On Tuesday, July 9, seven countries, including the United States, were represented at a Baker Center lecture with the mission of more cooperation and understanding in the field of security of nuclear materials.
Academic leaders from several countries briefed the audience about their respective hopes for nuclear power and answered questions about where each country stands in safety, whether it be the lock-down of materials or safe day-to-day handling of radioactive substances.
A total of nine academics in the field of nuclear sciences from Egypt, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa came to the Baker Center for a talk sponsored by Howard Hall of the Nuclear Engineering Department at UT. Hall also works as the inaugural director of the recently created Institute for Nuclear Security.
All of the above countries have or are working towards nuclear power, and their respective academics are in the United States for a conference in California next week for the Institute for Nuclear Management conference.
The stopover in East Tennessee is for a 30-35 person training class for nuclear insider threats at Oak Ridge, and Hall said he saw a ripe occasion.
"We took the opportunity to bring them out here, because we actually engage with some of these universities already, and in some cases we want to engage more with them," Hall said.
Patrick Lynch, assistant director for International Outreach, was glad that UT was able to host an event such as this.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to engage with nine international academic leaders who are developing and cultivating the next generation of nuclear security leaders," he said. "These participants are from a larger training program sponsored by the US Department of State's Partnership for Nuclear Security."
Over the course of about an hour, six speakers briefed those in the audience about the extent of their countries' nuclear programs, what their plans are for the future, and how seriously safety and the security of materials are taken.
Both the representatives of Morocco and South Africa noted that their research in the nuclear field has been done with the cooperation of the United States.
Aubrey Nelwamondo of the University of Johannesburg noted that several of his colleagues have taken courses at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to "develop the capability to handle illicit materials."
Hoda Abou-Shady of Cairo University, a professor in Nuclear Science Studies gave an example of how those researchers in the field of nuclear sciences knew to take the proper precautions when handling unsafe materials, while those of the departments of pharmacy, agriculture and archaeology at her university knew almost nothing about the necessity for such items.
"Safety is a luxury in many developing countries," she said.
Hall later emphasized the importance of the lecture, noting that more cooperation was very necessary in today's world. He also pointed out that India was not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty and that South Africa possessed a nuclear weapons program before scaling back.
Considering his work directing the Institute for Nuclear Security, Hall said he focused on the importance of the security of nuclear materials.
Many of the men and women in the field today are approaching retirement; it is important for a new generation to become more aware of what is going on and eventually take charge.
"Folks like our faculty here are the ones that will educate the next generation of practitioners," Hall said, later adding that a class from the University of Florida was also able to be in attendance.
"It's not just guns and guards and gates, there's lots of challenges in seeing that nuclear materials are secure, that nuclear technology is secure," Hall said.