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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 44  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 56-57  

II. Dr. Srikumar Banerjee: Some fond reminiscences

Former IAEA Professional and EX. Head, Radiation Safety Systems Division, BARC, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission27-May-2021
Date of Acceptance27-May-2021
Date of Web Publication07-Jun-2021

Correspondence Address:
M R Iyer
Former IAEA Professional and EX. Head, Radiation Safety Systems Division, BARC, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/rpe.rpe_17_21

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How to cite this article:
Iyer M R. II. Dr. Srikumar Banerjee: Some fond reminiscences. Radiat Prot Environ 2021;44:56-7

How to cite this URL:
Iyer M R. II. Dr. Srikumar Banerjee: Some fond reminiscences. Radiat Prot Environ [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Jun 24];44:56-7. Available from: https://www.rpe.org.in/text.asp?2021/44/1/56/317945

With the untimely demise of Dr. Srikumar Banerjee, the Atomic Energy community of the country lost a doyen and a passionate champion of nuclear power in India. Dr. Banerjee's significant contributions in his area of expertise on metallurgy are well known. The result of his work on Zircaloy has benefited our PHWR program immensely. On this occasion, with a heavy heart kindly permit me to nostalgically recollect my association with him. I knew Dr. Banerjee as an innovative energetic scientist in his early career in 80s as a co-member of the Technology Transfer Group of BARC. The then Director BARC invited an industrialist to address the group to learn how the industry imbibes technology from academic institutions. Dr. Banerjee was chosen as the person to present the status of technology transfer in BARC. And Banerjee true to his vision came up and recounted many futuristic concepts on which work was going on in BARC that would yield results in the distant future. The talk was impressive and made the industrialist reconsider his view of short-term gains of the industry in absorbing new initiatives.

My next tryst with Dr. Banerjee was much later after my retirement from BARC and IAEA. I was writing articles with enthusiasm on the prospects of Indian nuclear industry opening up under the India-USA Collaboration agreement early in this century. DAE was facing difficult times in public relationship with the local public against Kudankulam NPP with a suffocating campaign preventing the start-up of the first unit of Russian VVER reactor at that time. Government of India was contemplating various means to counteract this agitation. One of the steps innovated by Dr. Banerjee, the then Chairman, AEC was to form a group of scientists from various fields to provide a realistic picture of safety of nuclear power. One fine morning I was rather taken aback to receive a message from DAE that Chairman, AEC want to talk to me. Deep into retirement for more than 12 years I was taken aback and was a bit nervous. Eventually, when Dr. Banerjee came on the phone, it was a pleasant surprise to me and revealed his gentle nature. He addressed me as person to person and described to me briefly the problem faced in PR with the agitationists in Kudankulam. He talked to me on his plans to form a group of scientists from various walks of life under Dr. A E Muthunayagam, a leading Space Scientist and former Secretary to GOI, Department of Ocean Development. He asked me if I am agreeable to be nominated as a member of that committee. I was over awed and expressed my doubts about my ability to be in that group. But he insisted that he has gone through my articles and was convinced that I will be able to contribute as a radiation protection specialist. Dr. Banerjee over ruled my apprehensions and proposed me as a member of the Expert Group to be formed by the PM. That reveals the ability of Dr. Banerjee to pick up the proper persons for assignments.

I participated in the Committee with several meetings and Dr. Banerjee made it a point to be present in all the review meetings. He noted with glee that I had started writing articles on the safety of nuclear power with various suggestions using the feedback from our meetings with the activist leaders. Once he mentioned to the committee members about my publishing an article “Anatomy of an Activist.”

It was thus with this background I requested Dr. Banerjee to write the foreword for my book “;The Saga of Atomic Energy in India – why nuclear power is still subcritical.” He readily agreed to write the foreword.

I happened to be in a committee for reviewing activities of BARC in Health and Safety in 2019, and the committee was chaired by Dr. Banerjee. And that gave me an opportunity to interact with him on several aspects of our nuclear power program. He patiently listened to my points and chewed them up. Since he was very busy as the Chancellor of HBNI and various other assignments, he did not respond for a long time. Once I rang him up to remind him about the matter, he told me that he is planning to go on a vacation to the USA and that will be the opportune time for him take up the job. During his sojourn in the USA, I had several telephonic discussions with him. He discussed threadbare the contents of the book with me over the phone. He made several suggestions to include in the book. One of them was suggesting adding a section on TIFR which I did and he commended that part. He had several suggestions how to improve the impact of nuclear power in India – to start work on IPWR, improve PHWR performance by introducing enriched U and mixed oxide fuels, vigorously follow the fast reactor program, develop SMRs, etc. I included all the points in the book. He added this to his remark: the highest priority should be timely completion of the on-going and planned projects. He had an excellent suggestion to develop SMRs and to set them up in clusters to operate as huge captive power stations of up to 3 GW. This has the advantage of taking up outage unit by unit without affecting the overall power supply making it near continuous.

Thus, it was with a heavy heart I learned about his sad demise on the early morning of May 23rd. He had given an interview about his indisposition with COVID and he seemed to have overcome the disease with his brave heart. But his career was unfortunately cut short. It was a loss to not only atomic energy fraternity but also to science and technology arena of the country as a model administrator.

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