Alexander is an engineer working for ANSTO. And he is regularly asked to consult with the community about the nuclear industry and it’s waste.
I guess it’s a very entrenched approach for engineers … to impart knowledge on people
And since that first time, he has learned a lot.
I actually found it very challenging, talking to people and trying to tell them the facts
Through reflection, Alexander has learned a new way to talk with the community and discuss those challenging communication.
that kind of engagement and dialogue is something that was a complete paradigm shift
Extra discussions during the episode
Advice for future : Corporation and community working together
It’s going to be this two way dialogue where this is the community’s project…. how can we best deploy that, so it’s something that can drive mutual benefit from
Engineering item Alexander admires: Nuclear technology
I did not realise the absolute depth and breadth that nuclear technology actually contributes to society
Engineer Alexander admires: All engineers!
I just want to give my thanks to all the engineers that have provided and contributed to making society and the world a better place
About Alexander Borovskis
Alexander graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical Engineering.
He has worked with ANSTO as a Plant Engineer and he is now the Leader of Waste Operations (Acting) leading a team of 26 supervisors, technicians and engineers in the safe, sustainable, and customer-focused delivery of waste management services.
In addition to this he is the General Co-chair of the International Youth Nuclear Congress 2020.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 3 Episode 2
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Alexander Borovskis
Welcome to season three, Episode Two of engineering heroes, a podcast that presents incredible engineers that are shaping our society and battling our challenging issues. My name is Melanie and my co host and our podcast’s resident engineer speaking to us from the trenches is Dominic.
Our guest today graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical Engineering. He works at ANSTO as an acting leader of waste operations, managing a team of 26 supervisors, technicians and engineers in a safe, sustainable and customer focused delivery of waste management services. Our guest is very active in his industry holding the position as general co chair for the International Youth Nuclear Congress, which is taking place in Sydney in March 2020. Our guest today is Alexander Borowski.
Mel De Gioia 1:17
Alexander grew up with a really strong interest in science and a driving need to understand how things worked. He wasn’t mechanically minded so wasn’t pulling apart his parent’s toaster or whatever. He was instead drawn to chemistry and stumbled into engineering, specifically chemical engineering. He found that it was something that brought the sciences together in a really interesting way.
I was always really interested in how you can come from raw materials and bring it into kind of valuable products for society.
Mel De Gioia 1:52
What was your first job as an engineer?
My first job as an engineer was actually working for Boeing.
working on their wastewater treatment plant. How it all kind of first started was, it was a very interesting time in that site where they are actually closing the site down. I’d come on kind of just as they were, they made that decision and they were then working to get the site back to where it was before they started the operations.
Okay, so remediation of the site?
Okay. That would be work and a half.
That’s where they threw me straight away to the the wastewater treatment plant, because it was all pumps and tanks and processes and things like that. It was currently in a kind of care and maintenance phase and they weren’t operating it. But because they were having to start to clean the site up and there was going to be a lot of wastewater generator, my job was to get it back into operations. It was a really amazing responsibility. I was only there for a month as an intern. And then basically I said, you know, do you mind if I stay on a couple of days to finish off what I was doing? And they said, not a problem and they go, you not only can stay on a couple of days, you’ve got the next 12 months with us. So I stayed on and yeah, it went on from not only doing this remediation work on this treatment plan, I then was on to electroplating facilities on to jet engine testing facilities. It was more like cleaning up the jet fuel but it was it was still very glamorous and very cool as an engineer to be a part, be across some of this stuff.
Mel De Gioia 3:43
That’s a great first project.
To do a really good job you end up putting yourself out of a job. But it but it was a it was still a great project.
Mel De Gioia 3:51
So where are you at now?
Currently I work at the ANSTO the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation at Lucas Heights in Sydney. My role there is I am the leader of waste operations. Basically, we, my team and I, we deal with all the radioactive waste that’s generated from reactor operations, from nuclear medicine production and from research at the site.
Mel De Gioia 4:18
So you’ve gone from wastewater to nuclear waste.
Yeah, it’s one of those things when you start you don’t even realise such a path exists.
How did the jump come about? Was it just a case of there was a there was a job in the offer and you you went that way or was it something that you really made a strategic decision to that you wanted to do?
So basically, from the experience I got at Boeing and decommissioning, environmental remediation and hazardous waste management, I applied for a role at AIRS. With my eye was kind of more on the nuclear medicine aspects. Little did I know that the nuclear industry has it very large discipline and the regiment is some of the most rigorous in the world. Basically, my experience from the aeronautical industry, and hazardous waste industry kind of translated really well to be a kind of an asset to ANSTO which was just, it was a whole discipline I didn’t even know existed.
The fourth Of March 2020 is going to be a very special day. It is the first world engineering day for sustainable development. It’s going to be a day to highlight the achievements of engineers, and all their engineering works in our modern world. It has the goal of improving the public understanding of how engineering and technology is central to modern life and sustainable development. A little like the mission of this podcast actually, and to prepare all our listeners for this momentous day, Engineering Heroes has been asked by the World Federation of Engineering Organisations to create a mini series, which will highlight each of the UN sustainable development goals, and an engineer who is working in each space. So, from the third of February, we will be releasing 17 short episodes from our talks with engineers from around the globe as they highlight their plans to help the world. Check out more on our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au. Now, Alexander is going to talk to us about something he is very passionate about. He’s going to talk to us about what he’s learned from his experiences in communicating to the wider community about risk.
Yeah, I was actually fortunate enough to spend a few times in South Australia talking to regional and rural communities about the disposal of radioactive waste. There are hospitals and universities all around Australia actually having stockpiles of radioactive waste. And also South Australia is the home of some of the biggest uranium mining assets in the world. It was very interesting for me. So I came, I guess from a very traditional, and I guess it’s a very kind of entrenched approach for engineers is that we like to impart knowledge on people. So that kind of people don’t have the knowledge, there’s an information deficit. So we go there to talk to them about, you know, what the facts are. And going out there, I kind of had that perspective. You know, there’s people here that haven’t been fortunate enough to come across this information or learn it. So I went out there and there was a lot of, you know, regional, rural and indigenous communities that we would go out and start explaining what’s an isotope? What does it mean to split the atom? What is radioactive waste? I actually found it very challenging, talking to people and trying to tell them the facts. I had a very, very big reflection on that process and started to realise well, it’s not only about the facts, it’s a value based discussion. And I feel like that kind of engagement and dialogue, there was a complete paradigm shift in the way I was thinking in the way I was dealing with these interactions, to try and understand and empathise with people, and understand where their fears and concerns came from. And that was very important.
Mel De Gioia 8:18
What do your presentations look like now? How have they evolved now that you’re aware of this?
My focus has been completely on approaching the discussions with empathy, and understanding what are the values that make them feel the way they do? So understanding their kind of what are their experiences? So I was actually talking to people that had, you know, lived near some of these facilities – lived near mines and been involved, and understanding what their concerns were, why they were worried about the waste, or what they worried about how it harmed the environment. And then I think it’s about then once you have those discussions, it’s about being building trust with these one on one interactions, to then understand their perspectives, to then have the discussion about how I feel, why I feel what I feel, and why you feel what you feel. So it was a very insightful, full bubble for me to come across,
Is it fear of the unknown that really tends to drive it from the first place with the community? Is it because most people when you when you talk about radioactive material, then some automatic walls go up and people get paranoid. And yeah, they’re worried about dangers and disasters and those sorts of things. Is the first goal to kind of get their head around that that is not that big an issue when you break it down and actually address the problem that’s there.
And I think that the the bigger thing is about the broader understanding and how people understand risk in general. I guess it all stems from fear, and I guess fear is driven by either a lack of knowledge or lack of trust. They may not trust me as a person and the information I’m giving to them. And I think the very interesting thing was, again, it’s really about building trust in the dialogue. And then we can tackle some of these, these other risk based discussions. But the really interesting one that I like to bring up and it’s a personal thing is I like to surf, I like to scuba dive. And people would go to me, you know, aren’t you scared of sharks? I’m like, if I was to be scared of sharks, I should have been scared of driving to the beach in the first place. Because I’m more likely to be harmed in that car ride then I am by the shark and people find that line of objective facts with regards to the statistics around the incidence of harm and death and things like that quite hard to get their head around. Some people don’t believe you. The best approach that I find to achieve it and something that really helps the people to normalise it is to understand what the impact of nuclear technologies, whether it be for medicine, for energy in other countries, whatever it is to understand what that impact is on an individual or a community or family level. So a really good example is the current statistics is that more than one in two Australians will have a nuclear medicine from ANSTO in the body at some time in their life.
I collect specialists at the moment. My body is slowly falling apart.
One in two will have a diagnostic or some nuclear medicine procedure from a product made in Australia.
It just goes to show the importance of the facility. But when you talking one in two, that’s a lot of people that it’s helping.
I think then, you know, translating some of that into whatever outcome it could be, you know, people are using these technologies for testing agriculture. For looking at the environmental performance and you know, climate change. So understanding that this is complete, diverse suite of applications that are impacting and helping the world, but helping it not just saying, you know, this is helping climate change. Well, what does climate change mean to you? What does a nuclear medicine procedure, how does that affect you, your family and your community. By having that on a local level, helps them understand and have that emotive dimension and that also helps build the trust as well.
So what are your thoughts on the future of engineering?
I guess, in the vein of kind of what we’ve been talking about, about how it’s around this, this kind of new engagement model that I guess engineers needs to develop. I think that the way that projects you know, really large mega project things, whether that be energy, whether they be mines, things like that that are happening in people’s communities. I think there is going to be this transition into the approach that these projects are not corporations and organisations that are deploying these assets and things within communities and kind of saying this is what we’re doing. It’s going to be this two way dialogue where this is the community’s project, you know, how can we best deploy that, so it’s something that can drive mutual benefit from. I think that is something that’s currently changing and becoming, you know, much better in the engineering, construction, and broader industrial environment. But I think that’s going to be something really important in the future.
Mel De Gioia 13:36
And that really ties in with what you were saying before in that you’ve just got to listen and you bring your expertise, but you’re working with the community. From your experience, what would you say to people just starting out an engineering?
I would say part of the job of being an engineer is the communication piece as well. You have to be able to try and distil down some of these complex topics to kind of more digestible pieces. Talking to someone talking to your grandparents talking to your friends, families and everyone that you kind of surround to be able to convey the information about what you do and why you do it. The important thing is the why. I think it’s a kind of a bit of a subtle art that a lot of people are starting to develop. But I think in engineering, for us to be such a successful industry and discipline, we have to be able to communicate. I think that the innovation and digitalization of solutions that’s happening, I think that there are immense opportunities that’s coming forward in the future when it comes to that. But I think we need to be able to explain them better to people.
Do you think we’re getting better with the engineers that are coming through? Do you think that communication side is getting better than the older engineers?
I think it depends on the individual. I think the individuals that have the desire and also have that innate ability to be able to simplify complex things. They’re the ones that are taking on championing the efforts of making people in the public know great things that engineers do. I think that the broader industry probably needs to put more focus in having all levels of their organisations, engineers, whether they be to be able to champion the work that the organisation does. Everyone from HR function to finance to safety to the engineers themselves, should be empowered with the skill set to be able to at a barbecue talk about what the organisation does.
So what’s a piece of engineering that impresses you?
In alignment with the experience that I have, I guess, be really fascinated with nuclear technology. The main thing that I found really interesting about it is before I started in the industry, I’ve obviously understand nuclear power, you know, supplying clean energy to many countries around the world. I did not realise the absolute, depth and breadth that nuclear technology actually contributes to society. Things such as nuclear medicine. So, you know, there’s obviously the diagnostics that they’re using for things like heart, bone, blood ailments, and then they’ve now got this kind of new emerging suite of therapeutics, that are also providing the diagnostic as well, I think they called theranostics, therapeutics and diagnostics. So that’s kind of a new thing. Things such as agriculture, I was actually fortunate enough to visit a nuclear facility similar to ANSTO in the Philippines, and they were using nuclear techniques to actually make rice and wheat crops in the country more productive. So basically, applying radiation to them to see if they can get more fertile crops out of it. It’s just something you would never think of.
And I think that’s where it comes back to this risk side of the industry because people just don’t seem to realise that radiation is everywhere.
Mel De Gioia 16:59
Yeah. Do you have an engineer that inspires you or that you admire?
I couldn’t actually put my finger on one to be honest. I think that there are many engineers that I’ve come across in my life that have been that have all imparted some knowledge and wisdom to me in the broader society. There’s been many engineers that have contributed small ideas that have all consolidated to become a very big breakthrough that’s, you know, made a large impact to society. So I’d say I just give my thanks to all the engineers that have provided and contributed to, to making society and the world you know, a better place.
I really like that one. It’s true though because even through my career everyone leaves their mark in this little bit of information or the way that you do things. And so it all adds up to to the engineer you become.
Mel De Gioia 17:44
Thank you so much for joining us tonight and imparting your wisdom.
Yeah, thanks for that. It was awesome.
I think it was, it was a privilege. Thank you so much.
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