Friday, April 6, 2012

Welcome Remarks at Workshop on Teaching the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Good morning, and welcome to The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. I’m Doug Shaw, as associate dean here at GW’s Elliott School, and I am grateful for your participation in today’s workshop on Teaching the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: What do Policy Makers, Practitioners, and the Public Need to Know? I am particularly pleased to welcome Assistant Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Energy Peter Lyons, who I will introduce in a moment.

This event, and the Nuclear Policy Talks series of which it is part, responds to the mission of GW’s Elliott School to make the world a better place by conducting research on global human challenges, educating a new generation of leaders to respond to those challenges, and engaging the policy community facing those challenges every day.

Today’s discussion is particularly urgent.

We live in a dynamic moment in the understanding of the nuclear fuel cycle. Just last week in a speech at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, President Barack Obama said “We all know the problem: The very process that gives us nuclear energy can also put nations and terrorists within the reach of nuclear weapons,” and responded to that challenge by calling, among other things, for “an international commitment to unlocking the fuel cycle of the future.” In a short essay in The Huffington Post yesterday, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation President Robert Gallucci responds to the urgent danger of nuclear terrorism by urging a ban on the production of fissile materials that would end the separation of plutonium from nuclear spent fuel and the enrichment of uranium to high levels. In yesterday’s Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman reported that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has deferred action on a petition from the American Physical Society urging that an assessment of proliferation risk should precede the licensing of each new enrichment or reprocessing facility. Informed opinions are converging on these important topics, but disagreements remain framed by differences in the perspectives of different expert communities. At GW, we are committed to helping to bring these communities into contact to better understand these important issues.

For nuclear security policy to progress on a productive and informed path, it is imperative that experts communicate effectively across their respective spheres of knowledge. Dr. James Doyle of Los Alamos National Laboratory identifies more than a dozen disciplines that constitute “nuclear security science.” Beyond the academy, communication between the policy, military, technical, business, scientific, and advocacy communities focused on nuclear technology is constrained, and there are few venues for the development of consensus or shared understanding. Efforts to assess proliferation risk and safety of nuclear energy choices are making progress, but this highly specialized knowledge is often developed and held within disciplinary and affinity group silos. These efforts do not yet respond to the need for greater communication across disciplines and communities.

Absent communication among these diverse expert groups, policy makers are constrained from the development of the best options to promote safety and security while the public is constrained from the development of opinions adequate to democratic decision making. Without this communication, efforts to educate a next generation of nuclear security leaders who can synthesize the insights of these various perspectives are impeded.

Responding to this problem requires a focused effort to combine the insights of technical, industrial, policy, and interdisciplinary scholarly communities around the proliferation implications of fuel cycle choices. The development of interdisciplinary nuclear curricula would mitigate these challenges by educating members of the next generation of nuclear security experts.

GW is taking on this challenge. The Nuclear Policy Talks series of which today’s event is part has brought more than 200 nuclear policy experts to campus in the last three years, ranging from Elliott School alumnae and New START negotiator, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security Rose Gottemoeller, to Senator Richard Lugar, to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to former Trident ballistic missile submarine commander turned GW Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Murray Snyder. We are engaged in research on this topic, the 2010 MIT Press book Going Nuclear: Nuclear Proliferation and International Security in the 21st Century, co-edited by the Dean of GW’s Elliott School, Michael Brown, reflects. We are also developing new course offerings in this area, including a new graduate course this fall on nuclear materials science for non-technical students, to be offered by Professor of Chemistry and International Affairs Christopher Cahill, working on a grant from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

We believe today’s discussion will support and enhance all these efforts. We will begin with remarks from Assistant Secretary Lyons, followed by a panel discussion on proliferation risk and nuclear fuel cycle choices, featuring prominent experts Sharon Squassoni, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who is a leading participant in the ongoing study at the National Academies on proliferation risk in the nuclear fuel cycle, Joseph Pilat from Los Alamos National Laboratories, and Seth Grae from the innovative nuclear fuel design firm Lightbridge, whose business model makes economic use of the differential in proliferation risk between fuel cycle choices. Over lunch, former head inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Olli Heinonen, will share his expert perspective on the timely issue of Iran’s nuclear program. In the afternoon, a second panel will focus on the relationship between the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and global security, featuring the legendary expertise of Dr. Richard Garwin, the perspective of George Mason University Professor Allison MacFarlane fresh from service on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, and the industry perspective of Dororthy Davidson, Vice President of Nuclear Energy, Renewables, and Science Programs at AREVA Federal Services. Our third panel will reflect the work of a world-class team of experts, led by Dr. Michael Rosenthal of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office of the Department of Homeland Security, that has recently completed a textbook manuscript on nuclear safeguards. In addition to Dr. Rosenthal, Ambassador Norm Wulf and Dr. Linda Gallini of the State Department will also address the crucial issue of safeguards. We are excited about this program and believe it to be unique, and are grateful to you for your participation.

So, without further discussion, it is my great honor to introduce The Honorable Dr. Peter B. Lyons, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Energy. Dr. Lyons was confirmed by the Senate to this position a year ago next week, following two years of service as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy.

The Honorable Peter B. Lyons was sworn in as a Commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on January 25, 2005 and served until his term ended on June 30, 2009. At the NRC, Dr. Lyons focused on the safety of operating reactors and on the importance of learning from operating experience, even as new reactor licensing and possible construction emerged. He emphasized that NRC and its licensees remain strong and vigilant components of the Nation's integrated defenses against terrorism, and was a consistent voice for improving partnerships with international regulatory agencies. He emphasized active and forward-looking research programs to support sound regulatory decisions, address current issues and anticipate future ones. He was also a strong proponent of science and technology education, recruiting for diversity, employee training and development programs, and an open and collaborative working environment.

From 1969 to 1996, Dr. Lyons worked in progressively more responsible positions at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. During that time he served as Director for Industrial Partnerships, Deputy Associate Director for Energy and Environment, and Deputy Associate Director-Defense Research and Applications. While at Los Alamos, he spent over a decade supporting nuclear test diagnostics. Before becoming a Commissioner, Dr. Lyons served as Science Advisor on the staff of U.S. Senator Pete Domenici and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources where he focused on military and civilian uses of nuclear technology, national science policy, and nuclear non-proliferation. Dr. Lyons has published more than 100 technical papers, holds three patents related to fiber optics and plasma diagnostics, and served as chairman of the NATO Nuclear Effects Task Group for five years.

Dr. Lyons was raised in Nevada. He received his doctorate in nuclear astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology in 1969 and earned his undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Arizona in 1964. Dr. Lyons is a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society, a Fellow of the American Physical Society, was elected to 16 years on the Los Alamos School Board and spent six years on the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos Branch Advisory Board.

Please join me in welcoming The Honorable Peter Lyons.