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Fission mission

Nuclear energy is the answer to the growing need for power in the country; hence the importance of nuclear engineers, reports Pranab Ghosh.

education Updated: Jun 30, 2010 10:12 IST
Pranab Ghosh

Padmini Vyas*, 25, is a nuclear engineer working with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). The freedom to work in a chosen field — production, design, quality control — prompted her to accept BARC’s appointment letter instead of those of other organisations, which didn’t offer her the flexibility as BARC did.

Vyas joined the organisation in 2006 after doing a BTech in mechanical engineering from JNTU, Kakinada. She completed her MTech in nuclear engineering from the Homi Bhabha National Institute this year and intends to do her PhD as well, in the near future. And she has been and would be, in all likelihood, in employment all the while because study and research are often linked with the job profile of a BARC employee.

Vyas chose nuclear engineering not just because of the scope of learning the job offers, but also because “it is a growing field; it is research oriented and I can do a lot in this field”. As scientific officer ‘d’, she works in BARC’s quality assurance department. “ Our facility produces fuel for nuclear reactors and my department is concerned with the quality aspect of the fuel bundle — a cluster of elements consisting of uranium oxide pellets,” says Vyas.

“Nuclear engineering is all about the technology of harnessing energy contained in the atom generally by fission or fusion. In our country, this branch of engineering focuses on the research, installation and operation of nuclear reactors for generating electricity and application of radioactive isotopes for peaceful purposes,” says H R Ravindra, head, BARC Training School, NFC, Hyderabad. Nuclear engineers also design and build nuclear engines for ships, submarines, and spaceships.

They determine how radiation and radioactive materials can be used for industrial, medical and scientific purposes. Some engineers specialise in designing and constructing particle accelerators, devices used in scientific studies of the atom, and in creating new elements.

The scope of work of a nuclear engineer in the country is varied. Apart from carrying out basic research and technology development in nuclear science, work in operation and maintenance of nuclear reactors, s/he may work towards “new materials development, safety analysis of materials which go into a reactor and irradiation studies on materials that later would be used in scientific research, medicine, agriculture, manufacturing industry etc.,” points out Ravindra.

“Besides, nuclear engineers carry out theoretical research work, which is a valuable branch of study”.

And there is no dearth of good nuclear engineers in the country. “The Department of Atomic Energy has a very comprehensive training programme in the country.

They recruit engineers from chemical, electrical and other related industries and ensure they get orientation in nuclear sciences and engineering,” explains Dr Om Pal Singh, secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. Add to this the various IITs and Universities that are either conducting or are in the process of introducing courses on nuclear science and engineering. “As a result there is the required level of awareness about nuclear engineering in the country and I see no shortfall in the number of nuclear engineers in the near future,” says Dr Singh.

The scope of employment for graduate engineers is indeed good. “Opportunities for a nuclear engineer in India are present mainly in government-run institutes and laboratories,” say Nitin Jain and Manish Bajpai, research scholars, nuclear engineering and technology, IIT-Kanpur.

“Once the Indo-US nuclear agreement gets implemented a lot of private players are expected to come in this field, thereby adding to the existing opportunity.”

*name changed on request

What's it about?
Nuclear engineering is all about the production and application of nuclear energy and the uses of radiation and radioactive materials. Most nuclear engineers design, construct and operate nuclear power plants, which generate electric power. They take care of every stage in the production of nuclear energy — from the processing of nuclear fuels to the disposal of radioactive wastes from nuclear reactors

Clock Work
9 am: Reach office/research centre
9.30 am: Check mail
10 am: Work begins
11 am: Run simulation of various processes involved in nuclear reactors
12 pm: Run a check on all the safety measures
1 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Hold discussions with faculty if in research; internal meeting with boss/ colleagues to sort problems if any had been encountered
3 pm: Oversee power generation work
4 pm: Plan next day’s work. If in research attend weekly lab meeting to sum up the job done in the last seven days
5 pm: Attend internal meeting
6 pm: Call it a day

The Payoff
In the government sector, a fresh nuclear engineering graduate is selected for the post of scientific officer ‘C’ in pay band 3 with pay scale Rs 15,600 to Rs 39,100 a month and with grade pay of Rs 5400. A scientific officer can move up to the post of director of the institute in pay band apex scale Rs. 80000 (fixed) per month. A fresh nuclear engineering graduate, in the private sector, is selected as assistant engineer where the lowest package is about Rs 5 lakh per annum and the highest about Rs 7.5 lakh per annum. Pay scale of nuclear engineers abroad is, however, high

. S/he should be passionate about engineering
. Good knowledge about properties of materials is mandatory
. Should have good communication skills
. Good concepts in mathematics and physics
. Basic knowledge of thermal hydraulics, instrumentation, control and nuclear physics is desirable
. A nuclear engineer must have problem-solving skills and the ability to put theoretical knowledge into practice

How do i get there?
You must opt for physics, chemistry and math at plus-two before you write the engineering entrance examination conducted by central and state bodies. Get a graduate (engineering) degree after clearing IIT-JEE joint exams. Go for an MTech in nuclear science and engineering. You can start working after this or do a PhD

Institutes & urls
Homi Bhabha National Institute,Mumbai. M.Tech Nuclear Engineering
. IIT, Kanpur. M.Tech, as an inter disciplinary programme
. JNTU, Kakinada. First University in AP to introduce PG course
. Delhi University. M.Tech Nuclear Science & Technology
. Manipal Institute of Technology. M.Tech Nuclear Engineering
. Sastra University, Thanjavur M.Tech Nuclear Engineering
. Mumbai University. B.Tech Nuclear Engineering

Pros & Cons


Satisfaction of working in high-tech field and serving humanity


Chance to get academically updated on all fronts. Scope for learning and acquiring higher qualification


Good salary


Reactors located at remote places, adjustment may be required and lifestyle to be modified.


Should be alert on the job as chances of getting exposed to radioactivity and irradiation exist during reactor maintenance and operation, and at laboratories while

handling nuclear material, if not careful

BARC has led training in India

A senior teacher talks about the challenges in the field of nuclear engineering

Please trace the evolution of the scope of study of nuclear engineering in India.

The training school programme conducted by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in the late ’50s, for which bright engineers and science graduates were recruited, formed the pillars of evolution of nuclear engineering in India. Currently there are training schools located at Mumbai, Hyderabad, Indore, Kalpakkam and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd centers, which offer training in nuclear engineering.

What are the challenges facing the profession of nuclear engineering today?
Some of the challenges which are facing the profession are:
. Issues regarding safe disposal of nuclear wastes and spent fuel management.
. Proliferation concerns with growing terrorism activities around the world.
. Large capital investment for construction of new projects.

Please give us an insight into the research work being carried on in the field and how it might help the industry.
The current researches in the field are:
. Management of water resources by desalination technologies using waste heat and reverse osmosis techniques.
. Constructing mobile nuclear reactors using accelerator driven system technology for providing electricity to villages/ colonies and also for destruction of long
lived nuclear wastes.
. New reactor designs utilizing thorium-oxide as a fuel and reduction of U inv- entory so that generation of plutonium is reduced
. Fusion technology for generation of energy
. Medical radioisotopes production for treatment of diseases like cancer etc.

H R Ravindra Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh