Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Dangerous Gap in Nuclear Education

Neglect of the study of nuclear weapons in higher education has resulted in a gap in the specialized knowledge needed today. In 2009 remarks at the Elliott School, Sir Lawrence Freedman observed a “missing generation” of nuclear policy experts. A quarter of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration staff will reach retirement age by 2013.[i] Half the International Atomic Energy Agency’s leadership will retire within five years.[ii] General Kevin Chilton who leads the U.S. Strategic Command observes: "We've allowed an entire generation to skip class."[iii] Various efforts respond to elements of this challenge: the Stanton Foundation’s nuclear security fellows program is supporting faculty development, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Next Generation Safeguards Initiative is focusing resources on filling specific technical gaps, and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies is innovating in the delivery of boutique graduate education. However, the vast majority of young Americans aspiring to careers in the executive and legislative branches of government, the defense contracting and consulting community, and the Washington non-profit sector will not receive formal education on nuclear issues. We remain dangerously unprepared for a future in which an increasing share of nuclear destructive potential will be recessed away from weapons deployment into the vagaries of nuclear fuel cycle operations.

[i] Bryan Bender, “Alarm over shortage of nuclear experts,” Boston Globe, April 3, 2010, link:

[ii] James Doyle, Los Alamos National Laboratory, “Nuclear Security as a Multidisciplinary Field of Study,” link:

[iii] General Kevin Chilton , “2009 Deterrence Symposium Opening Remarks,” July 29, 2009, link:

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