Stockholm. That was the first piece of information that got me interested in KTH.

I made my final decision several months after when a gentleman from Areva (a French nuclear engineering company) was giving a series of talks about the industry and his company at my university in Poland. In one of these, he mentioned a programme called "European Master's in Nuclear Energy", which KTH's Nuclear Engineering was (and is) a part of. As a part of this programme, a student could spend his first year at KTH and the second year in Paris. Learning Nuclear Engineering from the countries with well developed nuclear industries? Sounds like a great idea to me!

How would you describe our master's programme to possible interested students?

The programme is quite flexible, letting students focus on what interests them in the field of Nuclear Engineering. Would you like to gain in-depth knowledge about the materials in nuclear? Go for it. Would you instead want to study numerical methods in nuclear? Go for it. Or is learning about the nuclear systems and reactor designs something that picks you interest? Go for it! The real shame is that there is not enough time during the day to do all of these courses! If you have a vision for yourself in the world of nuclear, I believe this programme will let you make it come true.

The teachers you will meet are in general very approachable and engaged in the subjects they teach. Everyone has their specific teaching style, and naturally, you will gravitate towards those lectures and courses that suit your learning style better. The department is well connected with the industry; thus, the knowledge you gain is fresh and relevant. The number of students in the programme is not very big. It may feel like your second home because you are not just another one of many faces.

Having said all that, think of KTH as an enabler. It will ENABLE you to gain in-depth knowledge; it will ENABLE you to develop relevant and new skills. However, it is up to you to make the best of that time.

You have decided to work on your degree project under supervision at Westinghouse. Can you comment on your choice?

It happened so that one of the degree projects they offered was in the area of my interests (computer codes, numerical methods). It was a good opportunity to test my skills in the industry settings and see how a nuclear engineering company works from the inside. I thought that working on the project in the company's office will help me make an informed decision about my future.

You are one of our international students who got permanent employment in Sweden after graduating from our programme. Can you describe shortly the company you work at?

I was offered a position at Westinghouse towards the end of my degree project and decided to take it. It has already been four years, and I am still enjoying working there. Westinghouse is one of the oldest and largest nuclear engineering company present worldwide. Our core business in nuclear fuel but there are many other projects from all areas of nuclear engineering that you can be a part as Westinghouse employee. In Sweden, Westinghouse has a fuel factory and an engineering office in Västerås. 

Can you describe your responsibilities at the company?

I am the lead core designer for one of the power plants that buy fuel from Westinghouse in Europe. This means I am responsible for designing the loading pattern (placement and shuffling of the fuel inside of the core) for each new fuel campaign for that plant, which ensures optimal and safe operation. Working with safety analyses is also a big part of that role. From time to time, I get engaged in the development projects where I need to model the behaviour of new fuel concepts or to help with benchmarking and validation of new computer codes.

Many of our students in the second year prefer to carry out their degree project in the industry. Can your company or other associated companies offer our students' degree projects and supervision? If so, which topics/fields?

Westinghouse Sweden has had a long tradition of offering degree projects to second years students. These are usually announced on our website or advertised directly to the professors. These usually gravitate around our experimental thermal-hydraulic facility in Västerås, computational codes, and new fuel concepts. Unfortunately, the number of projects varies from year to year. Some years it can be one or two, some years it can be much more than that.

You now have experience with the job market in the nuclear engineering field in Sweden. Could you summarise the various job opportunities our graduates may get in Sweden?

If you want to work in nuclear, there is, of course, Westinghouse. However, it is far from being the only nuclear company around. There are of course utilities who directly own and operate the plant. There are also smaller consulting companies present in Stockholm that deal with nuclear. There is also the nuclear authority if one is interested in working for the governmental body. If you are not scared to live across the Baltic Sea, Finland also has a well developed nuclear industry and looks for talented people.

How do you see the future of nuclear-related job opportunities in Sweden and worldwide?

This is a tricky one. I am sure there will always be a place for a strong nuclear presence in the environment-friendly energy mix. It almost seems inevitable. Unfortunately, as the example of Germany has shown, the industry is vulnerable to political moods. All I can say with confidence is that the nuclear industry will be there and that I will need to grow if the world is to meet its climate goals. However, if and when there will be enough political will power to see it through is impossible to say.

Some of our graduates decide to get jobs in companies that have no relations to nuclear engineering. Do you think that having nuclear engineering education can be helpful to them?

As a graduate, you shouldn't limit yourself to just nuclear. A lot of industries are simply looking for people who can think and learn, and a degree in engineering physics from KTH indeed attest to a graduate having these skills.

When you look a couple of yours back, would you choose the same path for yourself, or would you make some changes in the selection of your education or the country?

I am the type of person who often gets bogged down by questions like that. Nevertheless, when I look back at the other choices I was considering, I am pretty confident this was the best one. I have learned a lot about something that fascinated me, had a wonderful time at the nuclear engineering department at KTH and in Stockholm, established life-long friendships. What is there to regret?