From designing, installing and commissioning nuclear accelerators to management and coordination at the ministerial level, Shrikrishna Gupta, Raja Ramanna Fellow, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Former Director of Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP), is an atom of knowledge on India’s progress in nuclear technology. In a chat with Education Post’s Devika Bhattacharya, he sheds light on opportunities for brilliant minds to make a career out of nuclear technology and, in the process, help make India Atma Nirbhar.
From research and development to management in the nuclear energy domain, your professional life comprises of two distinct fields. Which of these do you find more fulfilling?
Of the two, I would rate my career as a manager more fulfilling than the R&D work. The R&D activities allowed me to utilize my skills during the early part of career. But, as a manager, I felt I could create a much greater impact. I could bring the efforts of scientists and technologists to the common man – from lab to land – which helped support the Indian government’s ambitious mission of making our country Atma Nirbhar (self-reliant).
What were the challenges you faced while working on projects at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR)?
Both institutions are involved in R&D activities in the frontlines of science and technology. As a technical professional, I always encountered first-of-akind (FOAK) challenges.
There is dual use of atomic energy – peaceful and strategic application. When it comes to strategic application, no one shares details of any new development. As a technologist, I encountered challenges at every step but, eventually, was able to overcome them successfully.
International collaboration on nuclear energy is a domain that calls for intense people skills and strategic management. Which aspects proved to be helpful for such collaborations?
In present times, many mega science projects are being carried out as international collaborative activities that involve high budgets, advance machinery and large number of highly qualified professionals. This is being achieved by forming a consortium of capable countries to achieve the end goals of mutual learning – harvest better technologies for the advancement of mankind.
Strategic management is another thing. It needs to be self-driven and is country-specific. International collaborations are not encouraged when it comes to strategic management.
As a team leader, what changes do you apply for effective team action and implementation?
Let me quote John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
I ensure that I get my team’s “buyin” before embarking on any project. If the team is convinced about the project’s value and importance, they are able to give their 100 percent. I firmly believe that a true leader is one who strives to achieve an intended target by understanding the assignment, adopt innovative techniques, possess good decision-making skills, and has strong communication skills to express with clarity to fellow colleagues. I also believe that a good leader is one who offers support to subordinates in terms of empowerment and empathy.
I also ensure that I am open and transparent with my team on the progress of a particular project so that they have the full picture. Rewards and recognition are also very important to ensure that the team stays motivated.
Share your thoughts on the progress made by higher educational institutions in India in the sphere of technical education and training over the last few years?
The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and other science ministries and universities have launched many programs, such as Science Congress, India International Science Festival and Vigyan Samagam among others. These are multivenue mega-science exhibitions.
Then there are exhibition galleries, industrial expos, quiz contests, school-level awareness drives etc. that are being organized which encourage students to join the science stream and find their field of interest to boost career opportunities.
After the implementation of the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the role of higher educational institutes and involvement of private universities has become very constructive. It is supporting the development of competent human resource.
There is a change in approach to job opportunities. Educated youth and startups are encouraged to adopt spinoff technologies through Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) schemes and subsequently turn into job providers.
DAE has launched a scheme called Advanced Knowledge and Rural Technology Implementation (AKRUTI) to encourage deployment of spinoff technologies in rural areas with special benefits, which encourage reverse migration from urban to rural by providing city-like infrastructure in villages.
As India attempts to reduce its carbon footprint and focus on renewable energy, can nuclear energy be seen as an energy source for the future for domestic and industrial needs?
Certainly, nuclear energy is a green energy with no adverse effects on the environment. To reduce carbon footprint at the global level, leaders and scientists are emphasizing on the use of a combined energy basket with nuclear energy being a major contributor.
Efforts are being made to make nuclear energy economically viable by adopting advance technologies to reduce gestation period with reasonable capital expenditure. Efforts are being made to harvest fusion energy by a consortium of seven countries at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France. This is seen as an unlimited energy source for the future at competitive costs.
With the present limitations of energy storage, nuclear energy is being widely considered an important option to fulfil domestic and industrial needs
Please share your thoughts about India’s nuclear program and how a student can go about pursuing a career in the field of atomic energy.
Nuclear energy programs are in the public domain. Dr. H.J. Bhabha had announced adaption of a three-stage closed fuel cycle program to harvest natural resources and achieve energy security through the nuclear route.
India has mastered the Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) technology and developed a prototype reactor to achieve the second stage and work is ongoing to get to the third stage.
The Board of Research in Nuclear Sciences provides funds primarily for the research projects on DAE’s programs for promoting excellence in science and technology in the country. It also awards research projects to young scientists.
The Indian government has been encouraging peaceful application of nuclear technology for health, agriculture, environment, food, water and industries by sanctioning many projects. It has also permitted public-private COVER INTERVIEW partnership in the nuclear domain in its effort to make a self-reliant India.
As for career growth opportunities in this field, the emerging applications are nuclear hydrogen, seawater desalination, industrial heating, nuclear battery etc.
Besides, several new courses in the nuclear domain are available at the university level. All IITs, Jadhavpur University, Amity and several others teach courses related to this field.
What steps can be taken to improve research and development of new technologies in Indian institutes?
Many initiatives have been recommended by a high-level committee.
- Sharing of resources, ideas, and facilities available at government institutions, universities and major R&D organizations.
- Opportunities for youth in every part of the country and encouragement by rewarding deserving students & inventors.
- Youth should see science and technology as a path for jobs and societal transformation.
- Synergy to take on major challenges.
- Transform India into a competitive science destination.
- Unleash entrepreneurship, and commercialization.
- Launch inspiring national and global science missions.
- Organizing exhibitions like science congress at both the state and national level.
Any message for students, especially in the post-pandemic world?
I would advise students to choose an appropriate high-growth profession and take advantage of liberal government policies.
Under India’s Atma Nirbhar vision, potential entrepreneurs are encouraged to absorb the technologies developed by R&D organizations – start businesses by trading, assembling or manufacturing a particular product in stages, depending on proficiency and absorbing capability, in a systematic manner.
Government policies are focused to bring synergy between research and technological innovation across all segments, so students should grab this opportunity and draw benefits for themselves. Traditionally, COVER INTERVIEW Indian manpower is sincere, hardworking and has been preferred internationally.
The work-from-home (WFH) culture has popularized IT tools for learning and doing business – a blessing in disguise that came about during and due to the pandemic. It resulted in the immergence of a new approach, which was quickly adapted by all walks of life.
During the pandemic, large number of laborers moved from the urban industrial areas to their native villages. To improve the quality of life in such rural areas, the government has launched special schemes and packages, like one district one product, vocal for local etc. Plus, liberal loan schemes for inclusive and rapid growth of the rural population in a sustainable manner with a view to bridge the urban–rural divide. Students could, and should, play an important role in leveraging knowledge and technology.