Cristina Israelsson Hilario


Texts and Photographs: Cristina Israelsson Hilario

Cristina Israelsson Hilario studied Technical Mining Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Nuclear Science and Technology at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. After a few years working for Iberdrola for the Cofrentes fire APS, she decided to make the international leap to Belgium: She arrived in Brussels in 2016 to work in the APS level 1 fire department at the Doel and Tihange power plants, and then moved to the severe accident group of the same company.

In addition, she is involved in the Women in Nuclear Spain group, where she gives support to the communication group on social networks: among others, she has participated in the NuclearSi account where nuclear energy is brought closer to the general public, in a fun and casual way.

Visiting the X-10 graphite reactor in ORNL.

How many years have you been in your current job, what are your responsibilities?

I have been within Tractebel for 7 years, and since 2019 in the Severe Accident group as a Project Engineer. I am mainly assigned to the maintenance of the Level 2 APS of the Belgian power plants, although I am also involved in international research projects and in the maintenance of severe accident management guidelines.

Part of the Communications Group of WiN Spain in 2021.

What are the main activities of your current position?

Maintaining the Level 2 PSA requires keeping up to date with severe accident research and regulation. Currently, this includes performing analyses in case of internal (fires, floods) and external (earthquakes, external floods) hazards for the Belgian nuclear power plants, and performing deterministic accident simulation studies (such as MELCOR or ASTEC). Unlike PSA level 1, which is more focused on equipment failure frequencies, level 2 requires a lot of information coming from research, tests and literature, and there are high levels of uncertainty. However, these studies must have a sufficient level of credibility and robustness to assure the regulator of the safety of the plants.

In addition, I maintain the severe accident management guidelines for the Tihange units. In this respect, we also take part in the simulation exercises for the implementation of the internal emergency plans.

We also participate in numerous international research projects (OECD, IAEA, EU…).

Women from the Lise Meitner Program Modelling & Simulation.

How did the relocation affect your family/personal life?

I have returned to Spain as much as possible to see family and friends, and there are many moments of loneliness, especially at the beginning. As time has gone by and I have become more rooted in Belgium, things change: you get used to video calls to connect with family, you make groups of expat friends for Sunday cocidos…. To date, the personal balance is very positive: not only in acquired knowledge and languages, but I have gained in human capital and I have become more flexible and understanding. Especially now that I have become a family here, you could say that I have become a bit Belgian.

Family Picture in Huy (near Tihange NPP).

What are the most significant aspects of your work?

It is very interesting this double facet of working locally, in close contact with the plants, and at the same time in international research groups where the information is much more general. The good thing about working at Tractebel is that they have also supported my personal development, with conditions that make it easier to combine motherhood with my professional goals. For example, they fully supported my participation in the IAEA Lise Meitner program, thanks to which I spent two weeks in the USA learning about thermal-hydraulic modeling codes and met a group of exceptional women.

What details do you miss about Spain?

Apart from my family, what I miss most is the light: even in summer you can have the sky overcast for weeks. When I go back to the Iberian Peninsula, it gives me a lot of joy just to see the sky.

Christmas at the Grand Place, Brussels.

Do you invite young and not so young people to broaden their professional horizons beyond our borders?

I invite everyone to try it, because an international experience is priceless: getting in contact with different people gives you a breadth of vision that you can’t get by always staying at home. However, the ‘immersive’ experience is not easy and has many hard moments. If you are not sure, you can always try temporary projects (from a Spanish company, participating in research agreements, or through doctorates or internships in international organizations) that give you the opportunity to meet other professionals in the sector without making the leap completely. Many people have started this way, got a taste for living abroad and are collecting destinations around the world.

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