While virtually any scientific or engineering technology has the potential for misuse, nuclear technology is a special case, and security of materials and know-how has always been a priority in the nuclear community. In an age of rogue nations and violent sub-national organizations, the subject has even greater significance, and this is reflected in its important place in the curriculum of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE).
The attention to nuclear security is part of the department’s broader consideration of the interactions of nuclear technology with society as a whole. This is particularly important because fission reactors are emerging as the primary large-scale carbon-free energy generation method for the foreseeable future, notes Senior Research Scientist Richard Lanza.
“If you’re going to have nuclear power, then you’re going to have to deal with the issues of proliferation and safeguards,” he explains. “This is a complex-systems problem, and the sort of problem MIT has addressed in the past, because we can bring together a lot of pieces.”
From inside the Institute, these pieces include NSE faculty and members of other departments including physics, materials science and engineering and political science. Outside instructors hail from private companies and national laboratories, and government agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA; there is also collaboration on policy issues with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
In a major supplement to funding from the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, NSE recently received a $2.4 million award from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, under its Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). The Initiative is fostering development of a shared, five-course nuclear security curriculum at MIT, Pennsylvania State University and Texas A&M University; the materials will ultimately be promulgated to other universities.