Please note: the start time for this event has been moved from 3:00 to 3:15pm.

Join FSI Director Michael McFaul in conversation with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. They will address the role of entrepreneurship in creating stable, prosperous societies around the world.

Richard Stengel Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Special Guest United States Department of State

Encina Hall
616 Jane Stanford Way
Stanford, CA 94305-6055

Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies, Department of Political Science
Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

Michael McFaul is Director at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies in the Department of Political Science, and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1995.

Dr. McFaul also is as an International Affairs Analyst for NBC News and a columnist for The Washington Post. He served for five years in the Obama administration, first as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House (2009-2012), and then as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2012-2014).

He has authored several books, most recently the New York Times bestseller From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia. Earlier books include Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should, How We Can; Transitions To Democracy: A Comparative Perspective (eds. with Kathryn Stoner); Power and Purpose: American Policy toward Russia after the Cold War (with James Goldgeier); and Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin.

His current research interests include American foreign policy, great power relations, and the relationship between democracy and development. Dr. McFaul was born and raised in Montana. He received his B.A. in International Relations and Slavic Languages and his M.A. in Soviet and East European Studies from Stanford University in 1986. As a Rhodes Scholar, he completed his D. Phil. in International Relations at Oxford University in 1991. He is currently writing a book on great power relations in the 21st century.



Panel Discussions
Steve Fyffe
News Type

The United States has a growing inventory of spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants that continues to accumulate at reactor sites around the country.

In addition, the legacy waste from U.S. defense programs remains at Department of Energy sites around the country, mainly at Hanford, WA, Savannah River, SC, and at Idaho National Laboratory.

But now the U.S. nuclear waste storage program is “frozen in place”, according to Rod Ewing, Frank Stanton professor in nuclear security at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

“The processing and handling of waste is slow to stopped and in this environment the pressure has become very great to do something.”

Currently, more than seventy thousand metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from civilian reactors is sitting in temporary aboveground storage facilities spread across 35 states, with many of the reactors that produced it shut down.  And U.S. taxpayers are paying the utilities billions of dollars to keep it there.

Meanwhile, the deep geologic repository where all that waste was supposed to go, in Yucca Mountain Nevada, is now permanently on hold, after strong resistance from Nevada residents and politicians led by U.S. Senator Harry Reid.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad New Mexico, the world’s first geologic repository for transuranic waste, has been closed for over a year due to a release of radioactivity.

And other parts of the system, such as the vitrification plant at Hanford and the mixed oxide fuel plant at Savannah River , SC, are way behind schedule and over budget.

It’s a growing problem that’s unlikely to change this political season.

“The chances of dealing with it in the current Congress are pretty much nil, in my view,” said former U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).

“We’re not going to see a solution to this problem this year or next year.”

The issue in Congress is generally divided along political lines, with Republicans wanting to move forward with the original plan to build a repository at Yucca Mountain, while Democrats support the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to create a new organization to manage nuclear waste in the U.S. and start looking for a new repository location using an inclusive, consent-based process.

“One of the big worries that I have with momentum loss is loss of nuclear competency,” said David Clark, a Fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“So we have a whole set of workers who have been trained, and have been working on these programs for a number of years. When you put a program on hold, people go find something else to do.”

Meanwhile, other countries are moving ahead with plans for their own repositories, with Finland and Sweden leading the pack, leaving the U.S. lagging behind.

So Ewing decided to convene a series of high-level conferences, where leading academics and nuclear experts from around the world can discuss the issues in a respectful environment with a diverse range of stakeholders – including former politicians and policy makers, scientists and representatives of Indian tribes and other effected communities.

“For many of these people and many of these constituencies, I’ve seen them argue at length, and it’s usually in a situation where a lot seems to be at stake and it’s very adversarial,” said Ewing.

“So by having the meeting at Stanford, we’ve all taken a deep breath, the program is frozen in place, nothing’s going to go anywhere tomorrow, we have the opportunity to sit and discuss things. And I think that may help.”

Former Senator Bingaman said he hoped the multidisciplinary meetings, known at the “Reset of Nuclear Waste Management Strategy and Policy Series”, would help spur progress on this pressing problem.

“There is a high level of frustration by people who are trying to find a solution to this problem of nuclear waste, and there’s no question that the actions that we’ve taken thus far have not gotten us very far,” Bingaman said.

“I think that’s why this conference that is occurring is a good thing, trying to think through what are the problems that got us into the mess we’re in, and how do we avoid them in the future.”

The latest conference, held earlier this month, considered the question of how to structure a new nuclear waste management organization in the U.S.

Speakers from Sweden, Canada and France brought an international perspective and provided lessons learned from their countries nuclear waste storage programs.

“The other…major programs, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Canada, they all reached a crisis point, not too different from our own,” said Ewing.

“And at this crisis point they had to reevaluate how they would go forward. They each chose a slightly different path, but having thought about it, and having selected a new path, one can also observe that their programs are moving forward.”

France has chosen to adopt a closed nuclear cycle to recycle spent fuel and reuse it to generate more electricity.

“It means that the amount of waste that we have to dispose of is only four percent of the total volume of spent nuclear fuel which comes out of the reactor,” said Christophe Poinssot of the French Atomic and Alternative Energy Commission.

“We also reduce the toxicity because…we are removing the plutonium. And finally, we are conditioning the final waste under the form of nuclear glass, the lifetime of which is very long, in the range of a million years in repository conditions.”

Clark said that Stanford was the perfect place to convene a multidisciplinary group of thought leaders in the field who could have a real impact on the future of nuclear waste storage policy.

“The beauty of a conference like this, and holding it at a place like Stanford University and CISAC, is that all the right people are here,” he said.

“All the people who are here have the ability to influence, through some level of authority and scholarship, and they’ll be able to take the ideas that they’ve heard back to their different offices and different organizations.  I think it will make a difference, and I’m really happy to be part of it.”

Ewing said it was also important to include students in the conversation.

“There’s a next generation of researchers coming online, and I want to save them the time that it took me to realize what the problems are,” Ewing said.

“By mixing students into this meeting, letting them interact with all the parties, including the distinguished scientists and engineers, I’m hoping it speeds up the process.”

Professor Ewing is already planning his next conference, next March, which will focus on the consent-based process that will be used to identify a new location within the U.S. for a repository.

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Steve Fyffe
News Type

Three CISAC scientists have joined 26 of the nation’s top nuclear experts to send an open letter to President Obama in support of the Iran deal struck in July.

“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) the United States and its partners negotiated with Iran will advance the cause of peace and security in the Middle East and can serve as a guidepost for future non-proliferation agreements,” the group of renowned scientists, academics and former government officials wrote in the letter dated August 8, 2015.

“This is an innovative agreement, with much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated non-proliferation framework.”

CISAC senior fellow and former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Sig Hecker is a signatory to the letter, along with CISAC co-founder Sid Drell, and cybersecurity expert and CISAC affiliate Martin Hellman.

Six Nobel laureates also signed, including FSI senior fellow by courtesy and former Stanford Linear Accelerator director Burton Richter.

The letter arrives at a crucial time for the Obama administration as it rallies public opinion and lobbies Congress to support the Iran agreement.

You can read the full letter along with analysis from the New York Times at this link.

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Honors Student

Chase is studying International Relations and Data Science at Stanford University. His thesis is titled, "Propaganda Build-Up: Understanding the Role of Russian Influence Operations Surrounding Ukraine"

Honors Student

Sean is studying International Relations at Stanford University. His thesis is titled, "Considering Hedging in Southeast Asia and the Region's Role as a Battleground with China in US Strategic Policy"

Honors Student

Ethan is studying Political Science and History at Stanford University. His thesis is titled, "Red Lines that Bind: Coercive Diplomacy, Commitment Traps, and Public Opinion Beyond Syria"

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