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Vietnam's nuclear industry needs incentives
Publication Date : 07-09-2012
Vietnam's nuclear-power sector has failed to attract enough people, including outstanding students, as the incentive policy for nuclear workers has not been made clear, said State officials in the field.
Nguyen Quan, Minister of Science and Technology acknowledged this fact, saying that students did not feel motivated to pursue a profession that involved potential dangers.
He added that those operating nuclear-power plants should receive incomes high enough to be able to take care of themselves and their families while exposed to radio-active substances.
"They deserve salaries higher than those of ministers to feel committed to their jobs."
Quan said the Government's favourable policies towards those working in the nuclear-power sector, including benefits worth 30-70 per cent of their salaries, were not attractive enough.
Nguyen Viet Phuong, an officer of the Ministry of Science and Technology who is pursuing a masters programme in nuclear engineering in South Korea, said existing Government policy of salaries for civil servants was far from attractive to any good student, let alone excellent ones for the nuclear field.
"As other civil servants, I receive a salary significantly lower than those of my friends who work in the private sector."
Phuong said two years ago, the Government issued a Decree addressing some incentives for State employees working in atomic energy, but they still had to wait for the issuance of a further Guidance Document to receive real benefits.
Students had also not shown much interest in pursuing nuclear power, as Dr Do Thi Nguyet Minh, head of the Nuclear Power Faculty from the Hanoi-based Electric Power University (EPU), pointed out, despite entry requirements not being high.
Minh said the number of entry candidates for nuclear power was lower than that of other majors such as consumer electronics and automatic engineering.
Several other universities with nuclear related faculties, including Da Lat University and Hanoi National University's School of Natural Science, have also failed to attract many candidates, although the required entry scores (16-17) can be achieved by average students.
"Students attending various undergraduate nuclear power-related courses are promised with incentives and additional scholarship, and indeed a number of them, 119 as of the 2012-2013 scholar year to be exact, do get the scholarship to study in Russia, but the incentive policy for the rest who stay in Vietnam is still on paper," said Phuong.
He added that the chance to find a job after graduation was not really clear since Vietnam is still preparing for its nuclear power project and the exact date for starting the project has not been set yet.
Phuong said the Government should quickly implement an incentive policy that consists of not only a good salary and scholarships, but also opportunities for overseas training and promises of a stable and good job in the future.
"Training a good nuclear worker from graduate level requires at least five years, therefore if we want a work force with adequate quality and quantity for the nuclear power programme, we had better start the recruitment of students now."
Phuong's opinion was similar to that of Tran Dai Phuc, a Vietnamese French expert from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Phuc told the Ha Noi Moi (New Hanoi) newspaper that the Government's target to provide enough staff for its new projects was difficult to achieve because at least 2,000 nuclear experts must be found by 2020-2025 while it took eight to 12 years to train a nuclear expert.
Minister Quan admitted it was difficult to recruit people to pursue the nuclear sector because of high requirements.
"Those who are intellectually competent fail to meet health requirements and vice versa," he said.
That said, some of the Government's projects are on the way.
Tran Chi Thanh, head of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Commission (VAEC), which employs nearly 800 staff, said the commission lacked experts for its research projects – and management staff for the Nuclear Technology and Science Centre, the commission's new project.
The centre, worth US$500 million with financial support from Russia, is expected to start construction by the end of this year and open for operation by 2019.
Thanh said it would need about 500 staff, including those already working in the nuclear industry, plus university graduates.
Meanwhile, work on the country's first nuclear power plant in south-central Ninh Thuan Province is expected to start by 2014 and begin operating by 2020.
And there is some good news for those pursuing the nuclear sector.
Phuong pointed out that Vietnam currently enjoys good co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and countries like Japan, Russia and South Korea, which helped him to attend training courses and seminars abroad, and learn from top foreign experts.
"This opportunity cannot be substituted by money, so I am happy with my choice of earning less money but having these extra benefits."
Dr Truong Nam Hung, head of EPU's Energy Technology Department, said this school year, the university had offered favourable policies to attract more candidates while at the same time raising the entry score higher than previous years to get better quality students.
In particular, students majoring in nuclear power will be entitled to a monthly scholarship of 1 million Vietnamese dong (US$47) for the first 10 months of their education at the university and will be able to stay at the university's dormitory.
As a result, Hung said the quality of candidates this school-year was better than previous years.
He cited the coverage of the Governments' favourable policies for students in nuclear power in the media as a possible reason for such change.
Unlike Phuc from IAEA, Minister Quan said the target was achievable. He said that during the past three years, Vietnam had sent 200 people to Russia and 300 others to other countries to pursue short-term and long-term training courses on atomic energy and nuclear power.
He said the Government had earmarked around 2 trillion dong (more than $95.2 million) for the training of nuclear-power staff, while Vietnam Electricity had set aside 1 trillion dong for the same purpose.
"The Prime Minister will issue a decision on the benefits for people working in nuclear power," Quan said.
In particular, he said people pursuing the sector overseas on scholarships would be entitled to special allowances to take care of their families – and students majoring in nuclear power would be given 100-per-cent scholarships and offered some financial support.
Vietnamese-born people overseas and foreigners would also be welcomed to participate in the country's nuclear projects.
"By 2017-2018, we will have modern research facilities to meet the demand for researchers," the minister said.