Her professional experience in the nuclear area began soon after completing her studies, interning with Science Applications International Corporation, an engineering consulting company in her home state of Virginia in the United States. There, she worked on cleaning up large nuclear sites for decommissioning. “These were very old sites that had been around for 50 years and they had radioactive contamination in the dirt and the water as well as stored radioactive waste that had to be gotten rid of,” she says. “And the work involved figuring out how to clean up these large sites, getting them back to what they used to be to let people use the sites again for their own purposes rather than leaving them as large industrial sites.”
Recognizing the importance of this work in properly protecting workers, the local community and the environment, Bradford was further inspired to pursue and earn a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1995 while working. “Protecting people and the environment has been an important element of my work, because I believe that we, living on this globe, have a responsibility to make sure that we’re not irreversibly damaging the environment,” she says. “I think that my work has helped contribute to that.”
Bradford left the consulting firm in 2000 to join the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as an environmental engineer in their decommissioning branch. “The transition into this job from the consulting company seemed like the natural thing for me to do,” she says, referring to her exposure to government service growing up with a mother who worked for an agency that mapped seismic faults and a father working in information technology at the Department of Defense. “To me, my parents’ work always seemed to be very rewarding,” she says. “I would frequently visit their offices and could see the positive impact their work had on people. This inspired me to join government service myself.”
Bradford spent 21 years working at the US NRC, starting as an environmental engineer and being promoted several times, finally to the position of Director of the Division of New and Renewed Licenses. “I really enjoyed the technical challenges of the job – for example, figuring out how to apply existing regulations to a new type of reactor design you’re reviewing that you’ve never seen before,” she says. “I also really enjoyed the many interactions with the public that we had – to hear their perspectives about what we were doing.”
At the NRC Bradford was involved in many projects that dealt with new reactor licensing and took part in numerous international activities, many of which were with the IAEA, including a small modular reactors (SMRs) regulators forum of which she chaired for a period. In September last year, she joined the IAEA to head up the Agency’s Division of Nuclear Installation Safety.