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Get nuclear powered

Taken physics, math in high school? Want an exciting career? The N-energy sector could be an option, says Rahat Bano.

education Updated: Apr 24, 2012 16:52 IST
Rahat Bano

The potato in your parantha at breakfast today probably had been made germ-free by what’s called irradiation. The smoke detector above your office workstation might be an ionisation sensor in which sits a radioactive material, Americium 241. These are just two some may say very minor applications of nuclear science and technology (NST).

Now NST is billed as a clean alternative to the energy problem exploiting nuclear power to light up homes and industry. Another major use of nuclear power is going to be for water desalination. “Particular emphasis will be laid on development of indigenous accelerators for industrial applications, medical treatment and food preservation,” according to the Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE’s) long-term vision document.

DAE plans to have an installed nuclear generation capacity of 20,000 MWe in India by 2020. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has 17 operating plants in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Karnataka and five are under construction in different states.

The Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited or Bhavini is building a fast breeder reactor in Kalpakkam, near Chennai, scheduled to start by 2010. “Our programme is expanding,” says an NPCIL spokesman from Mumbai. The corporation plans to raise its capacity from 4120 megawatt to 7280 megawatt by 2011, the end of the eleventh plan. “We’ll be setting up a large number of reactors. We are trying to achieve 20,000 megawatts or more by 2020,” says the spokesman.

“We have sufficient people right now. We are recruiting every year. Generally, we recruit 100-200 people every year,” he says. He adds that there will be a big demand for professionals in this field.

Prof R K Shivpuri, advisor, University of Delhi, which started an MTech programme in NST last year, says that there aren’t many professionals to work in India’s growing $50billion-$100 billion nuclear industry. A reactor requires about 900 employees, he says.

The intake in DU’s year-old programme is 14. “Worldwide about 60 reactors are under construction. So the manpower required is about 50,000… We don’t have so many people,” contends Shivpuri.

As for the slow pace in the Indo-US nuke pact front, he says, “The whole purpose of the deal was to lift the sanctions on India. India is importing fuel from France… India is going to get fuel from Russia. I think the Americans will also sell. It’s a matter of time.”

What’s It About?
NST is about studying atomic nuclei and exploiting their energy for application to “serve humankind”. It is used in food irradiation, medicine (think cancer treatment), electricity production, space and the industry. A nuclear scientist is a cross between a physicist and an engineer. He is involved in the operation and maintenance of a nuclear reactor. Others might do research. Job options are in organisations like Nuclear Power Corporation of India, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, all nuclear power plants, Institute of Plasma Research, Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology and private industries like L&T, BHEL and Tata Energy.

Clock Work
A nuclear plant has shift cycles. A control engineer typically does the following in his 7am-3pm shift:
Regularly test equipment
Operate the reactor within technical specifications
Control the sustained chain reaction in the reactor core
Along with the control engineer, other scientists and engineers work in tandem, performing tasks like refuelling.

The Payoff
Training: Rs.15000 a month + Rs.5000 (stipend for OCES 2009 trainees as well as DGFS fellows during training and a one-time book allowance, respectively).

Rs 15600-39100 with a grade pay of Rs.5400: Entry-level pay for Scientific Officer (C). The government pays 20 per cent over and above the government scale exclusively to nuclear scientists.

Those posted at the site receive 10 per cent extra pay, and soft loans to buy household items, computer etc. NPCIL also provides resources and benefits like accommodation, transport facility, etc

Scientific temperament
Interest in experimental work; manual tasks
Analytical ability
Tech savvy
Quantitative skills (good background in maths)

How do I get there?
Opt for science with physics and maths at the plus-two level. To get into Delhi University's MTech programme in nuclear science and technology, you should have a Bachelor's degree with physics for at least two years/ four semesters and maths for at least a year/ two semester. Plus, you need to clear the Joint Admission test for MSc (JAM). More details on

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) holds an all-India entrance test for an orientation course for engineering graduates and science postgraduates (OCES) as well as a two-year DAE Graduate Fellowship Scheme for engineering graduates and physics post-graduates (DGFS).

More at Depending on merit and choice, some finalists join BARC for research at places such as Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology and Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research. Those wishing to get into commercial nuclear technology, opt for power plants like NPCIL. NPCIL selects candidates through:
GATE score plus interview and medical examination, or
In case of no GATE score, written (BARC's common) and other tests.

Institutes & Urls
BARC and NPCIL have training schools for fresh inductees.
Very few institutes offer programmes in this niche area. Those offering full-fledged degrees in this discipline include:
Delhi University: MTech in NST

IIT Kanpur: MTech in nuclear engineering and technology

Some other universities are said to be proposing to start programmes in this field

Pros & Cons
It's exciting to work on a nuclear reactor
Indirectly, you can help in national development
Foreign job options
Risk of overexposure to radioactive material, though it's reduced if you take precautions
You might be posted at a plant in a faraway place.