Global Catastrophic Risk Blackboard


Here is the snapshot of the blackboard. This is not really needed for the assignment, but perhaps still somewhat helpful: Likelihood is on the x-axis (from almost impossible to almost certain) and impact on the on the y-axis (from local, manageable to global, catastrophic). In addition to the six scenarios shown, we also had some others on the list, including: Nuclear terrorism, bioterrorism, and nuclear proliferation [followed by (nuclear) war]. You can really choose any global risk for discussion as long as it has a “science and technology” component.

New Report: Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel

The International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) has released a new report, Managing Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors: Experience and Lessons from Around the World. The report provides an overview of the policy and technical challenges faced internationally and learning over the past five decades in efforts at long-term storage and disposal of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors.

The spent fuel from nuclear power reactors, and the high-level wastes produced in the few countries where spent fuel is reprocessed to separate plutonium, must be stored in a manner that will minimize releases of the contained radioactivity into the environment for up to a million years. Safeguards also will be required to ensure that any contained plutonium is not diverted to nuclear-weapon use. This report analyzes the efforts to manage and dispose of spent fuel by ten countries that account for more than 80 percent of the world’s nuclear power capacity: Canada, Finland, France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. It also provides an overview of the technical issues relating to interim storage and transport of spent fuel, geological repositories, and the challenge of the associated international safeguards. Highly recommended reading.

Special Issue of the Electricity Journal on Nuclear Power after Fukushima

The July 2011 Issue of the Electricity Journal features several articles that discuss the broader impact of the Fukushima accidents. NFL’s Alexander Glaser provided one perspective (After Fukushima: Preparing for a More Uncertain Future of Nuclear Power) arguing that “one particularly important lesson for responsible energy policy can be learned from Germany: one may agree or disagree with its decision to respond so radically to the Fukushima accidents, but the experience has shown that it is critically important to have alternative energy strategies available in case a technology has to be taken off the table.”

Fissile Materials: Balancing the Books

The International Panel on Fissile Materials has just released the Global Fissile Material Report 2010: Balancing the Books. The report reviews the official declarations of fissile material production and stocks by the United States and the United Kingdom and provides revised estimates of the past production and current holdings of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium for six nuclear weapon states that have not declared their holdings. This is the first comprehensive public update of this information since the groundbreaking work done by Albright, Berkhout, and Walker in the 1990s.

The report also identifies windows of opportunity for progress towards verified nuclear disarmament. Today, fissile material production facilities are being shut down and prepared for decommissioning and dismantlement in a number of weapon states. The report finds that countries should not dismantle key components of their production reactors until international bilateral and multilateral nuclear-archaeology initiatives can be set up, under IAEA supervision, and with participation from non-weapon states, to develop and implement on-site sampling methods and benchmark computer simulations that can be used to verify the fissile material production history at each facility. The weapon states might begin by each identifying one production reactor as a potential test bed for international studies to clarify the capabilities and limits of nuclear archaeology.

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; 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.