Human Resource in Nuclear Technology

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R.K. Shivpuri

Introduction

The most crucial component for economic and social development of a country  is energy. An increased access to electricity translates into improvement towards health, education, agriculture and economic empowerment.India has been developing fast owing to its (a) large industries, (b) a well-developed service sector and (c) an impressive growth rate. All of the above need energy to sustain, advance and compete on a global scale. Economic development is directly related to energy consumption. The larger the energy usage, the larger the economic development. Fig. 1 shows the human development index vs the per capita electricity consumption for different countries. The human development index is a statistic composite index of life expectancyeducation, and per capita income indicators. The average life span of individuals in a country also depends upon the average power consumption.

Fig. 1 shows the dependence of human development index on per capita energy consumption for different countries.

Fig. 2 Life expectancy vs the primary energy/capita

The unit of toe for energy is defined as the amount of energy released by burning one tonne of crued oil.

For a large country like India, with huge future energy requirements, depending largely upon import of energy resources and technologies is neither economically sustainable nor strategically desirable for energy security. India is the 3rd  largest producer of electricity in the world with a total installed capacity of about 1,497,000 Gigawatt hour (GWh) . The average per capita consumption is a meagre 1,122 Kilowatt hour (KWh). The current energy sources are: Thermal: 79.4% , Hydro:  12.4% , Nuclear: 3.2%  and Others:  5% .

India needs about 3% of global consumption of energy. From 2010 onwards, we have begun to fall short of our energy needs.From the year 2050 onwards, we will need an enormous amount of 700 million tons of coal in case we do not develop alternate energy sources. This is clear from Fig. 3 where installed capacity for 2010 onwards upto 2050 is shown.

Fig. 3 Installed capacity in Gigawatt electrical (GWe) in the country for years 2010-2050.

The energy challenges are due to increase in demand of energy mostly due to population increase, rise in the living standards and also due to increased expectations of the people. There will be 3 billion more people on earth by 2050, many of them in India. The economic growth in developing countries like India, China, Brazil etc. drives the energy demand apart from other countries which are aspiring at better living conditions.Growth in developed countries inspite of improvements in energy efficiency, widespread use of computers, air-conditioning, etc. are pushing demand.

The only attractive option to meet the increasing energy demand in India is to produce it from Nuclear source. Of course, there are several challenges in this area: Resources–material (Nuclear Fuel) and human i.e. manpower. Regarding the Nuclear Fuel, situation eased after Indo-US Nuclear deal and we are now in a position to import Uranium and have already started that process. Several countries who had put embargo on us for export of nuclear fuel have now agreed to let us have nuclear fuel for our energy needs.

Former President of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam stated that, “energy independence is India’s first and highest priority. India has to go for nuclear power generation in a big way using thorium-based reactors. Thorium, a non fissile material is available in abundance in our country.”  Work on this type of reactor is going on at present at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalapakkam, Chennai.

Need of Skilled Manpower

Success of any Nuclear Power project depends mainly on availability of qualified manpower, which can ensure the success of various stages of a nuclear power project such as planning, construction, operation, safety and power production. Safety of nuclear plants is of greatest concern (three mile island, Chernobyl and Fukushima are sad reminders!). Skilled and qualified manpower can help in preventing accidents or help in proper handling if they do occur.The shortage of skilled and qualified manpower is a major limiting factor in the development of nuclear technology particularly in developing countries.

The Organization for  Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) has explored seven activities related to nuclear generation of electricity: Front-end, Back-end, Plant Operation and Maintenance, Design, Manufacturing and Construction, Regulation,  R&D, Education and  ‘Others’. Occupations in these major sectors were further classified as: Engineers (nuclear and chemical), Scientists, Managers, etc. For all of the above, we need qualified manpower. Shortage of skilled manpower is the main problem facing the expansion of Nuclear Program all over the Globe.

India is planning to add several more reactors to the presently available 22 reactors.

Fig. 4 shows the active and planned nuclear power plants in the country (Ref. Wikipedia)

Fig. 4  Nuclear power plants in the country.

There is a serious shortage of skilled manpower worldwide and India is no exception inspite of being over a billion people! 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 educational infrastructure. This is true for developed and developing countries.

Manpower Development

The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Training Schools and its affiliates conduct one year Orientation Course for Engineering graduates and Science post-graduates (OCES).  Under a new scheme, called DAE Graduate Fellowship Scheme, M.Tech 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 Mody Institute of Technology & Science (MITS), Rajasthan and Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar etc. have started a new course in Nuclear Technology during the last few years. However, this effort is not enough to answer our manpower needs.

Issues & Solutions In Nuclear Engineering

The major problems in Nuclear Engineering course in any University are listed as under.

Huge gap between supply and demand :Enrollments and other key metrics for Nuclear Engineering (NE) departments and programs do not show any sufficient increase while demand from industry and government is expected to increase. This gap needs to be quantified and addressed.

  • The number of new Nuclear Engineering/ Nuclear Technology departments and programs has increased to four in last five years.
  • The future need for nuclear engineers is neither well understood nor well-articulated.
  • The looming manpower crisis needs to be communicated to the Govt; Industry and Universities.
  • There seems to be a lack of urgency among decision-makers regarding the manpower crisis that is impending.
  • There is need for nuclear engineers since new reactor plants are coming up.

Supply vs. demand :There is an increasing demand for nuclear engineering graduates in industry, Govt. and Universities.

  • First point is that we must increase the number of institutions – Universities & National Institutes of Technology (NIT’s) where we should start the nuclear engineering program.
  • Secondly, we must think in terms of actions to address infrastructure needs for the short-term (1 – 5 years) and the long-term (6 – 15 years).

Image of the discipline :Nuclear engineering is not perceived to be a new emerging area with great opportunities for people who enter this field.

  • 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.
  • There is a poor image of the discipline of nuclear engineering among the general public, students and parents.
  • Placement offices at engineering schools do not assist graduating students looking for employment. This could be a result of ignorance of available opportunities.
  • There is a perception of insufficient opportunities in the nuclear industry to attract new employees and prospective students into the field.
  • Compared to other areas such as Business Management, Finance, the “glamour factor” is working against nuclear energy as it is perceived to be a field with a limited future and dim prospects for responsible and high paying jobs.

Cooperation : There needs to be more cooperative activities among the major constituencies (industry, universities, government) in nuclear engineering and related fields.

  • There is a lack of Govt. and industry support for research in Nuclear Engineering departments.
  • The manpower requirements and employment opportunities should be better articulated.
  • There is a need to harness the vast available manpower in the Universities to meet the projected demand in this field.

Need for a Nuclear Reactor : There is a great need to have a nuclear reactor at a central location which will be used for students practical training. There is no research reactor in the country in any University/ Institute. A sub-critical Nuclear reactor for teaching and training is greatly needed. Several universities in USA are having subcritical nuclear reactors which are used by students for study and training purposes.

Nuclear Engineering Curriculum : Nuclear Engineering departments should attempt to follow a uniform course curriculum and also maintain their core competencies in nuclear power.

  • High school textbooks and curricula should include a balanced treatment of nuclear power and radiation.
  • One of the methods to make the course attractive to students is by adding the options such as opportunity to pursue course work and internship in our reactor sites for extended period, and also in world-wide renowned Institutes in this area (by creating exchange programs). Exchange of students & faculty with foreign universities will make the program interesting. This will enlarge the vision of the students.
  • There is a need to integrate both theoretical and practical aspects with the demands of the employment agencies also clearly understood.
  • Offering summer internships to college students is also very important for attracting students into a department.
  • Further, campus placements from the Industries and other interested parties need to be encouraged.

Communication and outreach:The nuclear community must be proactive in an outreach program to inform the public the need for nuclear energy. The prospective students must be informed the wide array of challenging career opportunities in industry, research, and government that are available today and will continue to be available for the foreseeable future.

  • The nuclear community must start early by reaching high school students. Marketing plays an important & key role.
  • High school teacher workshops in nuclear energy must be conducted. Such workshops are important. Involvement of the industry, government and university is most desirable.
  • The prospective engineering college students should also be tapped.
  • Tech students are a large and readily available source of qualified students.
  • Nuclear Engineering departments should consider proactive programs to encourage undergraduate students to get involved in real research projects.
  • Nuclear Engineering departments should consider highly visible events such as popular talks by eminent scientists, colloquiums etc. to help improve public perception for nuclear energy.
  • Nuclear Engineering faculty and nuclear professionals should participate in science fairs.
  • The benefits and opportunities presented by nuclear energy need to be articulated and marketed.
  • The security concerns and corresponding solutions should be clearly and transparently communicated.
  • The advantages and viability of the Nuclear Power option over other alternative energy resources should be explained, both qualitatively and quantitatively,

What we need to do

  • Train many more engineers and technologists each year and thus use the vast human capital of the country in a meaningful way.In every field the surest way to attract the best students is to be innovative, daring and relevant. Some degree of renewal and of new vision is certainly needed. Keeping this aim in view, it would be desirable to start M.Tech/B.Tech courses in Nuclear Science and Technology in Universities and in National Institutes of Technology (NIT’s).
  • In order to give the benefit of International experts to our students, we could send our students to countries like France, U.S.A for course work/dissertation and invite foreign experts in workshops and symposia.This will widen the vision of students, give them international exposure and provide them a high quality education.

Summary

  • The internet should be exploited for linking potential employers with prospective employees in nuclear engineering. Employment opportunities need to be communicated to all graduating students. One could consider developing a central jobs/graduates website for potential employers and graduating students.
  • 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 such as through their advisory boards. 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.

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