Plagiarism, favouritism charges hit N-fuel maker

'Junior scientist got credit for uranium extraction process'

India's only nuclear fuel producing unit — the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) in Hyderabad — has been hit by allegations of plagiarism and favouritism, with charges flying thick and fast against its top management.

As the complaints reached the Prime Minister's Office, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has been asked to investigate the charges.

The plagiarism accusations pertain to the development of a method of uranium extraction from the compound that comes from Andhra Pradesh's Tummalapalli mines — one of India's largest uranium mines, expected to serve the country's nuclear power plants for years to come. Unlike the other big uranium mine in Jharkhand, Tummalapalli produces a compound called Sodium Uranate (SDU). The scientific staff at the NFC's Control Laboratory (Quality Assurance) claimed to have developed a new method to extract uranium from it, but were denied due credit.

Instead, the credit was given to A L V Kumar Reddy, a relatively junior scientist who is perceived to be close to NFC Chief Executive N Saibaba.

NFC officials claim Reddy gets special favours like carrying his mobile phone inside the NFC campus, which most staffers, including seniors cannot, due to security reasons.

The NFC's internal communication, reviewed by Deccan Herald, shows disheartened scientists took up the issue with their superiors. But the management remained firm in crediting Reddy for the process and recommending his name for a Rs 5-lakh DAE award.
A senior manager of the natural uranium oxide plant said processing of SDU by a method developed by the control lab gave satisfactory results. But the NFC management highlighted the Reddy and his superior's role, ignoring the contribution of others.

“Making a general statement in front of an august audience, by saying (our) laboratory was purposefully out of focus and praising only those two gentlemen as having worked day and night to resolve this particular problem has disappointed each one of us in laboratory, who have been putting untiring efforts to solve the problem,” reads an internal NFC email.

“We are also equally aware that SDU is the future raw material for the NFC in view of the heavy investments made at Tummalapalli,” it adds.

Asked for a response, NFC deputy chief executive (administration) S Goverdhan Rao said: “The process developed by Reddy was found to be innovative, simple and cost-effective. It is totally different from the process suggested by the other officers.”

Rao said Saibaba “brought discipline among officers” and “it is quite possible that some disgruntled officers are spreading some misleading information”.
 

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