Friday, August 6, 2010

Teaching Nonproliferation: Hands on, Online, and Followed on

Last month I attended a terrific meeting on the topic of “Nuclear Security Education: The Intersection of Policy, Science, and Technology” hosted by the University of Tennessee Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

I learned a lot, and came away convinced of three specific elements that should be included to prepare the next generation of nuclear nonproliferation practitioners. Nuclear security education should be hands on, online, with follow on.

Nuclear security education should be hands on, with experiential learning opportunities, physical exhibits, and field trips. Simulations of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meetings and State Evaluation Exercises have been pioneered at the Monterey Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and, with interdisciplinary teams of nuclear engineering and international affairs students at the Nuclear Security Science Policy Institute at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University (TAMU). Listening to former IAEA safeguards inspectors discuss the tools of their trade, I became intensely curious about those tools – and my students have responded very well to radiochemistry Professor Christopher Cahill’s efforts to bring uranium and detection equipment into the classroom. Field trips to the National Laboratories or working nuclear facilities suggest great promise.

Nuclear security education should be online, with great videos of lectures, simulations, and virtual reality experiences are available now. TAMU’s Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal contains top-shelf lectures on the fuel cycle; GW’s Elliott School has a Web Video Initiative with several great talks featuring a series of Nuclear Policy Talks by Rose Gottemoeller, Ellen Tauscher, Jayantha Dhanapala and others, and, of course, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a wealth of offerings in Nuclear Engineering, Physics, and Political Science. The Henry L. Stimson Center just introduced a great online game called “Cheater’s Risk” that allows students to explore proliferation pathways interactively in the context of a reacting international community trying to detect their efforts and Google Earth can help explore any location on the planet. Virtual reality (VR) is an exceptionally promising area – Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is working on VR safeguards inspections that could be tailored for generic facility types or for specific facilities to prepare inspectors for specific inspection activities (or be displayed on their handheld or through a monocle during the inspection itself) and a simulation of detection of nuclear material on a container ship may also be in the works. Security considerations may keep some of these tools offline, but TAMU’s Bill Charlton reports the University of Denver has a nuclear reactor available in Second Life open to all.

Nuclear security education should be followed on, with linkages to additional education, professional societies, and job opportunities. NNSA sponsored six summer courses through the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative this summer at the National Laboratories and universities and the Center for Strategic International Studies Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) is one of a growing number of networking opportunities for young people interested in learning more about nonproliferation. The Institute of Nuclear Materials Management is an important vehicle of validating and extending nonproliferation education. NNSA’s Nonproliferation Graduate Fellowship Program is one great pathway to a career in the field.

Great food for thought as those teaching on these topics prepare our fall courses.

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