Despite being an attractive option to meet the increasing power demand in India, it has two major impediments to it – nuclear fuel and skilled manpower. Regarding the Nuclear Fuel, situation eased after Indo-US Nuclear deal ended the nuclear isolation of the country and India started to import Uranium. However, skilled human resource remains another story.
Energy is a basic necessity for social and economic development of a country. India’s development is showing a rising graph. But to sustain its giant industries running and compete on a global scale, the country needs large amount of energy. While India is seeking to shift its energy resource base to renewable energy resources, with a special emphasis on nuclear energy.
Despite being an attractive option to meet the increasing power demand in India, it has two major impediments to it – Nuclear Fuel and skilled manpower. Regarding the Nuclear Fuel, situation eased after Indo-US Nuclear deal ended the nuclear isolation of the country and India started to import Uranium. However, skilled human resource remains another story.
The successful operation of Nuclear power plant is dependent chiefly on skilled manpower, who can ensure the success of a nuclear power plant from first to last stage. The first stage is planning, followed by construction, operation, safety and finally power production. Safety of nuclear plants is of greatest concern (Three mile island and Chernobyl are sad reminders and latest was Fukushima!); skilled and qualified manpower can not only help in preventing accidents but also provide proper handling in case of accidents. The shortage of skilled and qualified manpower is a major limiting factor in development of nuclear technology particularly in developing countries.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) has categorized activities related to nuclear generation of electricity under seven heads : Front-end, Back-end, Plant Operation and Maintenance, Design, Manufacturing and Construction, Regulation, R&D and Education; and ‘Others’. Occupations in these major sectors were further classified as: Engineers (nuclear and chemical), Scientists, Managers, etc. For all the above, we need qualified manpower. There is a serious shortage of skilled manpower worldwide and India is no exception inspite of being over a billion people! India is planning to add several more reactors to the presently available 21 reactors.
According to OECD study for UN, we need 900 technical/scientific personnel for each nuclear reactor. Where do we get such numbers for our reactors? The only option is to follow an aggressive strategy to increase the Nuclear Engineering Manpower. The implementation of a training program requires : Financial support and organization for strengthening the education infrastructure. This is imperative for both developed and developing countries.
The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre Training Schools in India and its affiliates conduct one year Orientation Course for Engineering graduates and Science post-graduates (OCES). Under a new scheme, called Graduate Fellowship Scheme, Masters students are admitted with the twin objectives of human resource development and collaborative research. Understanding the dire need of the manpower shortage, and utilizing the vast potential of human resource at Universities, some universities such as University of Delhi; University of Petroleum & Energy Studies, Dehradun; Mody University, Rajasthan; Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar and Jadavpur University, Kolkata have started new course in Nuclear Technology during the last few years. However, this effort is not enough to answer our manpower needs.
There are major problems in Nuclear Engineering courses in any University / Institute. Firstly Enrollments for Nuclear Engineering (NE) departments do not show any significant increase while demand from industry and government is expected to increase due to building up of new reactor plants. The number of new Nuclear Engineering/ Nuclear Technology departments in India has increased to four in last five years. A manpower crisis seems to be developing that needs to be communicated to the Govt; Industry and Universities.
There are two important issues to be resolved while expanding the Nuclear Engineering program in universities. One is the hiring of competent and experienced faculty for teaching the various courses. One can look for international collaborations as a solution to the issue. Secondly, setting up of Nuclear, Plasma and Fluid Dynamics laboratories for teaching the graduate students.
In order to get students interested in Nuclear Engineering subjects like Nuclear Power and radiation need to be introduced right at the school level. The students must be informed that during undergraduate studies in this area, they can do internship at reactor sites. Internship during summer can be an attractive incentive for students wishing to study this course. This will also enlarge the vision of the students. Care needs to be taken to match the course curriculum with the demands of the employment agencies. An integration of both theoretical and practical aspects may be the best option. There should be exchange of students and faculty from different Universities in a country or from different countries for cross-fertilization of ideas and also to make the course interesting.
Another aspect that requires attention is that the general public does not have a correct picture of Nuclear Engineering. Nuclear Engineering departments are perceived to focus on nuclear power, even when the students are trained in diverse areas such as Nuclear Plant Design, Nuclear Operations, and Nuclear Waste Management etc. The range of opportunities in the nuclear industry to attract new employees and prospective students is not known to public.
Employment opportunities need to be communicated to all graduating students. A central jobs/graduates website for potential employers and graduating students could be considered. There needs to be concerted action by leaders of industry, national laboratories, universities and institutes and the government to support actions to address this manpower crisis. The industry and academia should work together and they could develop the course curricula to suit the industry requirements. The central government should be urged to recognize and accept its critical role to nurture and sustain for long-term an adequate supply of expertise in nuclear-related fields including nuclear energy, nuclear plant design, waste management, health physics and nuclear operations.
(The author is a professor of Department of Nuclear Science & Technology, Mody University, Sikar, Rajasthan.)