India has an installed nuclear power capacity of 6,780 MW from 22 operational plants, and another 6,700 MW is expected to be generated by 2021-22 through projects under construction. But the lack of institutions providing academic courses in the field of Nuclear Science and Technology is impeding the training of the next generation of nuclear experts.

Dr. Prashant Rawat, Head of Department of Nuclear Science and Technology (NST) division at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) Dehradun speaks to Nuclear Asia on the challenges faced by Indian nuclear sector in the absence of proper education facilities.

– There have been concerns that nuclear engineering as an academic field has not received the much needed attention and institutional support from the government. Are you optimistic for the future?

– Yes, we are optimistic about the future. Previously it was IIT Kanpur, IIT Chennai, SRM, Mysore University (long back) that used to run such courses. Till recently only Delhi University had an MTech program in nuclear science and technology which unfortunately was shut down. Pundit Deendayal Petroleum University also has an MTech program.

We are hopeful to come up with a BTech course in nuclear studies very shortly as we are still doing a feasibility study on this subject. The biggest advantage is we have students from diverse fields joining our MTech course on nuclear engineering. They go through rigorous training in the subject.

– Are the students graduating from our universities able to meet human resource demand of companies like GE, Hitachi, Toshiba, which are involved in building of nuclear reactors?

– Yes, of course. Our course structure is contemporary, which enables any graduating student to get employment in the firms in the nuclear industry. In India it is the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) that is at the helm of affairs and they hire students as per projects being sanctioned. Companies like Larsen & Toubro have already been approached and they have assured students’ placement as soon as they receive project contracts. In the meantime our students go into research. Luckily our students get opportunity in areas of research in various DAE units, Institute of Plasma Research, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) and also Atomic Energy Commission of France.

– What is the reason behind the education sector lagging behind in the field of nuclear energy – is it the lack of enthusiasm on the part of private players or the lack of support from the government?

– Our private sector alone cannot do much on their own as this is a complete government owned and executed thing. They also have to wait for new project announcements by the government.

We were hopeful when six nuclear reactors were to be commissioned by the US nuclear major Westinghouse, but now the situation is different.

When we started in 2013, the DAE did not have a PhD programme for our students. India needs power and the largest share has to come from nuclear in the times ahead. For each reactors you need 900-1000 trained scientific and technical experts. From where do you think it will come? Successive governments have said that we are in dire need of power and according to experts nuclear is the only sustainable source in the long run. So when we started the course in 2013 there was absolutely nothing but we were optimistic about the future and we told our students the same thing.

– From here on, how do you see the future of higher studies and employment opportunities for students who complete MTech in Nuclear Science and Technology?

– We have tie ups with various institutes and agencies of France. If the students of M.Tech in Nuclear Science and Technology (NST) perform well in the first two semesters then we send them to France for the third and fourth semesters where in the fourth semester the labs in France help our students to get paid internships. In that way the students can also cover their expenses.

In 2014 Institute of Plasma Research (IPR) started a PhD programme exclusively for students of MTech in NST. This placed students of NST at an advantageous position who otherwise had to compete with hundreds of other students from fields like mechanical, electrical etc.

IGCAR and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) have also started PhD programmes in 2015 and 2016 respectively. This has given huge boost to the existing and aspiring nuclear professionals.