“Working on the construction site of a nuclear power plant and living a five-minute walk from the sea”

"Working on the construction site of a nuclear power plant and living a five-minute walk from the sea"

28 July 2020
Akkuyu Engineer engineering Nuclear Turkey
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As an expatriate in Turkey, Alexia Sergeant is involved in the ambitious nuclear programme of Akkuyu. Beyond the professional challenge, this young engineer shares a real love for a country rich in culture and landscapes.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I am 28 years old and am Project Support Lead on Turkey’s first nuclear power plant project. After a military scientific preparatory class, I opted for energy and nuclear engineering by joining the Grenoble INP Phelma engineering school. I continued with a European master’s degree in the same field and a specialisation in materials for nuclear power, including an additional year at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia as well as training at INSTN and EDF. My attraction for the international scene goes back to my childhood and, since I was student I decided to travel to places like England, Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey, etc. My first professional experience was in Ankara, Turkey. As Regional Nuclear Officer for the CEA and the French Embassy, I participated in the development of bilateral relations between France, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania in the nuclear field, while providing institutional support to the French and local industrial fabric. These two years have been an opportunity to discover a country of breathtaking beauty at the crossroads of civilisations, dotted with incredible archaeological sites and fascinating from a geopolitical point of view.

Can you describe your missions?

Assystem was accredited in 2018 by the Turkish Safety Authority NDK to carry out inspection of structures, systems and components, important to nuclear safety. The Group was then chosen by Akkuyu Project Company, a subsidiary of the Russian company Rosatom, to carry out this type of service in the south of the country where it is building 4 VVER reactors of 1200MW each. The Assystem employees on site are organised into a team of inspectors, a HSE team (Health, Safety and Environment), and a project support team that I manage. We manage all the PMO tasks: document management, inspection planning, contract management, cost management, logistics and translation. We have also welcomed a Turkish nuclear engineer in the team to provide technical support to the inspectors.

Why did you choose to work at Assystem?

It was only when I returned to France at the end of this first professional experience that the idea of joining the industrial world came to me. While attending a recruitment evening organised by Assystem, I met my future manager. Our discussions, his willingness to offer me a practically tailormade job, and the very human contact I felt, convinced me! In September 2018, I joined Assystem on a position of Projects and Offer Engineer at the international level. From the beginning, I took part in the response to the call for tenders for the independent inspection services for the Akkuyu power plant. When we won the contract, I decided to join the team and return to Turkey.

What makes being an engineer at Assystem a unique experience?

Assystem offers a rare flexibility. When you get involved, you can gain responsibility and a significant amount of leeway, you can quickly learn and develop new skills. I also appreciate the human aspect, which is part of the company’s DNA, as well as the proximity of the management.

What do you like most about your job?

I appreciate its complex and concrete dimension, in a multicultural context. After embassy fairs, working on a nuclear power plant construction site is a radical change. I had to adapt my working methods to consider other ways of thinking and overcome possible communication difficulties. It’s a chance for me to discover project management on a project of this scale, as well as living the reality of what I studied and what I was discussing in Ankara on a daily basis. I also appreciate the managerial aspect, especially with an international team. It’s both rewarding and challenging.

What are the preconceptions about the country that have proven to be completely false while living there?

Turkey is a country that is generally not well known in France. Some people have the idea of a fundamentalist country, far from reality. Turkey is a developed country, even though it has been undergoing economic and political fluctuations since 2018. It is nevertheless pleasant to live in, offering magnificent landscapes and a real cultural richness. Turkish people are welcoming and always ready to share a good time. And if I pay a little more attention to the way I dress than in Ankara, it’s more out of a desire to adapt to the more traditional culture of the region.

Do you have an anecdote to tell us?

The little village where I live is turning into a real seaside resort when the weather is nice. Last summer, I made friends with a Turkish family. They quickly invited me to spend Bayram holidays with them to celebrate the end of Ramadan. I really enjoyed sharing their family life and discovering their traditions during these few days of celebration.

What advice would you give to an engineer who wants to settle in Turkey?

To come with the desire to discover and get to know each other. Turkey is multifaceted. If the big cities offer a lifestyle close to Europe, traditional Turkey requires more adaptation on a personal and professional level. But for those with an adventurous spirit, the experience is enriching and the encounters memorable. Despite different customs and mindsets, adaptation is easy. Within the inspection project, all employees speak English, although Russian and Turkish are heard daily. Personally, I wanted to learn Turkish to better understand the culture of the country.

 

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Alexia Sergeant

Project Support Lead Assystem

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