Michele Kearney's Nuclear Wire

Major Energy and Environmental News and Commentary affecting the Nuclear Industry.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dennis Whyte, MIT Nuclear Science & Engineering

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Dear Alumni and Friends,

The start of the academic year is upon us, and besides the beautiful New England fall weather, it is one of my favorite times because we get to welcome a new group of students into Nuclear Science and Engineering. This year we have 11 sophomores entering the undergraduate program and a total of 27 starting graduate students. This was the first time I was able to greet our new students as department head. My message to them was “soak in all that you can, unleash your creativity, and know that what you are doing matters.” We look forward with great anticipation to the advancements and innovations this next generation will contribute to NSE.

Focus on Security

A key initiative in the strategic plan of NSE has been nuclear security. This continues to be a topic of the greatest importance to our field and recent efforts in the department are making an impact.

The reduction of nuclear weapon stockpiles is one of the most important topics for nuclear security. However the reduction of warheads runs into a key problem: how can one side verify that the warhead being shown to them is legitimate without taking it apart, an act which divulges classified information. Therefore the parties are left in a stalemate: do not verify the warhead or divulge classified information. This calls for a scientific breakthrough in determining the validity of the warhead. Two of our NSE faculty members, Norman Rasmussen Assistant Professor Scott Kemp and Assistant Professor Areg Danagoulian, have made such a breakthrough. Their Warhead Verification PNAS article introduces a novel “zero-knowledge” technique based on nuclear resonance fluorescence, a new form of single-pixel tomography and careful attention to the information content of physical processes. Their analysis shows that this method is highly resistant to “spoofs”, i.e. intentional methods used to disguise dummy warheads. The proposed solution marks a major advance in the search for a workable verification method that has been going on since the 1960.

The department is also delighted to welcome our first Stanton Fellow working in nuclear security. Brian Henderson is joining the Laboratory for Nuclear Security & Policy. Brian Henderson was selected as the inaugural Stanton Fellow for his exemplary technical skill and interest in applying science to problems of international security. Please look for a full profile of Brian on our website this semester. The Stanton Fellowship in Nuclear Science and Security was created to honor the legacy of Frank Stanton, an American broadcasting executive who served as the president of CBS from 1946 to 1971 and then as vice chairman until 1973. He also served as the chairman of the RAND Corporation from 1961 to 1967, where he became familiar with the dangers of the nuclear arms race. His foundation has made the mitigation of nuclear weapon danger one of its primary missions. NSE is enthusiastic about our growing relationship with the Stanton Foundation.

Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-constrained World Study

NSE Professor Jacopo Buongiorno and I were awarded a grant from the Sloan Foundation of $1M to launch a new Future of Nuclear Energy Technologies study. We will work with seven MIT faculty from across the Institute, as well as two Harvard faculty and two external experts in a multi-disciplinary effort. The goal of the study will be to conduct an objective assessment of the opportunities and challenges affecting the ability of nuclear energy technologies in meeting U.S. and global energy needs in a carbon-constrained world. As with the previous studies on the Future of Nuclear Energy and the Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, we aim to make this a valuable and influential assessment on nuclear energy.

As always thank you for your interest and your support of NSE. If you happen to be in the Boston/Cambridge area for a visit, please let me know.

Dennis Whyte

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