UC Berkeley to take lead of nuclear consortium

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced June 9 that it has chosen UC Berkeley to lead a multi-institution consortium that will work to further nuclear nonproliferation and safety in nuclear technology.

The new National Science and Security Consortium will continue technical research being done in nuclear technology and will work toward training young people, giving financial support to undergraduates, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students working on nuclear security.

Edward Watkins, director of the Office of Proliferation Detection at the National Nuclear Security Administration, said the five-year program would be a way to integrate students into the lab system “to the degree that we can motivate students into nuclear nonproliferation applications.”

“We’ve got the chance to go through an entire cycle of students and see it from the beginning to the end of a student’s life cycle,” he said.

In addition to involving students, the consortium will take a unique approach to tackling nuclear security issues.
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau explained in a speech at a reception for the consortium that the consortium will aim to bring together technical research and public policy issues, drawing upon experts from a vast spectrum of backgrounds.

This approach acknowledges that the problems surrounding nuclear security are not merely scientific in nature and that an appreciation of the political issues behind nuclear weapons proliferation is important as well.

The establishment of the consortium marks nuclear security as a priority, both on an educational and a governmental level.
Anne Harrington, deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, recognized the importance of nuclear security in a statement.

“First, we need to create new technologies to detect nuclear proliferation or testing, and to monitor compliance with nuclear nonproliferation and arms control agreements,” she said in the statement. “Second … we need to invest in the next generation of nuclear nonproliferation expertise and provide links between the talented students in our universities and the nonproliferation challenges that our national laboratories will confront in the future.”

Nuclear security is not, however, limited to proliferation and nuclear weapons. The recent disaster in Fukushima, Japan, has revealed the risks that come with using nuclear power and the need for experts [that] who can ensure that existing reactors continue to operate safely.

“There’s obviously a lot of interest in seismic safety,” said Parney Albright, principal associate director of global security for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “Nuclear safety has always been a concern for not just the general public but also for regulators and practitioners in industry. Really having a good technical understanding of the various failure modes in nuclear power (is needed).”

Albright said future nuclear power plant production needs to be expanded in order to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

“That means that we’re going to be expanding nuclear reactor capacity in this country, and that means in turn that we need to pay a lot of attention to the safety concerns of the public and the safety concerns that surround nuclear power in general,” he said. “We’re talking about new types of nuclear power reactors that will be cheap and will reduce the capital costs associated with nuclear power.”

A version of this article appeared in print on Monday, June 13, with the headline “Campus to take lead of nuclear consortium.”