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Nuclear man with a clear mindnews
Venkatachari Jagannathan
18 July 2003

IGCAR director Dr S B Bhoje, an authority on fast-breeder reactors, believes an organisation should define its basic purpose of existence and stick to that

Dr Shivram Baburao BhojeChennai: He is a nuclear scientist with a difference. Cost-conscious and tempered with commercial sense, he runs the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) like a small corporate outfit with clearly-defined goals.

"We get around Rs 150 crore as annual grant from the Indian government, but it is finally taxpayers' hard-earned money and, hence, should not be fritted away," says IGCAR director Padmashri Dr Shivram Baburao Bhoje.

An authority on fast-breeder reactors, Bhoje strongly believes that a research and development (R&D) organisation should define its basic purpose of existence and stick to that. "The entire organisation should work with a single objective and any tendency to move away from this must be checked."

According to him the four cardinal rules that an R&D organisation should follow are:
(a) define the work clearly under each discipline and activity,
(b) assign the work to proper individuals,
(c) review the progress at regular intervals and take correction action in case of variance, and
(d) integrate the results into the overall project.

"R&D activities should have velocity and direction. The research projects should be based on deliverable outputs, rather than on the input desires of individuals or groups," he says. It is this velocity and direction that IGCAR's 500-mw indigenous design prototype fast-breeder reactor (PFBR) programme has gained ever since he assumed the mantle in November 2002.

He has the grit and determination to drive the atomic research centre towards its stated goal. The centre, till March 2002, had invested in IGCAR around Rs 1,220 crore in the hope that the latter will come out with a fast-reactor design. And for the past two decades PFBR remained merely on, well, paper. "The PFBR project is the dormant desire of everyone at IGCAR. But it didn't get the required focus all these years which I decided to give," says Bhoje.

The seriousness with which he views the money sunk in IGCAR came to the fore when he decided to auction off unused materials, mostly metal junks, to earn Rs 1.3 crore. Though the amount is minuscule, it sent one a message strong and clear to the nuclear scientific fraternity: inventory and unused assets are expensive.

Not just that. Bhoje put an end to unrelated and exotic research activities and outsourced some work from external agencies, so that the money and research efforts are channelised towards IGCAR's primary goal - building a fast-breeder nuclear reactor.

"He is one tough guy who breathes only fast reactors. In any R&D set-up, 50 per cent will be some exotic stuff that may or may not have any immediate relevance to the organisation's main goal. But Bhoje definitely views resources and time as finite," says a scientist.

The formative years
Born into an agriculturist family (his father Babu Rao owned 50 acres in Kolhapur district, Maharashtra), Bhoje is the second child; he has an elder brother and two sisters. "My parents became literate late in their life by attending the adult literacy school. And my mother once headed the Kolhapur Panchayat Union," recalls Bhoje.

Good at studies from his schooldays, Bhoje graduated in mechanical engineering in 1965 from Poona University. "That was the first turning point in my life," he says. Unlike the present days, where the private sector offers lucrative pay scales, those were the days when the public sector was the best paymaster, attracting the best talent.

"While I was attracted to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) as the job involved R&D activity, with accommodation in Mumbai thrown in as a part of the package, it was difficult for me to decline the offer," Bhoje says.

Assigned to the fast-reactor division of BARC, Bhoje was sent on a one-year deputation to the Centre d'Etudes Nucleare Cadarache, France, as a member of the design team of the 13-mw fast-breeder test reactor (FBTR). That gave him deep insights into designing a fast reactor. Returning to India, Bhoje was posted at IGCAR, Kalpakkam, where FBTR was built. "That was the second turning point in my life."

Once back in India, Bhoje married Uma, then a BSc final year student from Belgaum. "That was the only thing that I did in haste," he says. Not to be outdone, Uma chips in: "Generally he doesn't take any decision on impulse that could be regretted later - even the house in Kolhapur he bought just three years ago."

The couple has three daughters: Varsha, Vidya and Veena. Varsha is an electrical and electronic engineering graduate. Vidya studied MSc nuclear physics and later studied applied mechanics at IIT-Madras. And Veena, a gold medallist in structural engineering, also studied applied mechanics at IIT-Madras. All the three are now into the field of software.

"Normally he is a reserved person. But once he finds a willing pair of ears to listen about fast reactors, he will start talking for hours," says Uma about Bhoje's obsession. "As a father he gave full freedom to our children to decide on their respective careers and never imposed his will on them."

FBTR and after
Thanks to the successful completion of FBTR and serving in various positions, Bhoje became the director of the reactor group in 1992, and eight years later he took over as the director.

"Bhoje has a full perspective about fast reactors on account of his work exposure. With the centre's mandate to actualise the fast-breeder reactor programme, Bhoje, a fast-breeder reactor man to the core, is the right person you can ever find," says Dr Baldev Raj, director, materials, chemical and reprocessing groups.

Firm in the saddle, Bhoje started to concentrate and realise the simmering desire of the domestic nuclear scientists - building an indigenous fast reactor/PFBR. Plans were redrawn, research projects were reset and every effort was targeted to realise that dormant desire .

An ardent supporter of industry-institute interaction, Bhoje says that this is quite dynamic in the nuclear power sector, though the same may not be said in respect of other sectors. "Our R&D are application- and mission-oriented and it is tested immediately. In general, the industry should find out what is happening in institutes and vice versa. Both should work together for the common good."

Speaking about the availability of young nuclear scientists at a time when bright talents go into management or software development, he says: "Three years ago it was a problem as majority of IIT graduates and others got into the software line and went abroad. Now the trend has changed. The IITs have courses that are suitable for careers in nuclear science and youngsters are now coming into this stream. Further eight reactors are under construction and 14 are under operation and there will be a major demand for nuclear scientists."

A religious Bhoje spends most of his leisure time reading; his all-time favourite is Kalidasa's Meghadhootam. "I have read that in Sanskrit and also in English and Marathi translations. Every time I read it, I enjoy."

There is one and only regret in my life. "My father used to tell me that he would live with me for some time after my retirement. But he is no more." Bhoje, 61, will retire in April 2004 (he already had got two extensions). "After retirement I will go to Kolhapur where I have a house and spend my time reading, and even teaching."

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Nuclear man with a clear mind