Hecker wins NAE award for nuclear diplomacy

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Photo credit: 
Rod Searcey

Siegfried Hecker, a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute and Research Professor of Management Science and Engineering, has been awarded the National Academy of Engineering's Arthur M. Bueche Award "for contributions to nuclear science and engineering and for service to the nation through nuclear diplomacy."

The award recognizes an engineer who has shown dedication in science and technology, as well as active involvement in determining U.S. science and technology policy. Bueche was a world-renowned chemist who helped pioneer engineered plastics at General Electric Research and led one of the most innovative industrial research centers in the world.

"He was also an astute student of science and technology policy and one of our country's most effective advisors," Hecker said of Bueche upon accepting the award on Sept. 28 during the NAE's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Hecker,  CISAC co-director from 2007-2012, is an internationally recognized expert in plutonium science, global threat reduction and nuclear security.

You can read the NAE's full announcement here.

Hecker talked about the significance of working with Russian scientists at the end of the Cold War and what he has learned during his 49 trips to the former Soviet states.

"The bottom line is that 22 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, nothing really terrible has happened in the Russian nuclear complex - contrary to the expectations of most people in the West," said Hecker, who is currently working on a book about his diplomacy with Russia. "Critical to the success of our cooperation was what Bueche called the `international bonding' that technology provides."

But he noted that the relationship between Moscow and Washington are worse than at any time since the Gorbachev era. While he and his Russian colleagues have made great progress together over the last two decades, that their work is far from done.

"Indeed, the need for scientists and engineers to cooperate internationally is more important than ever. It is especially important in all things nuclear," he told the audience. "Since nuclear energy can electrify the world or destroy the world, the consequences of doing things right or doing them wrong are enormous. What we have learned over the years is that nuclear cooperation is essential - it promotes the benefits of nuclear energy - be it electricity, nuclear medicine or research. Nuclear isolation breeds suspicion and conflict."

Hecker noted he has also visited nuclear facilities and developed relationships with key scientists and engineers in the UK, France, China, India, North and South Korea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and has held substantive discussions with nuclear specialists from Pakistan and Iran.

"Dialogue and cooperation are essential," he said. "The same holds true for other major societal issues such as energy, climate change, water and natural resources, infectious diseases, the future of the Internet. These challenges are truly international, and solutions are often prevented by political and ideological differences. That is why institutions like the NAE and the National Academies are crucial."