Olivia Thompson CChem CSci MNucI

Olivia Thompson

 “One of the most positive changes that I’ve seen in the industry since I joined is the number of women entering into the workplace!”

Career to date

  • 2017 - present: Head of Technical Skills and Capability, NNL 
  • 2014 - 2017: Business Manager, NNL
  • 2006 - 2013: Research Scientist, NNL

Olivia Thompson CChem CSci MNucl

Head of Technical Skills and Capability Olivia Thompson is part of NNL’s Strategy, Science and Innovation (SSI) team. In her role she looks to ensure that NNL has the right level of capability available and that the technical community has the opportunity to develop along their individual career pathway, which is tailored to their individual strengths and aspirations.

Having led a very successful technical career prior to taking up her current role, Olivia is perfectly placed to look after NNL’s constantly improving technical capability. She leads on the recruitment and development of early career people especially apprentices and graduates. She is involved in STEM outreach activities to schools, colleges and universities. And that’s not all as her portfolio also includes the development of NNL’s knowledge management programme making sure a diverse and inclusive culture is encouraged and implemented throughout the Lab.

Since joining NNL in 2006 Olivia has worked on a huge variety of projects, including supporting decommissioning activities in Iraq in line with international best practice and numerous homeland security projects. She has worked with central government to advise on the movement and detection of nuclear material across international borders, and has supported understanding of how radionuclides behave in the environment. 

Olivia also led NNL’s Decontamination and Waste Assessment team undertaking a wide range of research looking at new decontamination techniques, tools, products and services. During this time she was heavily involved with numerous academic research institutions in the UK and internationally and as a result has published peer reviewed papers and conference proceedings. She has also jointly supervised numerous Masters and PhD students. 

Reflecting on her hectic schedule, she said: “There’s really no such thing as a normal day for me. It’s great to have such a diverse role and I’m very fortunate to work with an amazing range of skilled and experienced people.”

Route into nuclear
Despite growing up in West Cumbria Olivia says she never really imagined she would work in the nuclear industry, not least at Sellafield. She enjoyed science and maths at school and subsequently went on to study Environmental Geoscience (BSc) at Bristol University. This was followed by an industry sponsored Master of Science (MSc) in Environmental Pollution and Protection at Lancaster University. Modules in environmental radioactivity and nuclear physics kindled her interest in nuclear and following her masters she joined NNL at Risley in Cheshire. The rest is history and Olivia has been in the industry with NNL now for over a decade!

Nuclear Professionalism

Olivia is a professional member of the Nuclear Institute, which for her, signifies her commitment to complying with the codes of conduct and standards, which the Institute represents. She is also a Chartered Chemist and Scientist with the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Speaking about the benefits of professional membership of the Nuclear Institute, she says: “Joining the Nuclear Institute has given me access to a network of experts from across the nuclear industry, I get to hear about the latest technology developments and I’m able to participate in influential activities such as contributing to reports, campaigns and conferences. 

“Being a member of the Nuclear Institute also demonstrates my resolve to maintaining and enhancing the knowledge, skills and competence required to-meet the demands of my job and it gives me credibility when dealing with world‐renowned experts.”

Having recently become a Membership Assessor for the Institute, Olivia intends to support and encourage others to become professional members and take advantage of the great work that Institute does.

Encouraging diversity

In addition to encouraging diversity and inclusivity in her current role, Olivia was also a founding member of Women in Nuclear (WiN) UK and Chair of the Attraction Committee until early 2016. WiN has three aims - to attract more females into the industry, to support the retention of female talent and to promote positive dialogue with the public.

At the 2017 WiN UK Conference she received the prestigious Mission Possible Award for the dedication and commitment she showed to raising the profile of the nuclear sector and in leading the Attraction Sub‐Committee. She is now the Diversity and Inclusion lead for the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group and supports the NI’s Education and Skills Committee’s activities on behalf of WiN.

Olivia said: “One of the most positive changes that I’ve seen in the industry since I joined is the number of women entering into the workplace!

“There are numerous initiatives to support gender balance in the nuclear industry and by working together I have every confidence that we will play a key role in changing the face of the nuclear industry in the UK.”