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Breakthroughs Magazine

Special Report - Nonproliferation in an evolving world

Nothing is simple for the Center for Global Security

As the saying goes, nothing is ever simple—especially when it involves Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Center for Global Security. Even achieving some progress in solving global security problems often requires a complex and many-pronged effort.

Since 1993, PNNL has used its technical expertise to help provide global security by reducing weapons stockpiles and production capacity and helping to control nuclear materials and technologies.

However, global security is not a one-dimensional issue. An example is decommissioning and closing nuclear reactors. "These activities need to address the human security issue with thousands of plant workers losing their jobs; environmental security with the impact of the spent fuel disposal and storage; and energy security with a locale's loss of a major source of electricity," said Carol Kessler, director of the Pacific Northwest Center for Global Security. In addition, dispelling economic and political tensions related to such a situation often requires a strategic and diplomatic global approach.

In 1998, the Center for Global Security was established by PNNL to explore how best to use PNNL's scientific and technological skill base to help resolve international and regional security policy problems, especially those related to nonproliferation. The Center partners with nongovernmental and academic organizations in addition to working with the U.S. government to address nontraditional approaches to proliferation prevention and regional stability. It provides up-to-date information on global security to PNNL and its collaborators through seminars and workshops.

The Center for Global Security is engaged in government efforts to help Russia decommission its last three plutonium production reactors in the closed nuclear cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk. The Center also is helping the U.S. Department of Energy to prepare an international conference in Switzerland in the fall of 2004. Governments from the United States, Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia and Korea are being invited to attend and become "donors." Donors can participate in a variety of ways, including training the current workforce for new jobs and teaching Russians themselves how to train others in these new skills. They also may start new companies to provide employment opportunities as well as initiate research projects to use skills of existing employees.

As an example, Russia would like to introduce coal burning plants to replace the nuclear reactors, which produce the electrical power for Seversk and Zheleznogorsk. Donor countries would work with the Russians to assist in construction of these plants.

Donor country participation could ensure more rapid management of the environmental, energy and human security issues involved and help reduce the insecurity raised by loss of employment and a source of electricity. The closure of the nuclear plants will contribute to Russia's nonproliferation effort by eliminating its ability to make weapons-grade plutonium at sites.

"Knowledge gained from the conference and the projects can be used as future models for understanding the complexity of issues surrounding nonproliferation efforts, such as closing the last plutonium production reactors in Russia," Kessler said.

In addition to its work with Russia, the Center is working with the National Bureau of Asian Research to analyze energy security issues in Asia and how these may impact U.S. opportunities for access to energy resources or create regional tensions, which could impact U.S. policy options.

The Center's Web site at provides more information on its programs.

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