New institute promotes nuclear security

Posted: February 11, 2013 - 3:27pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 2 | 2013

Disquieting headlines from recent news reports prompt an important question: Who has the breadth of knowledge and experience to help solve international nuclear challenges?

“A lot of the keys for national nuclear security are right here in Oak Ridge — from processing uranium at Y‑12 to developing medical isotopes at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to educating the populace through Oak Ridge Associated Universities,” said Chris Clark, senior director of Y‑12's Strategic Program Development. “But we were missing the policy side, which is what drives ORNL to develop new ideas, Y‑12 to perform real-world missions and Oak Ridge Associated Universities to develop best practices in educating the next generation.”

To combine these resources and present a complete nuclear security framework, Y‑12 used its partnership with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to recently help establish the Institute for Nuclear Security, housed in UT's Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

“A few other universities have nuclear security programs,” said Howard Hall, director of the institute and UT-ORNL Governor's Chair for nuclear security. “However, in no case is there the combination of close organizational ties, geographic co-location and access to working nuclear facilities that this region affords.”

INS will provide expertise to help shape national and international policies for nuclear security with a formulation process that involves research, education, training and field activities. And each of the charter members will contribute its own area of nuclear security expertise.

“We're bringing together disparate sets of resources to talk and work toward the common goal of global nuclear security,” Clark said. “The missions of the former nuclear weapons complex have evolved, with emerging global threats, to include national nuclear security objectives. The INS is here to answer the nation's security needs, and we're much stronger going after global security initiatives as a unified front.”

With 70 years of uranium expertise, Y‑12 holds unique knowledge and capabilities regarding real-world nuclear weapons missions. That experience can provide policymakers and educators with unmatched information that can expand their understanding.

“We've got uniquely trained workers and one-of-a-kind facilities, such as our Nuclear Detection and Sensor Testing Center, that now become part of the INS,” said Gerald DeVault, director of Y‑12's Nuclear Nonproliferation and Global Security Programs (see Combatting Nuclear Terrorism). “We can offer insight that you just can't get anywhere else.”

Ultimately, the institute hopes to become an internationally recognized resource. “In five years, we want to see INS as the go-to for all global nuclear security challenges,” said Y‑12's Global Security Initiatives director. “If someone at the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security has a nuclear security concern, they'll call INS, and we'll find the right people to solve the problem.”

The credibility and future success of the institute rest largely on each member organization's long history in the field. “Our Y‑12 and ORNL expertise dates back to the Manhattan Project, and UT has offered nuclear engineering degrees since the late '50s,” DeVault said. “Now the timing is right to bring together these institutions to solve nuclear security challenges.”