Fourth Young Nuclear Professionals forum brings together U.S. and Russian scholars in Moscow

CISAC young nuclear professionals visit Red Square, Moscow. CISAC young nuclear professionals visit Red Square, Moscow. Elliot Serbin

Stanford-led group of young American and Russian scholars meet in Moscow on nuclear policy

Persistent nuclear threats and the recent erosion of relations between the United States and Russia paint a gloomy picture for the future of cooperation between nuclear powers. Despite these enormous challenges, Stanford is leading an effort to bring young nuclear scholars from the United States and Russia together to tackle urgent problems together and share ideas.

At the end of October, a group of six scholars from Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation—Senior Fellow Siegfried Hecker, Visiting Scholar Chaim Braun, Postdoctoral Fellows Chantell Murphy and Kristen Ven Bruusgaard, Research Assistant Elliot Serbin and Senior Research Associate Alla Kassianova—and other American graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from Washington State University, University of Tennessee, Harvard, University of Michigan and Los Alamos National Laboratory traveled to Moscow for the Fourth Young Professionals Nuclear Forum.  The Americans joined a group of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students at the Moscow Engineering Physics University (MEPhI), Russia’s principal school training nuclear professionals.

The Forum, first launched between CISAC and MEPhI in 2016, provides a venue for young generation of American and Russian nuclear professionals to learn about current issues of nuclear safety, nuclear proliferation, and the role of nuclear power in the world’s evolving energy balance from a perspective of more than one country and more than one discipline.

In the weeks leading up to this Forum, participants on both sides of the ocean attended a series of online presentations by U.S. and Russian experts covering the complexity of the Iran nuclear program and the challenges facing further development of nuclear power.

When they met in person, the young scholars heard lectures from and participated in discussions with experts from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Russian Center for Energy and Security, and others.

The participants then broke into small groups to work on tabletop problem solving activities. The first exercise, a crisis simulation concerning Iran’s nuclear program, brought together separate Russian and American teams to represent their government’s positions on Iran’s nuclear program and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Presented with a hypothetical problem—a scenario in which Iran decides to enhance its nuclear capabilities in violation of the JCPOA and President Trump threatens retaliation via Twitter—the participants gathered in small groups to see what type of cooperative Russian-American policies could be brokered in response.

The second exercise brought the group together to imagine the future of nuclear power and how to manage it. Working in small teams of 2-4 people, the participants formulated responses to eight pressing questions regarding the global future of nuclear power, including whether nuclear power is necessary to mitigate the consequences of climate change and whether nuclear proliferation challenges will limit the expansion of nuclear power. The teams presented their answers in Moscow and will continue to develop their assessments, to be published in a report next month.

Both Americans and Russians commonly remarked that the most valuable lesson they took from the exercises was the fact that both sides held remarkably different, but valuable, perspectives on issues of common concern. On the topic of nuclear energy, for example, Russians appreciated American perspectives on the value of startups in the nuclear power industry and new modes of thinking that encapsulated non-monetary aspects of nuclear power in broader economic analyses. Americans came to understand the deep Russian fascination with nuclear energy and optimistic views about the future role of nuclear energy in society, and how deeply that passion is engraved in the university system in a way wholly different from the United States.

Forum participants also had an opportunity to meet with the leadership of two committees of the Russian State Duma, the lower Chamber of the Russian legislature, the Committee on International Affairs and the Committee on Education and Science. The meeting was hosted by Ms. Inga Yumasheva,  an MP from the United Russia party. The Forum also included a visit to research labs and MEPhI facilities, which was hosted by their scientists.

View photos from the forum

The Center for International Security and Cooperation tackles the most critical security issues in the world today. Founded in 1983, CISAC has built on its research strengths to better understand an increasingly complex international environment. It is part of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). Though scholarly research, fellowships, and teaching, CISAC is educating the next generation of leaders in international security and creating policy impact on a wide variety of issues to help build a safer world.