Nuclear jobs race spreads to Australia

Australia also looking (and training) more personnel for the nuclear power renaissance...

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AUSTRALIA will step up the training of nuclear scientists, ensuring it will have the home-grown experts needed to plan, build and run atomic power stations and uranium enrichment plants.

By 2010, 15 nuclear scientists will graduate each year from Sydney University's new Institute of Nuclear Science, to be announced today.

In a partnership with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, which operates the new $400 million Lucas Heights research reactor, it will open next year, offering students a master's degree in applied nuclear science.

The institute's acting director, Clive Baldock, said yesterday many of Australia's nuclear specialists were now trained "in-house" by Lucas Heights.

But, he added, "we don't have the number of nuclear scientists we would need if we went down the nuclear power route".

"It's not just the hands-on people who would be pushing buttons" in energy reactors. Before a power station was built there would have to be a lot of ground work for the regulatory and legislation process. "We don't even have enough people for that."

Still more scientists would be needed if Australia launched a uranium enrichment program.

Although the Federal Government has made no decision to adopt nuclear energy, it recently allocated $12.5 million for research into the next-generation nuclear power reactors.

ANSTO has also launched its own campaign to train 15 post-graduate nuclear scientists a year. The organisation's chief of operations, Ron Cameron, said yesterday the Nuclear Futures Graduate Development Program would also take its first students next year.

Irrespective of whether Australia pursued nuclear energy, "we need to keep our options open", said Dr Cameron. If Australia opted to purchase power reactors "we need to understand the technology, and be a smart buyer".

Professor Baldock said that even if Australia rejected atomic power, more nuclear scientists were needed. His institute would focus on a wide range on nuclear specialties, including medicine, material science, engineering and physics.

Professor Baldock, who is the director of Sydney University's Institute of Medical Physics, predicted the growing demand for radioactive pharmaceuticals and hospital nuclear diagnostic technology would justify training extra specialists.

He expected half the students of his new "world class" training and research institute would be from overseas, including the US.

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