Without that education, the nuclear field will ultimately fade away.
By Caroline Delbert SEP 4, 2020
• Nuclear weapons development continues around the world.
• The current nuclear risk workforce is aging out, with few interested in replacing them.
At the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, innovation advocate Sara Z. Kutchesfahani says the vast majority of U.S. students don’t learn about nuclear weapons in high school, or even in most relevant college coursework. Kutchesfahani says that low level of knowledge, combined with industry factors, means the nuclear workforce itself is about to hit a critical state.
In the essay, Kutchesfahani likens nuclear weapons awareness and literacy to the idea of climate change awareness and curricula, because, she says, both are existential threats:
“[I]f school boards, curriculum writers, and teachers and professors continue to ignore the topic of nuclear weapons and do not include it in class curricula, the public will continue to be unaware of the existential threat these devastating weapons pose to humanity, and the professional field will have difficulty sustaining itself.”
Should more schools teach students about nuclear weapons?
Absolutely. How else will the nuclear industry survive?
No. Students have better things to learn.
Much of nuclear investment in 2020 is in energy—for better or worse, world powers are treating next-generation nuclear power like the next big thing and even using that as a way to underfund investment in wind, solar, hydro, and other sustainable forms of energy
But there has also been a new kind of nuclear warhead developed and now tested in 2020, a low-yield warhead launched from a submarine that, again, is publicly billed as a “deterrent” to other nations’ nuclear aggressions, particularly Russia.
How The U.S. Hid the Atomic Bomb
The fact remains that as long as there are nuclear weapons in play on the world stage, the world must realistically discuss them. That’s separate from politics, or even whether advocates are for or against nuclear weapons at all. If someone walked into your home while juggling flaming batons, you’d suddenly wish you had a flaming batons expert to help you decide what to do next.
Kutchesfahani suggests mentorship in nuclear security subjects, especially of young women, as well as grant-funded development of more education about nuclear subjects more broadly. In a report she links from N Square, the group spoke with 72 nuclear risk professionals in the defense-heavy D.C. area:
“They described a field that has grown ‘top heavy’ with advanced-career leaders, advisors, and fellows, which they saw as preventing the field from adapting and evolving to keep pace with a changing world. Generational frictions played into these observations—but even advanced-career professionals described ways in which the field felt ‘stuck.’”
Nuclear has a special stigma, but in STEM overall, younger people are increasingly drawn to nanotech and other cutting-edge, computation-heavy or technology-enabled fields over, say, the traditional field work of a working research biologist. Perhaps the same lessons could attract new talent into a variety of science fields, including nuclear defense studies.