The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal signed last week will open doors for Indian scientists and engineers to work in the US nuclear industry, which is fast expanding electricity generation based on fissile material even as it battles a talent crunch.
Analysts reckon the US nuclear industry will actively woo Indian scientists and engineers, sought after as much for their nuclear science expertise as their English-speaking skills, with salary offers several times what they earn in government-run?agencies in India.
Some 103 nuclear power plants generate about one-fifth, equivalent to 787 gigawatts (one gigawatt is 1,000MW), of electricity consumed in the US—this capacity is expected to grow five times by 2050. It will need around 200,000 people by then, up from today’s 40,000, estimates the Indian Nuclear Society, a body of professionals in the nuclear industry.
Also, the US nuclear industry will see a significant number of retirements soon. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), an industry body, estimates that nearly half of industry employees are more than 47 years old and up to 15,600 workers may be eligible to retire.
The nuclear industry includes architect and construction companies, reactor manufacturers and fuel suppliers, among others. It needs engineers in all fields and also trained technicians to work on the projects. “India will have to gear up to the requirements within the country and also for part of the demand from the US,” said Indian Nuclear Society president Placid Rodriguez.
The US government has been selective in allowing entry of Indian nuclear scientists and engineers, often on a case-to-case basis, but the signing of the 123 agreement last week will allow exchange of industry professionals. The 22-page text of the agreement “allows facilitation of exchange of scientists for visits, meetings, symposia… technology transfer on an industrial or commercial scale between the parties or authorized persons”.
The stark wage difference between Indian nuclear professionals and their US counterparts could make it easy for US hirers to attract talent. An experienced nuclear industry professional with more than 20 years’ experience here would earn around Rs8 lakh a year, while a junior level engineer in the US nuclear industry makes around $51,000 (Rs20.6 lakh).
India’s homegrown nuclear sector employs about 70,000 people and generates about 4,000MW power; this is expected to increase to more than 175,000MW by 2052, fuelled by demand. By then, India would need around 300,000 professionals. “The American industry will be the first to jump in. We will see many of our people working with them soon,” said M.R. Srinivasan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, India’s agency for nuclear research.
Scientists and engineers in India have developed expertise in the whole lifecycle of a nuclear programme. The US would need more technicians from India, considering that for every engineer employed in a nuclear reactor, it requires three diploma holders and 10 trained technicians, said Rodriguez, who is a former director of the Indira Gandhi Centre of Atomic Research.
The US nuclear industry, meanwhile, has undertaken a comprehensive programme to recruit, train and educate new workers, as it anticipates significant number of experienced workers to retire over the next five years, said NEI in a January note posted on its website. “A lot of investment will be made in new plants. I would say there is lot of potential for jobs in the industry,” said Steve Kerekes, senior director, media relations, NEI, in a phone interview. He declined to comment specifically on the nuclear deal with India.
Further, the Indian nuclear industry, which has gained expertise in designing and installing smaller reactors (typically of 220MW capacity), said the deal would allow India to export systems, components and smaller reactors globally. “The opportunity is in services and these small reactors. India is the only country where nuclear technology is active,” said S. Thakur, executive director, corporate planning, Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd, the state agency that builds nuclear power plants in the country.