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Next generation of Russian, U.S. nuclear professionals work together at Stanford

Stanford and Russian nuclear scholars work together in a tabletop exercise on preventing nuclear terrorism.

Young Russian and U.S.-based scholars from a variety of science and social science disciplines met at Stanford to tackle emerging issues in nuclear security.

How can a new generation of scholars from around the world work together to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, from nuclear terrorism to developments in North Korea? A summit hosted at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation sought answers to that question—and more.

The third meeting of the Stanford-National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) Young Professionals Nuclear Forum, held May 2-4 at CISAC, brought together young Russian and U.S.-based scholars from a variety of science and social science disciplines to explore how to use thoughtful, cooperative approaches to solve these pressing international nuclear security issues.

Dr. Siegfried Hecker, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, emeritus, and an internationally recognized expert in nuclear risk reduction, organized the summit. Opening the forum, Dr. Hecker stressed that while U.S.-Russian relations continue to be complicated and cooperation in the nuclear sphere has virtually come to a stop, “the younger generation of nuclear professionals should be prepared to collaborate again once the relations between the two governments turn for the better.”

The group of Stanford and Russian scholars took part in two day-long exercises. Day one included an exercise in risk analysis of the threat of radiological terrorism from the perspective of the attacker, tasking the participants with comparing the risks of carrying out an attack using a radiological dispersal device versus carrying out an attack on a spent nuclear fuel cask. On the second day, scholars engaged in a detailed simulation of U.S. and North Korean approaches to the denuclearization of North Korea to be discussed at the proposed June summit between the U.S. and North Korea. CISAC affiliates Larry Brandt, Chaim Braun, and former national lab experts Len Connell (SNL) and James Toevs (LANL) joined Dr. Hecker to advise the teams.

Working in mixed groups of Russian and Stanford scholars, one group represented the U.S. perspective; the other the North Korean. They explored the risks of maintaining or eliminating different nuclear facilities and activities in North Korea. In the exercise, it quickly became clear that the North Korean team was aiming to keep a hedge for the future and not give away all nuclear options. Meanwhile, the U.S. team sought to eliminate much of the immediate risk posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, claiming some peaceful nuclear facilities and activities might eventually be possible but they cannot allow North Korea the ability to reconstitute its weapons quickly.

So—who won the exercise?

For Dr. Hecker: “nobody won.” That wasn’t the point. But, he said,  “what was really interesting was that they came up with really reasonable compromises—on both the North Korean and American sides.”

View photos from the summit

About CISAC

The Center for International Security and Cooperation tackles the most critical security issues in the world today. Founded in 1983, CISAC has built on its research strengths to better understand an increasingly complex international environment. It is part of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). Though scholarly research, fellowships, and teaching, CISAC is educating the next generation of leaders in international security and creating policy impact on a wide variety of issues to help build a safer world.