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New Lab Focuses on Nuclear Safety and Security

Program Brings Technical and Policy Experts Together

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Assoc. Prof. Sukesh Aghara receives a plaque of appreciation from Prof. Jamaan Rashid ben Ragosh, president of Naif Arab University for Security Sciences in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for his presentation on nuclear security and safeguards in March.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

With the increased risk of proliferation of radioactive materials and the threat of nuclear terrorism facing countries around the world, nuclear safety and safeguards are now needed more than ever.

To address those issues, the university has established the Integrated Nuclear Security and Safeguards Laboratory (INSSL), which brings together a multidisciplinary group of experts from across UMass Lowell colleges and departments.

“The INSSL is developing research, education and training tools to solve complex problems associated with global nuclear security and safeguards,” says nuclear engineering Assoc. Prof. Sukesh Aghara, who is the lab’s director. “We provide a platform for faculty, scientists and students to explore the interplay between technical and social science disciplines associated with nuclear security.”

The INSSL works with academic research centers and government and industry partners to support innovation in nuclear security and safeguards approaches, including the university’s Center for Terrorism and Security Studies, Radiation Laboratory and global studies program, as well as Canberra Industries, a Meriden, Conn.-based company that provides nuclear measurement solutions.

Researchers from the INSSL and Canberra are working on a robotic radiation-detection system that can perform autonomous measurements in high-radiation environments and remote sites and for disarmament-verification applications. The INSSL also engage students at UMass Lowell through mentoring, internships, funded research projects and seminars and training workshops.

INSSL researchers have been invited to share their expertise on technical and policy issues at various national and international meetings. In March, Aghara was part of a delegation of experts, including those from the U.S. State Department and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, that visited Saudi Arabia to present technical talks on nuclear security culture, insider threat and synergies between nuclear safety, security and safeguards. That same month Aghara also participated in a disarmament verification working group meeting in London.

Research Prof. Marco Marzo, associate director of the INSSL, served as session co-chair on “Safeguards at Enrichment Facilities” during the 2014 Symposium on International Safeguards organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna in October. Before joining UMass Lowell, Marzo was a division director at the IAEA. He was responsible for applying the agency’s safeguards in 35 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, South Korea and North Korea, and leading a team of 90 safeguards inspectors. 

Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce in Nuclear Industry

The INSSL activities also support the workforce need of a resurgent U.S. domestic nuclear program, with five new nuclear reactors for power generation being built and many more applying for licenses.

“Public opinion about nuclear energy has changed in the last four decades, and this change is allowing us to market our nuclear engineering program more effectively,” says Aghara. “With nuclear power plants coming online soon, the companies would need highly trained and qualified people to run the reactors, maintain them and keep them safe.”

“Over the last five years, we’ve hired a number of new faculty, offered new programs and forged new international partnerships with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic and the United Kingdom as part of our global engagement efforts,” says Aghara.