David Turnbull Receives PEI-STEP Fellowship

David is a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering working on Raman-amplified ultra-intense lasers, one application of which is for fast ignition inertial confinement fusion. As part of this 2-year PEI-STEP environmental policy fellowship, he will examine nuclear weapons proliferation risks associated with fusion-fission hybrid power plant schemes. Computer simulations of the proposed reactors will help to quantify some of the proliferation-relevant parameters and how they vary with the specific details of a given design. The LIFE proposal involving a laser fusion driver, as well as proposals to use hybrid “burners” to incinerate nuclear waste from existing and future fission power plants, are of particular interest. The project will also include an economic analysis of the hybrid plants as compared to other nuclear fusion and fission reactors.

Multilateral Approaches in a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

Alex Glaser authored a chapter on multilateral approaches in a nuclear-weapon-free world in a recently released book by the Stimson Center on the Elements of a Nuclear Disarmament Treaty.

The prospects for, and viability of, possible multilateral arrangements for the nuclear fuel cycle are typically discussed in the context of preventing the further spread of sensitive nuclear technologies and, ultimately, of nuclear weapons, while enabling a possible global expansion of nuclear energy. In the context of nuclear disarmament, another dimension is at least equally important: What is a better or necessary structure of the nuclear fuel cycle in a world free of nuclear weapons?

As the distinction between nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states gradually becomes less relevant in a disarming world, modified or new frameworks that inherently rely on a separation of supplier and consumer states are much less sustainable than they already are today. More appealing are proposals that envision multinational ownership and control of plants on a basis in which all partners have equal status. They have not received much traction because they challenge key aspects of the present international system of states’ rights and privileges, and may therefore be considered unrealistic in the short-term, but could serve as important precedents for a world preparing for nuclear disarmament. The priority of the debate should therefore be on joint ownership of nuclear fuel cycle plants; this article lays out a roadmap that could help making progress in that direction.

Postdoc Position Opening

A postdoctoral research or more senior research position is available with Princeton University’s Nuclear Futures Laboratory, an initiative of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Program on Science and Global Security of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Independent and collaborative research will support projects at the interfaces of nuclear-energy use, climate change, and nuclear nonproliferation. Additional responsibilities include work with undergraduate and graduate students in the group and project support of the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Applicants should have a PhD in engineering or the physical sciences and have expertise in nuclear reactor and fuel cycle analysis. Preference will be given to candidates with interest in energy-systems modeling and policy issues related to one or more of these areas. The initial appointment will be for one year, with the possibility of extension. The salary will be determined on a case-by-case basis commensurate with experience. Applications should include a cover letter, resume, 2-3 sample publications, and names of three references. Application review begins April 19, 2010, and continues until position is filled.

Individuals with evidence of experience in scholarly research in the prescribed areas are encouraged to apply. You may apply online at jobs.princeton.edu; for general application information and how to self-identify, see here. We strongly recommend that all interested candidates use the online application process.

Princeton University is an equal opportunity employer and complies with applicable EEO and affirmative action regulations.

Balancing Risks: Nuclear Energy and Climate Change

by Robert H. Socolow and Alexander Glaser

Nuclear power could make a significant contribution to climate change mitigation. To do so, however, nuclear power must be deployed extensively, including in the developing world. A “one-tier” world will be required–that is, a world with an agreed set of rules to govern nuclear power that are the same in all countries.

In this article, we argue that the world is not now safe for a rapid global expansion of nuclear energy. Nuclear-energy use today relies on technologies and a system of national governance of the nuclear fuel cycle that carry substantial risks of nuclear weapons proliferation. The risks that a global expansion of nuclear power will facilitate nuclear proliferation and incidents of nuclear terrorism, or even lead to regional nuclear war, are significant. Nuclear war is a terrible trade for slowing the pace of climate change.

A Path to Nuclear Disarmament

On Wednesday, 28 October 2009, the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), presented Global Fissile Material Report 2009: A Path to Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee, which is responsible for international peace and security.

Global Fissile Material Report 2009 charts some of the key technical and policy steps for securing verifiable world-wide nuclear disarmament and eliminating the world’s huge stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, the key materials for making nuclear weapons.

Nuclear disarmament has returned to the center of international debate following President Barack Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague, in which he pledged “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” In September 2009, the United Nations Security Council, which includes the five major nuclear weapon states, unanimously agreed “to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.”

Global Fissile Material Report 2009 discusses how nuclear-armed states could declare their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and how these declarations might be verified using the methods and tools being developed for what is now called “nuclear archaeology.”

The report includes IPFM’s annual assessment of worldwide stocks, production, and disposition of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and current efforts to eliminate these materials. There are nine nuclear-armed states and over 20,000 nuclear weapons today. The report includes for the first time an estimate of the number and locations of nuclear weapons sites worldwide, listed by country.

The IPFM estimates that the current global stockpile of highly enriched uranium is about 1600 metric tons. There are about 500 tons of separated plutonium, divided almost equally between weapon and civilian stocks, but it is all weapon-usable. The global stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium together are sufficient for over one hundred thousand nuclear weapons. The report lists the location, size and safeguards status of operating, under construction and planned fissile material production facilities around the world.

The report considers options for monitoring nuclear warhead dismantlement and the disposition of the fissile materials they contain as well as other stockpiles of fissile materials; verifiably ending the production of fissile materials for weapons, through a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (a topic treated in detail in Global Fissile Material Report 2008); the potential roles of nuclear fuel-cycle facilities in enabling nuclear breakout in a disarmed world; and the potential contributions of societal or citizen verification to making it impossible to conceal illicit nuclear-weapon-related activities.