Human resources critical to Indian nuclear plans

05 March 2010

India's nuclear industry is preparing for a major expansion after assuring international cooperation with a round of cooperation deals, but the limited supply of human resources in the sector remains a concern.


Over the next ten years, the country's nuclear power generation is expected to rise from 4000 MWe to around 20,000 MWe by 2020 with a corresponding rise in demand for skilled workers. According to Kameshwar Rao, Indian utilities expert at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the next seven to eight years will see the annual requirement for new recruits in the Indian nuclear industry rise to around 1900.


"We do not have mechanical engineers who can go into the nuclear field," said Jammi Srinivasa Rao, chief science officer in US technology company Altair. He listed specialised areas such as superconducting magnets, vacuum chambers & vessels, containers, flows, electro-magnetic and magneto-hydro-dynamics as areas where a potential crunch could take effect.


Although legislation is forthcoming to change the situation, only government-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) is currently authorised to generate nuclear power in the country. It relies on internal training programs for about 250 engineers annually. In addition to this, Homi Bhabha National Institute, a government university with ten facilities around the country, trains 400 to 600 recruits every year. The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and Kharakpur also run postgraduate courses in nuclear related fields, but with limited seats.


"It is a serious issue and we do not have visibility of how it would be addressed," said Kameshwar Rao while recommending that NPCIL should immediately increase its graduate intake. He was also confident that more students are keen to pursue the nuclear field. "There is a reassessment of jobs in finance and IT, as more introspective decision is being made by the student community," he added.


Kameshwar Rao said training needs to be a major part of new build programs, which would take up to around eight years. He added that the proprietary nature of the imported reactors means that only the vendors themselves may provide key operator training, although partnerships with utilities operating similar reactors could a be significant help.


Some state universities have, however, assessed the situation and have taken initial steps. In 2008, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University started a two-year masters' course in nuclear engineering for candidates holding an engineering degree in mechanical, chemical, civil or metallurgy fields. Within six weeks of starting the course the first batch of 22 students was already in place.


In October last year another institution, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University in Gandhinagar, Gujarat launched its School of Nuclear Energy to impart a masters' in technology for nuclear engineering. Its course curriculum has 20 subjects, including advanced mathematical applications in nuclear engineering, turbine generators and feed water systems.


Kameshwar Rao, however, noted cautiously that it remained to be seen how quickly the new institutions' courses would reach maturity.
By Raghavendra Verma
for World Nuclear News