INDIA: Human resources crunch for Indian nuclear dream

India's atomic energy industry is preparing for a major expansion but the limited supply of trained people could turn out to be a serious handicap. Over the next 10 years, the country's nuclear power generation is expected to go from 4,000 megawatt (MW) to 20,000 MW and, if steps are not taken to boost education and training, experts say there could be a 40 to 50% shortfall in suitable manpower.

According to Kameshwar Rao, an Indian utilities expert at PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the next seven to eight years the annual requirement for new recruits in the country's nuclear industry could be around 1,900. Even with maximum expansion of training institutions, the component of experience would still be missing.

"We do not have mechanical engineers who can go into the nuclear field," says Jammi Srinivasa Rao, chief science officer in US technology company Altair. He lists specialised areas such as super conducting magnets, vacuum chambers & vessels, containers, cryogenics, high temperature, flows, electro-magnetic and magneto-hydro-dynamics as areas where the crunch could be felt the most.

At present, only the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, a government-owned company, is authorised to generate nuclear power in the country and it relies on internal training programmes for about 250 engineers annually.

In addition to this, Homi Bhabha National Institute, a deemed government university with 10 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 places.

"It is a serious issue and we do not have [QUERY] a quite visibility of how it would be addressed," says Kameshwar Rao while recommending that NPCIL should immediately increase its graduate intake. He is 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 adds.

Kameshwar Rao says the future construction of new nuclear reactors would be done mostly by the foreign companies and it would take five to eight years, during which these companies could tie up with various agencies to train people.

"The duration is fine but these things need to be embedded into the development plans." Furthermore, he says that as the proprietary technologies of the vendors have a number of variants that keep evolving and are not widely shared, operational training at the plant might be more important, and this has to be imparted only by the companies themselves. 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.

Last October, 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 generator and feed water systems.

Kameshwar Rao, however, remains sceptical and says that "the new institutions need to be taken with a pinch of salt to see as to how much time they take to activate new courses."

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