TEES, Texas A&M partnership yields new institute aimed at nuclear nonproliferation

September 15, 2006

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When most of us think about nuclear and radiological nonproliferation, we think of diplomats and high-level international negotiations. Nuclear engineer William Charlton thinks of technology and education. Charlton, an associate professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University, helped establish the National Security Science Policy Institute (NSSPI), a joint undertaking of the nuclear engineering department and Texas A&M's George Bush School of Government and Public Service, and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, the engineering technology and education agency of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System. NSSPI's goal is to bring nuclear technology and education together with development of sound policy for nuclear nonproliferation. In the past, most efforts aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear and radiological weapons moved along separate paths, Charlton says, one policy-oriented and one technology-oriented. This situation led to treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996, which the United States refused to sign. "On the political side, it made sense and we agreed with it," he said. "But at the time the treaty was signed, there was no way to verify compliance with it." This is where the NSSPI comes in. "One of our goals in this institute is to work with our partners (such as the Bush School) to try to help fix those sorts of problems so that for any treaty signed, there is a technological basis for how we can verify that treaty and maintain it," Charlton said. Charlton considers the ability to bring together the policy development part of nonproliferation with the ability to develop the technology needed to make verification reliable the institute's biggest strength. Nonproliferation technologies NSSPI researchers are working on include * procedures and detection capabilities to safeguard nuclear reactor fuel; * methods and technology to allow for the determination of the source of nuclear or radiological material used in a terrorist attack (such as the reactor that produced the spent fuel used in a dirty bomb); and * more sensitive and accurate interrogation devices to detect radioactive materials at ports of entry. Institute faculty members also are working with educators at two Russian institutions -- the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute (MEPHI) and the Obninsk Institute of Nuclear Power Engineering in Russia (Russian Academic Program in Nuclear Nonproliferation and International Security) and in Texas A&M's nuclear engineering department -- to develop new master's level degree programs in nonproliferation. The new programs held their first classes this fall. The institute also is working with nuclear weapons scientists in several countries to help redirect weapons development programs into peaceful uses of nuclear technology, such as producing medical isotopes.

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