Berkeley-led consortium receives $25 million grant for nuclear research

Nuclear Science and Security Consortium/Courtesy
Nuclear Science and Security Consortium Fellows Mairead Montague, Eric Matthews, Adriana Sweet at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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The National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, awarded a $25 million grant to the UC Berkeley-led Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, or NSSC, to advance the next generation of nuclear science and security for the next five years.

This marks the third time that the consortium has received the grant, which is particularly notable given that most centers only receive it once or twice, according to Peter Hosemann, campus professor and chair of the UC Berkeley department of nuclear engineering. The funds will primarily go towards training nuclear scientists and engineers while also supporting research and development in nuclear technology and security.

“We have to recompete — this is not renewal — every single time, meaning we have to write an entirely new proposal, have an entirely new team, and compete on a national level against anybody else,” said campus nuclear engineering professor and NSSC program director Jasmina Vujic. “This is really amazing that we were able to do it three times in a row.”

The consortium focuses the majority of funding toward student support, with only 3% of the entire award going to administrative costs, according to Vujic. It has supported over 550 undergraduates, graduates, postdoctoral students, faculty and specialists.

Many students then go on to work in U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories and other government agencies with high retention rates in national and nuclear security careers, Vujic added.

“The consortium provides a strong draw for students into nuclear security and nonproliferation research areas,” said NSSC executive director and campus researcher Bethany Goldblum in an email. “These scholars will go on to be leaders in nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear arms control, nuclear incident response, nuclear energy, and other nuclear-related fields.”

UC Berkeley will work with 10 other universities and five national laboratories in the consortium to research two main themes, according to Goldblum. The first theme — fundamental nuclear sciences — includes nuclear physics and nuclear data, nuclear chemistry, radiochemistry and nuclear materials science. The second theme of applied nuclear science and engineering addresses radiation detection, nuclear chemical engineering and nuclear engineering.

The consortium also engages faculty from multiple campus departments, such as nuclear engineering, physics and chemistry, according to Goldblum.

“I’m very proud to be a member of this community,” Hosemann said. “We hope that our students and science created in this center can contribute to our nation’s energy future and security future.”

The NNSA first awarded the NSSC with a $25 million grant in 2011, which led to the establishment of the consortium. In 2016, the NSSC was again awarded $25 million for another five years of support. Its third performance period is set to begin Sept. 2021.

The NNSA’s continuing financial support emphasizes the importance of continuing nuclear research and security in the modern world, according to Vujic.

“It’s extremely important to have, regardless of if you have one opinion about nuclear energy or the other opinion about nuclear technology,” Vujic said. “It’s extremely important for us to educate the next generation of students that will be capable of continuing the work of the current generation.”

Contact Cindy Liu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_CindyLiu_