Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico (UNM) have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a graduate-level program in nuclear security at UNM.


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“There is a need to have students who are technically trained in nuclear security before they work at a laboratory, a government agency, or at a commercial nuclear facility,” said Alan Evans, a Sandia National Laboratories nuclear engineer.

Evans and his Sandia colleagues are teaming up with their counterparts at the UNM to create a new approach to teaching nuclear security. Their goal is to create a one-of-a-kind, graduate-level program — one that has access to two national laboratories — that focuses on technical skills in education, research and professional development.

Nuclear security is one of Sandia’s core research missions. For more than 70 years, the labs’ primary work has been engineering the non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons. But corollary to this work, Sandia has had to keep these weapons and components secure. Through generations of research and practice, Sandia has grown into one of the world’s foremost authorities on securing nuclear and radiological materials against would-be thieves or saboteurs.

“There are other university programs in nonproliferation and nuclear security — some of which Sandia already works with — but a lot of these classes focus on policy and concepts,” Evans said. “So, we had to ask ourselves: How can we better prepare the next generation of experts to apply traditional engineering capabilities to nontraditional challenges facing nuclear security for tomorrow?”

If successful, the new program will create a pipeline of professionals with knowledge, skills and abilities that shortcut years of on-the-job training — making their positive impact at nuclear facilities more immediate and long-lasting, and broadening their employment opportunities. Coursework also will better prepare nuclear engineering students to consider security when they design new energy, defense and medical technologies.

Additionally, Sandia will provide resources for the future Advanced Nuclear Security Summer School, a three-week, intensive professional development course to be hosted at UNM. The summer school will concentrate course materials for global industry executives and university professors and will be taught at a level appropriate for mid-career professionals.