Singapore nuclear research & safety initiative

23 Apr 2014. $63m programme to boost Singapore's nuclear expertise which is led by NUS physicist.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) announced today the establishment of the Nuclear Safety Research and Education Programme (NSREP) with funding amounting to S$63 million that will be spread over the next five years.

One of the two components of the NSREP will be the Singapore Nuclear Research and Safety Initiative (SNRSI), focusing on research and developing capabilities in nuclear safety, science and engineering. The SNRSI will be a national resource hosted in NUS that taps into the local research institutions and builds up new capabilities. It will be led by Professor Lim Hock from the NUS Department of Physics, who is currently Director of Research Governance and Enablement at the University’s Office of the Deputy President (Research and Technology).

The other component of the NSREP will be the Nuclear Education and Training Fund (NETF), which will support education and training in the same areas.

The NSREP initiative was based on the October 2012 recommendations of a nuclear energy pre-feasibility study commissioned by the Singapore Government. The study concluded that while current nuclear energy technologies are not suitable for deployment in Singapore, the nation should continue to play an active role in global and regional cooperation on nuclear safety, monitor the development of nuclear energy technologies, and support research in nuclear science and engineering.

NRF Chief Executive Officer, Professor Low Teck Seng, said: “One of the biggest challenges for us has been the lack of qualified and experienced personnel in areas such as nuclear safety analysis and management. Therefore we have to start building up the capabilities now to ensure that there are suitably trained local scientists and engineers who can assess developments in nuclear technology, and nuclear energy programmes in the region, and advise the government on nuclear safety issues.”

“The nuclear research, education and training programme will also bring broader benefits to Singapore as there are more uses of nuclear technology than just nuclear energy, including its use in medicine, material science, industry and in food and agriculture,” he added.

In line with advancing capabilities in nuclear research, NUS is introducing a new minor in medical physics in January 2015. NUS Physics lecturer Dr Chan Taw Kuei shared in a media interview: “Students can expect to learn the foundations of nuclear physics and how they are being applied to medical physics, because in medical physics we make significant use of nuclear physics foundations but we apply them to imaging techniques that are usually used in the most advanced technologies today.”

Citing examples such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computed Tomography (CT) Scan and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan, he explained that all these advanced techniques are usually not accessible to the general public in terms of how they are being operated. However, students who take up this minor programme in medical physics next year will learn all the fundamentals surrounding how such technologies are being applied and how they are being used in the most advanced medical technologies today. When they graduate, these students, he said, can go on to become professional medical physicists or opt to do a Master’s at a biomedical engineering faculty.

Commenting on the significance of this new minor programme for Singapore and Singaporeans, Dr Chan said that Singaporeans now have this new career path in physics that is neither traditional pure physics nor applied physics, leading to work in material science and engineering or the education sector. They can instead proceed to pursue a professional degree in medical physics, an industry that will continue to grow in Singapore in the future, said Dr Chan.

This article was first published on 23 Apr 2014 in NUS News by Office of Corporate Relations at http://news.nus.edu.sg/highlights/7618-singapore-nuclear-research-and-safety-initiative-to-be-hosted-at-nus