Singapore to beef up nuclear technology expertise

Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 23 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Singapore is beefing up its nuclear technology expertise with a newly-announced programme.

The 10-year Nuclear Safety Research and Education Programme was announced on Wednesday by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

For a start, S$63 million of funding will be set aside for the programme for the first five years.

There are now only a handful of nuclear experts in Singapore, as such the NRF hopes to train some 100 scientists and engineers in this area, in the next decade.

By about 2024, it is hoped that these scientists and engineers will be experts in three areas -- radiochemistry, radiobiology, and risk assessment.

Radiochemistry is the study of radiation in the environment -- such as in the air, water, and soil. Uses include detecting the presence of radiation in imported goods, such as seafood.

In radiobiology, scientists study the impact of low-level doses of radiation on humans; while those in risk assessment will study the activities of a nuclear reactor, and what to do if things go wrong.

The NRF said that the programme is part of plans for Singapore to keep abreast of nuclear technology developments in the region.

Professor Low Teck Seng, CEO of the NRF, said: "This is important because as a nation, we need to build up capabilities in nuclear technology for many reasons. One, nuclear technology is now pervasively used in many different industries. Two, nuclear technology, nuclear energy is something that we need to be aware of.

"Many of our neighbours are also looking at nuclear technology, and it is important as the Prime Minister says, for us to be aware, to be knowledgeable, and as such, be able to assess the technology and its impact on Singapore -- be it in terms of potential that it has for us, in terms of the risk that we face, as well as the ability to harness its potential in every aspect."

The programme is made up of two components -- the Singapore Nuclear Research and Safety Initiative (SNRSI) and the Nuclear Education and Training Fund (NETF).

The SNRSI will focus on research and developing capabilities in nuclear safety, while the NETF will support education and training in those areas.

For a start, the National University of Singapore will offer Engineering and Physics students a minor in Medical Physics, which is set to give students with an interest in nuclear technology a foundation in the subject.

With this minor, Physics and Engineering students can opt for nuclear physics subjects that can be applied in medicine -- such as imaging techniques like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or CT scans.

All these advanced techniques are usually not accessible to the general public, in terms of how they work, how it is being operated -- so when students come in next year, they will learn all the basics and the foundations on how such technology is being applied and how it is being used.

There will also be post-graduate scholarships for students to pursue nuclear technology studies overseas.

The NRF is also looking into public education -- to strengthen awareness of the benefits and safety aspects of nuclear technology.

- CNA/nd/ac