In November, I presented an overview of UT’s nuclear security educational program at the winter meeting of the American Nuclear Society meeting in San Diego. My slides are attached here, and the following is a summary of the talk.
Developing an Educational and Experiential Pipeline for the Next Generation of Nuclear Security Professionals
Howard L. Hall*, Bruce R. Shelander Jr., James N. Sumner1, Alan Icenhour1, Joseph Stainback2, Chris Clark2, Chris Robinson2, Eric Abelquist3, Cathy Fore3, Arlene Garrison3, Steven E. Skutnik1, and M. Dawn Eipeldauer1
Institute for Nuclear Security, Pasqua Engineering Building, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-2300. 1Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN. 2Y-12 National Security Complex, Oak Ridge, TN. 3Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Oak Ridge, TN. *Corresponding Author: Howard.Hall@utk.edu
Securing the future against nuclear threats is a daunting challenge and a critical area in which national and international programs must provide sustainable actions and agreements to lessen nuclear threats. With the coming nuclear renaissance around the world and the expected retirement of a high percentage of technical nuclear experts in the near future, it is more important than ever that we develop a pipeline that is capable of producing the next generation of nuclear security professionals. We need to attract, recruit, and train top university students and transitioning professionals in the field of nuclear nonproliferation, international safeguards, and related nuclear security fields. Such students, whether focused on technology or policy, will require an interdisciplinary education that includes a solid grounding in policy, science, and technology.
The Demographic Challenge
There is a clear understanding that we are facing a looming problem caused by the convergence of an increasing workload for nuclear security and an aging workforce. Several studies have demonstrated that many deeply experienced nuclear security personnel will be leaving the workforce shortly, and will take with them a vast accumulation of knowledge and hands-on experience [1-4]. We need to develop systematic methods to capture and transfer this knowledge to the next generation.
- Approximately 25% of the current Science & Technology (S&T) workforce in nuclear security fields is retirement eligible today.
- Approximately 40% of this S&T workforce will be retirement eligible within the next 5 years. In certain critical subfields such as nuclear forensics, the percentage approaches 70% by 2017 .
- Many of the personnel who will be retiring over the next few years serve as the corporate memory for specialized expertise dating back to the Manhattan Project and the early days of nonproliferation work. In most areas of nuclear fuel cycle expertise, there is currently no way of replacing this intimate, hands-on expertise that has been developed over many years.
These demographic-driven workplace needs impact all aspects of the nuclear security mission set, including nonproliferation/counterproliferation programs as well as international safeguards programs.
Building the Pipeline
The pipeline for developing the next generation of nuclear security professionals needs to be both experiential and educational. In addition to academic resources, an educational program for future nuclear security professionals needs to provide actual hands-on experience for the students. For instance on the scientific side, it takes years of hands-on experience and on-the-job-training to progress from being a support scientist to the level of an independent technical expert. On the policy side, it may take three to five years (or more) before a new graduate gains the needed skills, experience, and context to make a meaningful contribution.
A successful pipeline requires both an educational and experiential program to support nuclear security. Personnel entering the nuclear security field include new graduates as well as working professionals making career shifts from other fields. To facilitate these new entrants, both traditional academic programs and professional development training offerings need to be developed and targeted at the needs of the nuclear security field.
Nuclear security missions demand educated and trained professionals that understand not only the technology, but also the complex interplay of the technology with the policy and legal frameworks of nuclear security applications. It will require a culture of partnership and collaboration across academia, government, and industry to effective create this strategic pipeline.
Within the University of Tennessee (UT) and other nuclear facilities in the east Tennessee region, a partnership has been developed based on our early work  to address this need and is continuing to mature under the auspices of the recently formed UT Institute for Nuclear Security  to address these needs in a sustainable fashion. Specific academic coursework has been implemented across multiple academic units to foster a pipeline of new graduates, and professional development offerings are being organized and tailored across the Institute partnership for mid-career entrants.
- C.B. MOORE, et al., Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise, National Academies Press, Washington, DC (2012).
- R. ZEISLER, et al., “Nuclear Science Manpower and Education Panel,“ Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry. 263(1), 103-106 (2005).
- D. WAGMAN, “Meeting the Training and Education Challenge: A Busy Fall Outage Season Looks to Test the Pipeline for Skilled Nuclear Plant Workers,“ Power Engineering. 113(6), (2009).
- N.A. WOGMAN, et al., “The Nuclear Education and Staffing Challenge: Rebuilding Critical Skills in Nuclear Science and Technology,“ Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry. 263(1), 137-143 (2005).
- L. CRABTREE, M. BARUZZINI, and H.L. HALL, “Nuclear Forensics Educational Needs,” Proc. Annual Meeting of the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management, Orlando, Florida, Institute for Nuclear Materials Management (2012)
- H.L. HALL, et al., “Nuclear Engineering and Nuclear Security: A Growing Emphasis at the University of Tennessee,” Proc. Pacific Northwest International Conference on Global Nuclear Security–the Decade Ahead, Portland. OR, Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (2010)
- H.L. HALL, et al., “The University of Tennessee Institute for Nuclear Security,” Proc. Annual Meeting of the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management, Orlando, Florida, Institute for Nuclear Materials Management (2012)