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Forum on future of nuclear regimes to address critical issues of worldwide nuclear power enterprise, non-proliferation


NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, Nov. 1, 2012 – The Nuclear Science and Engineering Lab in the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science will host an all-day Forum on Nuclear Regimes: Future Outlook at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington on Thursday, Nov. 5. 

The forum includes presentations and panel discussions with experts from government, industry, think tanks, and academia that will contribute to a broader understanding of the many facets of today’s global nuclear enterprise.

Virginia Tech National Capital Region, the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, and Areva USA, in partnership with the Federation of American Scientists, the Naval Postgraduate School, and The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, are sponsoring this program.  About eighty faculty, researchers, students, government officials, and industry representatives have registered to attend this event.

The three event chairs are from Virginia Tech: Richard Benson, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering; Roop Mahajan, director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and Lewis A. Hester Chair Professor of Engineering; and Robert Walters, vice president for research.

In addition, Ali Haghighat, professor of nuclear engineering, mechanical engineering department, and director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Laboratory, is serving on the Forum Advisory Committee, and Satish Kulkarni, the director of energy initiatives in Virginia Tech’s Office of the Vice President for Research and a research professor of engineering science and mechanics at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington, is chair of the organizing committee and will provide opening remarks at the forum.  

Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, and Sonja Schmid, an assistant professor in the Science and Technology in Society program are also serving on the organizing committee and will participate in a panel discussion on the Role of Universities at the Intersection of Nuclear Science and Policy, one of five sessions to be held throughout the day. The other four are: Nuclear Power and Non-proliferation Regimes Sessions 1 and 2; Nuclear Power and Non-proliferation Regimes at the Crossroads; and Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Safeguards, and Security.

A complete list of speakers and panelists can be found on the Forum on Nuclear Regimes website.

“Nuclear regimes, with origins in non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, continue to have a significant impact on the nuclear power enterprise worldwide,” said Haghighat. “It is important that academic institutions like Virginia Tech, offering expertise in science and technology as well as policy, are able to contribute to the critical thinking that guides decision making in this arena. Virginia Tech is very pleased to take a lead in sponsoring this notable forum.”

Haghighat pointed out that the success of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its various control mechanisms has been mixed to date. On one hand, the spread of nuclear weapons has not been stopped and some unique scenarios have emerged over the years. These include the states of India, Pakistan, and Israel which have not accepted the treaty (though they have not declared this officially); the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement; withdrawal of North Korea from the Nonproliferation Treaty and subsequent nuclear tests; and the recent concerns about Iran’s intentions in developing its own enrichment capability. However, there has been a rollback of weapons programs in South Africa and Libya and the dismantlement of related infrastructure in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus, he said.

“Concurrently, the world is not only facing an energy shortage but a heightened concern about sustainability and climate change and the need to focus on renewables and clean energy,” said Kulkarni. “As several countries forge ahead with ambitious plans to build nuclear power plants and a supporting infrastructure, oil producing countries are recognizing that their petroleum reserves are finite and they, too, are considering nuclear power.

“The nuclear enterprise worldwide is at a crossroads today as concerns about safety and the diversion of nuclear material for terrorism and/or weapons development are constantly being raised,” Kulkarni said.  “This forum will attempt to answer some of the most challenging questions we face.”

These challenging questions include

  • In the broader context of different energy sources, what is the future of nuclear power worldwide?
  • How effective are bilateral/multilateral agreements and control mechanisms for non-proliferation and security in an increasingly complex, globalized world?
  • What is the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency and should it be enhanced?
  • A globalized economy makes it ever more difficult to impose effective controls on trade in sensitive materials, technologies, and processes. What role could new technologies play to stop illicit use and facilitate compliance?
  • What skills will be required in the future in fields as diverse as power, safeguards, security, and medicine?
  • Are universities equipped to provide the expertise necessary to safely operate and reliably secure nuclear facilities/materials and understand the interplay between policy and science and technology?
  • Nuclear policies and regulations have to be part of a broad public debate over the risks and benefits of nuclear science and technology in all its variations. How can the public be actively engaged in this exercise?

A report based on the presentations and panel discussions will result from the forum. This report will examine the status and needs of effective engagement of the public in utilization and enhancement of nuclear science and technology. Specifically, it will explore the potential for establishing educational programs which can effectively bring the public policy and nuclear science and engineering disciplines together.

“We envision that through a collaborative effort among the educational institutions in the National Capital Region new educational programs will be established for training a highly qualified cadre of engineers, scientists, and policy makers who can contribute to the formation of more effective nuclear policies that consider highly dynamic world order and public engagement through rapidly changing social media,” said Haghighat.

The conference will be broadcast to Blacksburg. Request more details.

Virginia Tech has fostered a growing partnership with the greater metropolitan Washington, D.C., community since 1969. Today, the university’s presence in the National Capital Region includes graduate programs and research centers in Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Leesburg, Manassas, and Middleburg. In addition to supporting the university’s teaching and research mission, Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region has established collaborations with local and federal agencies, businesses, and other institutions of higher education. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.