The sixth Young Professional Nuclear Forum (YPNF6), sponsored by the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute (MEPhI), was held at MEPhI, Moscow, on November 4-7, 2019.
The mission of the forums is to foster collaboration between young professionals from Russia and the United States in the nuclear power and nonproliferation fields. The forum allows them to discuss and evaluate pressing global nuclear issues during times that the two governments are not cooperating and are not in serious dialogue. In recent years, the two governments have severely restricted opportunities and venues that previously used to be open to experienced nuclear professionals on both sides to cooperate with each other. The benefits of nuclear cooperation were clearly demonstrated in hundreds of mutually beneficial collaborative projects by Russian and American nuclear professionals during the breakup of the Soviet Union and in the 20-plus years that followed.
These forums allow Stanford University and MEPhI to prepare the next generation to help rejuvenate cooperation once the governments realize that cooperation in the nuclear arena is essential. The young professionals participating in these meetings are upper level undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, young faculty and junior specialists. They are the new generation who will be stepping in to solve the mounting challenges including nuclear security, nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament and how to mitigate the effects of climate change and toxic pollution of the planet.
The November 2019 meeting included two and a half days of lectures and group work on two exercises – one on a “World free of nuclear weapons” and the second on “The impact of nuclear accidents on the future of nuclear power.”
Most young professionals acknowledged – or came to realize – the enormity and complexity of Nuclear Zero as both a study area and a goal. At the same time, many noted that this very complexity provoked deeper thinking and the discussion opened new perspectives, especially for those on the engineering side. The young professionals also realized that they share more common ground on the issue of Global Zero than one might have thought.
The feedback on the nuclear accidents exercise also showed several notable takeaways. The aspects that appealed to the young professionals were: the comparative approach that pushed them to look beyond the known facts into similarities and specifics across the three accident cases; a perspective that integrated the technical, social, and cultural angles; and such examination being directly relevant to improved safety of nuclear energy, the objective close to heart to many of them who see their future as nuclear professionals.
It is also interesting that in this exercise the young professionals noted differences of perspective and opinion rather than similarities. As has been the case in all previous forums, these differences were valued and accepted as leading to a richer, more productive, discussions.
Their reports were sufficiently impressive that we have decided to follow the model of YPNF4 and have the young professionals turn the six short articles to be published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. We have the go-ahead from the editor of the Bulletin.
In addition to the working sessions, the forum provided the opportunity for personal interaction and connections. The young professionals rated their overall satisfaction of the meeting as 8.6 out of 10 expressed a strong preference to stay engaged between the forums working on collaborative projects.
On the whole, the response to the 6th YPNF seems to show a growing engagement and sense of ownership by the young professionals on both sides. The forum presented various opportunities for the young professionals to learn about issues, each other, and each other’s countries. Young professionals approached many of the senior experts individually with questions both within and beyond the Forum discussion areas and exchanged contacts for future interaction.
The forum was supported by MEPhI, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the MacArthur Foundation.