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Focussed approach rewarded

Mr. Bhoje's focused and mission mode approach and all round expertise in fast breeder technology have played a pivotal role in giving shape to PFBR. This practical and down to earth person considers the approval from various agencies and ministries more satisfying than the award.



A project of this magnitude cannot be successful unless there is synergy between the various groups of scientists. Photo: T.A. Hafeez

IF THERE is one week that S.B. Bhoje, Director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam will not forget for the rest of his life then it is the last one of January.

The reasons are not difficult to understand. The good news that the Planning Commission had approved the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) came on the 27th. This was followed by the news of the Finance Ministry's approval on the 30th. Trial excavation has also been started at the PFBR site.

The last day of January too brought its share of joy for him. This time it was the project approval by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. That was not all. The icing on the cake was indeed the news of his winning the Padma Shri award for science and technology on the 26th.

But for a man who had spent his entire career — spanning nearly three and half decades — working on fast breeder reactor technology, winning the award brought little cheer. "Fast breeder reactor is my baby. I have been working on it from day one," he said. "Approval from various ministries and the Planning Commission gave me more satisfaction than winning the award."

This is no feigned modesty but the real Mr. Bhoje speaking his mind. He is now eagerly looking forward to the final clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.

He has been associated with fast breeder reactor technology ever since he joined BARC as a scientific officer. His career got a boost when he was deputed to the Centre d'Etudes Nucleare Cadarache, France as a member of the FBTR design team. His move to IGCAR in 1971, when it was formed, only helped the cause of fast breeder technology development.

The unique feature was his involvement not just in designing FBTR but also in its fabrication, execution and operation. "The Department of Atomic Energy wanted a person who could deliver. They spotted his talent and capacity as a trouble shooter and gave him challenging assignments," remarked Baldev Raj, Director of Materials, Chemical and Reprocessing Groups at IGCAR.

Being a member of the International working group on Fast reactors of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) for ten years (for 1987-1997) helped him hone his skills and get an insight into the breeder reactor programme of different countries. Like a fish taking to water, getting involved in the 500MW PFBR programme right from conceptualising and designing came naturally to him.

The crowning glory has indeed been his role in getting the approval from various agencies and ministries for the PFBR within a span of just two years since he took over the mantle as IGCAR Director in November 2000.

Does the elevation of a reactor scientist as the Director and getting various clearances for PFBR have something in common? "He is a focused person who is mission oriented. After all focus is something that is essential to get a project of this magnitude started," stressed G.B. Grover, Director of Strategic Planning Group, DAE, Mumbai.

Focused, focused, focused. Focused scientist and Mr. Bhoje are synonymous. This is a way he is best described by every person this correspondent spoke to. Was everybody tutored to describe him the same way? "Of course not," Dr. Grover retorted. "He was chosen as the Director by virtue of this quality. After all a good and timely beginning is half the work done." According to Dr. Raj, the Director has been able to change IGCAR from an R&D centre of excellence to a mission oriented centre.

Anil Kakkodhar, Chairman of Department of Atomic Energy attests to his strength to work on a mission mode and achieve the desired result. "He is a specialist in fast breeder technology and it is a big achievement to nurture a technology to a stage where commercialisation can happen," Dr. Kakkodhar commented. "He has been successful in co-ordinating the various activities at IGCAR and bringing about the participation of all scientists to make the mission possible."

"He has a very clear concept of the PFBR programme. He is very committed to his work and knows what he is doing," said K.S. Parthasarthy, Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Mumbai.

He had one mission with little room for excuses. "His mandate to scientists was simple — work on anything that had immediate relevance to PFBR," recalled S. Govindarajan, Head, Core Engineering and Component Handling Division, who had worked with him for two decades. S.V. Chetal, Director of Reactor Engineering Group with nearly 32 years association vouches Dr. Govindarajan. He confides that under his leadership activities on PFBR had taken a sharp upswing.

Kick starting the PFBR project is not his only priority. Plans are afoot to start a separate company to oversee the construction and operation of PFBR. Apart from other benefits, he feels it would inculcate a corporate mentality and make everybody more responsible and deliver results and not treat it as another R&D facility. The company would be allowed to source 20 per cent of the total Rs2800 crore project from the public. Being a new technology, Nuclear Power Corporation wants the government to share some financial risk arising from any construction delay, low capacity factor, to name a few.

The final step in closing the fuel cycle through reprocessing the spent fuel will begin by the end of this month. And that will mark an important milestone in India's energy security for centuries.

R. Prasad

in Chennai

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