It may be decades before nuclear power becomes a realistic option in Cqambodia, but for students in Battambang, there is now a course to teach nuclear engineering as a major after three years at the University of Battambang.
The idea is to build up human resources in nuclear engineering and eventually to produce energy to make electricity from a nuclear power plant.
Japan is still facing serious problems after an earthquake and tsunami, which caused four reactors at Japanese nuclear plants to spew or leak radioactivity into the ocean and atmosphere. However, these accidents will not stop Cambodia from training people in nuclear engineering.
“I do not expect this level of accident in Cambodia and these accidents might not be considered in the design stage,” said Hah Chang Joo, an advisor to the rector and adjunct professor at UBB. He is a nuclear researcher and designer from the Seoul University in South Korea.
Joo said that if Cambodia can build nuclear plants like Japan, geologists will play a major role in determining the location. Anywhere there are earthquakes is not suitable.
Joo said he and his university in Seoul have cooperated with the rector of UBB, Touch Visalsok, to start the nuclear engineering major at the university. His university in South Korea sponsored a nuclear core simulator machine, which costs about US$50,000, for UBB. It is used to train students about nuclear engineering.
“I came here because I think that in the next 10 or 20 years, Cambodia will be able to generate nuclear power from a nuclear power plant energy reactor and I want to create nuclear engineering human resources,” he said.
He said that the nuclear engineering major is a bit hard for Cambodian students because it is new and requires students to have the basics of mathematics, physics and chemistry.
“However, I have found a few smart students in year 2, who are good human resources for Cambodia,” he said.
Joo said he now teaches his student both theories from books and practice with the nuclear core simulator machine.
“Students can use this machine to test nuclear design data,” he said. “If that data is different, it means the test was not successful.”
Touch Visalsok, 40, the rector of UBB, has been trying to promote nuclear engineering major via workshops, scholarships and flyers.
Visalsok said that since his university was built, he had tried to put nuclear engineering into the curriculum by asking the ministry of education to cooperate with the South Korean university in Seoul.
“In the first year there were only eight students who applied to study this major, but now there are 22 studying this major,” he said.
The number of students electing to do nuclear engineering is increasing due to more understanding of the subject.
Visalsok said studying this major is not harmful to students for they study theory and practice only on computers or with the nuclear core simulator machine. However, the number of female students who study this subject is still low.
“We try to encourage female students to study this new major and give the first priority to them,” he said.
“This major provides students with many opportunities to work in the nuclear industry, construction industry and electric power supply industry as well as in government and abroad,” he said. “It also provides students with master and PhD scholarships to study in Korea or the United States.
“Payment students have to pay $260 for the foundation year, while scholarship students do not,” he said. “If students want scholarships, they have to apply via the state scholarship scheme.”
From year 2 to year 4 payment students have to pay $360 per year for the nuclear engineering majors, the same as other majors.
He said it is not easy for students who study nuclear engineering since they have to be good at English, mathematics, physics and chemistry.
Hean Vannak, 20, a second year student of nuclear engineering, said he is a scholarship student and he applied to study this subject after seeing it advertised by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports.
“At first I felt very afraid of this new subject because I thought that studying nuclear engineering was training students to produce nuclear bombs, but in fact now that I have studied it, it just trains students how to use nuclear engineering,” he said.
He added that this may give job opportunities to students who can work in electronics companies.
During a degree-giving ceremony at Nortone University in Phnom Penh this year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said: “It is time for us to produce more human resources like UBB, which has a major to teach students to be nuclear engineers.”
Cheam Yeap, a lawmaker with the Cambodian People’s Party, said we have to start building up human resources for nuclear engineering so we do not need to employ others because if we hire staff from abroad, it is very expensive, but if we have our own human resources, we do not waste too much money.
“If we have our own human resources with nuclear engineering, we are sure to trust them rather than the others from abroad,” he said.