Sandia Labs News Releases

Sandia seeds culture of nuclear energy safety and security


Sandia National Laboratories Vice President Jill Hruby (right) signs a memorandum of understanding with Raymond Juzaitis, head of the nuclear engineering program at Texas A&M University, far left, and Tod Laursen, president of the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research in Abu Dhabi, that establishes the Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institute. (Photo by Scott Struve) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The growing interest among Middle Eastern nations in establishing nuclear power programs prompted a Sandia National Laboratories team to conceive and lead development of a new institute that will seed and cultivate a regional culture of responsible nuclear energy management.

The Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institute (GNEII), the product of three years of planning and negotiations, opened in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, welcoming its inaugural class of Emirati nuclear professionals for a 12-week pilot.

GNEII (pronounced “genie”) underscores the nonproliferation elements of Sandia’s mission, which include helping train targeted professionals worldwide on the safe and secure handling of materials that are, or could ultimately become, a threat to U.S. national security or the safety of U.S. citizens. Through the institute, Sandia seeks to introduce safety and security concepts and practices so that nations with emerging nuclear energy economies can prevent terrorists from obtaining dangerous materials and operate their nuclear plants safely. Governments in other parts of the world have expressed interest in GNEII-like institutes and the program will become a model for other regional programs.

“Interest in nuclear energy programs is growing worldwide and not every society is prepared to support them,” said Adam Williams, a Sandia engineer who led the GNEII program. “Those of us with the knowledge, who understand the safety, safeguards and security that nuclear energy programs require, have a responsibility to help local professionals adequately prepare for what they’re building. Our national security depends on it.”

In addition to Sandia, the institute’s operational sponsors include Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research and the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute at Texas A&M University. Representatives from each of the three signaled the official opening of the institute with the signing of operational documents. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Nonproliferation and International Security and the Department of State’s Office of Partnership for Nuclear Security and Khalifa University provided the financial backing.

Building GNEII from the ground up required strong partnerships. Sandia worked with Texas A&M University, a leader in nuclear science and security education, to develop the core curriculum, which will be taught by instructors from Sandia and the university. In addition, Sandia worked with Khalifa University to build an operations structure in which all three partners could share in the management for the first five years, after which the university will take over the program.

Local participation by the regional partners was a key element of the project. During the earliest discussions, Sandia planners decided that local professionals eventually would take over the institute, and provide financial and political support. They also required that the institute would be open to professionals from throughout the region, regardless of its final location. These criteria were met.

The institute aims to educate policymakers, government officials and energy program executives through a curriculum emphasizing broad concepts in nuclear energy safety, safeguards and security; it does not attempt to train plant operators. The institute initially is open to professionals from three Emirati organizations, but will expand next year to include professionals from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

The core program will cover nuclear energy basics — such as systems thinking, basic nuclear physics, the nuclear fuel cycle, nonproliferation, power plant operations, radiological materials management, nuclear energy safety, safeguards and security — followed by an independent research project that will provide graduates with a professional certificate from Khalifa University.

“Nuclear energy programs are complex and there are many steps to establishing a responsible nuclear program,” Williams said. “Among the local ranks in the Middle East, few understood all facets. Our goal is to provide a solid start for a comprehensive, complete and coherent introduction to a responsible nuclear energy program so the idea of a ‘Middle Eastern nuclear energy program’ won’t keep people up at night.”

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated and managed by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Renee Deger, (505) 284-8997