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Back to EurekAlert! A Service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

 

Helping keep the world at peace

At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the concept of "security" extends far beyond the traditional meaning of the word to include addressing environmental, economic, energy and health concerns.

"Activities with no obvious direct connection to security are often quite relevant. Health, energy and the environment are very important to attaining global stability and improving the well being of mankind," said Jim Fuller, who leads the Laboratory's Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Sector.

With that in mind, Pacific Northwest is focusing on applying the science and technology associated with these other U.S. Department of Energy and Laboratory missions to help resolve the long-term root causes of global instability, in turn, helping minimize the need for mass destruction weapons.

"We are different from the nuclear weapons labs in that we are able to take a very multidisciplinary approach to our global security mission," said Mike Kluse, associate laboratory director for the National Security Division. "We bring the Laboratory's diverse expertise to bear on issues like nonproliferation while being very creative and impactful in the process."

Fuller explained that the Laboratory's efforts have begun to extend beyond Russia and the Former soviet Union into China, south Asia and northeast Asia. "We're trying to leverage and adapt other international activities as they relate to helping stabilize economies and democratize governments," he said. "In this way, we maximize our impact, as well as that of our clients at DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration.

The traditional approach As one might imagine, activities that fall within the more traditional scope of security deal directly with monitoring and reducing inventories of mass destruction weapons and material. Some examples of how Pacific Northwest supports these U.S. government efforts include:

Protecting and controlling nuclear materials: Pacific Northwest supports the DOE's Materials Protection, Control and Accounting Program by sharing knowledge, new technologies and inventory tracking practices with Russia to help reduce the threat of unsecured nuclear material that could be used to make weapons.

Improving safety at nuclear power plants: The Laboratory's International Nuclear Safety Program provides technical leadership to an international effort to reduce risks at 67 operating reactors at 21 Soviet-era plant sites in nine countries. With expertise in nuclear engineering, operational safety, regulatory standards and nonproliferation, staff members work with other national laboratories and businesses in the United States as well as the nuclear power plants and scientific organizations of the host countries.

Reducing smuggling risks: Pacific Northwest supports the U.S. Departments of Defense and Treasury in conducting their International Border Security Training Program. The program has provided 14 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union with assistance in preventing illicit transfers of materials, commodities and components that could be used for weapons of mass destruction. International border enforcement officials in this comprehensive hands- on training also learn about the most current detection technologies. Laboratory staff developed the training with the U.S. Customs Service and teach the technical portions of the course.

Nuclear warhead dismantlement transparency: Working for both the U.S. Department of Defense and DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, Pacific Northwest has been asked to undertake key roles in developing and implementing warhead dismantlement transparency and confidence-building methods. For example, the Laboratory leads the effort to "authenticate" or validate the radiation measurement systems used for monitoring weapons-origin fissile material at a storage facility built by the United States in the southern Urals.

Less traditional approaches

Minimizing national security threats extends beyond dealing directly with weapons of mass destruction, nuclear materials and smuggling. Nontraditional approaches to global security are focused on increasing trust and encouraging nations to cooperate and collaborate. A few highlights include:

Moving technologies to the marketplace: Through the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, Laboratory scientists and engineers work with chemical, biological and nuclear institutes in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to help commercialize nonweapon technologies. This program is aimed at providing gainful, non-defense employment for former weapons scientists. Pacific Northwest develops industrial partnerships with Western businesses to help bring technologies to market.

Increasing energy efficiency in North Korea: Through inter-mediary contacts, Laboratory staff have come to believe that the government of North Korea would welcome inter-actions that could lead to improved energy supplies and use. Pacific Northwest can apply its energy efficiency expertise to help North Korea build on systems already in place. In addition to helping North Korea serve critical energy needs, these projects would serve security objectives by engaging and building better relations with a country that has traditionally kept itself isolated from other nations.

Collaborating with India: DOE established a U.S.-India Science and Technology Initiative in response to two agreements aimed at scientific and technical cooperation between India and the United States signed in 2000. Through this initiative, Pacific Northwest and another national laboratory are working with U.S. agencies and the Indian government and scientific communities to identify appropriate, nonsensitive areas for technical collaboration. These collaborations are meant to address national and international problems, build trust and contribute to regional stability in south Asia.

Restructuring Russian debt: The Laboratory has led the adaptation of the highly regarded debt-for-nature debt swap approach (typically implemented to enhance bio-diversity) to one of debt-for-security, or debt-for-nonproliferation. This concept promotes the exchange of Russia's inherited Soviet-era debts for increased Russian underwriting of projects that are of interest to U.S. and European debt holders. One version of this approach would establish a Russian EcoFund to underwrite defense conversion and economic stabilization programs by cleaning up Russian cold war radioactive wastes.

Lessons-learned in economic diversity: The Laboratory has hosted four official visits by city administrators and entrepreneurs from Russian closed cities who came at their own expense to learn how the Laboratory, the surrounding community and other stakeholders have converted from their dependence on DOE's defense mission at nearby Hanford and remained viable.

A focus for the Northwest

The Laboratory has the ability to be the hub of activity in the region for broader involvement among nongovernment organizations and academic, commercial and state and local government stakeholders.

Creating a center: The Pacific Northwest Center for Global Security, established in 1998, is a Laboratory effort to involve Northwest academics, private foundations, state governments and nongovernmental organizations in government efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. "The Pacific Northwest Center for Global Security partners with organizations throughout the region and helps position the Laboratory and its research sponsors to respond to changing conditions of the post-Cold War environment," said Fuller, the center's director. "The center also serves as a means to inform the Laboratory about the current state of global security and nonproliferation and to reach out to scholars and policy makers." See http://pnwcgs.pnl.gov/.

Sharing knowledge for the future: Pacific Northwest and the University of Washington established The Joint Institute for Global and Regional Security Studies to enhance international security education at the University. The joint institute is focused on expanding the University's teaching, research and public outreach programs on nonproliferation and related international security issues. This partnership also supports interaction between Laboratory science and engineering staff and international studies students.

Serving closed cities: The Laboratory works with the Foundation for Russian American Economic Cooperation (FRAEC) to bring about peaceful enterprises and create economic opportunities in Russia's "closed" nuclear cities that once were home to secret nuclear weapons facilities. As part of the Nuclear Cities Initiative, the Laboratory and the Seattle-based foundation have jointly established International Development Centers in two of 10 nuclear cities. These centers assist with the transition to an open-market economy and help create jobs for former nuclear weapons scientists and engineers. FRAEC is the nation's oldest nongovernment organization specializing in business and trade work in Russia.

Building bridges: As a result of the activities of the Pacific Northwest Center for Global Security, the Laboratory has memberships in the Washington State China Relations Council and the Washington Council on International Trade.

"I believe that we can best serve DOE and the country by engaging with and involving the widest possible number of organizations and people from the region in this critical work," Fuller said. "We have the ability to effectively and efficiently bring regional resources to bear on a wide range of mutually beneficial and rewarding activities that are consistent with the foreign policy objectives of the United States."

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