At Stanford, US and Russian Young Professionals Meet on Nuclear Topics in 5th Meeting

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Photo credit: 
Rod Searcey

In early May, CISAC convened the fifth Young Professional Nuclear Forum (YPNF), a program sponsored by the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute (MEPhI). The program brought together a lively group of young Russians and Americans working on nuclear issues over three days.

Since 2016, the forum has alternated between Moscow and Stanford.  

By 2016, US and Russian governments closed almost every door on opportunities that previously allowed experienced nuclear professionals on both sides to cooperate with each other.  Stanford Professor Siegfried Hecker saw that at least one door - that of cooperation on the university level - was still open. He started the YPNF to foster interaction between the younger generation of Russians and Americans who study, do research, or start a career in the nuclear power or nonproliferation fields.

This year’s agenda focused on two major areas: US-Russian arms control and the future of nuclear power.

The American group included a new cohort of six incoming young professionals from Los Alamos National Laboratory, UC Berkeley, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non‑Proliferation. They were joined by CISAC research staff members Gaby Levikow and Elliot Serbin and current and former fellows Chantell Murphy, Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, and Cameron Tracy. The Russian group from MEPhI brought a team of 12 young professionals most of whom are pursuing their graduate degrees in nuclear physics and engineering and software engineering, along with junior professionals in international relations and nuclear fields.  The team of experts included Professor Hecker, Dr. James Toevs, Dr. Ning Li, Ambassador Steven Pifer, Professor David Holloway, Dr. Larry Brandt, Dr. Chaim Braun, Dr. Pavel Podvig, and Dr. Mona Dreicer, —all of whom provided advice and feedback during the exercise.

Participants come from loosely defined “technical” and “policy” fields, and the forum agenda has traditionally included one nuclear-power related and one policy-focused subject. Forum activities vary between lectures, expert briefings, discussions, and table-top exercises, but the small-group work during the exercises is the core form of interaction.

By design, this agenda exposes each participant to new fields, new counterparts, some fun interactive time off - and encourages a lot of cultural learning. Forum after forum, we hear back that the group work and social time are the most exciting aspects of the forum experience. Participants noted they learned, among other things, “general ideas and thoughts of American participants and their attitudes to the present American policy, new words and abbreviations … [and] a great deal about new reactor designs and their implications for nuclear energy and security policy.”  Still more participants enjoyed “learning to collaborate in groups of Americans and Russians but also between policy and technical experts on topics of both camps,” and some “got new friends.”

Encouragingly, participants requested more interaction between the bi-annual meetings and a variety of topics in yet untapped – or suspended - areas of cooperation between Russia and the US.

New work continues to emerge from the forum. Eight short articles written by the young professionals to showcase the results of the projects from the Moscow meeting in November 2017 was published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in June 2019. The next meeting will be held in Moscow this November.