Nuclear policy analyst gives talk at NERS colloquium

Sunday, December 8, 2019 - 6:58pm

Ty Otto, analyst for the Pacific Northwest Laboratory discusses Nonproliferation Policy and the U.S. Fuel Cycle at White Auditorium on Friday.

Ty Otto, analyst for the Pacific Northwest Laboratory discusses Nonproliferation Policy and the U.S. Fuel Cycle at White Auditorium on Friday. Buy this photo
Sophia Afendoulis/Daily

Friday afternoon, about 50 of University of Michigan students, professors and Ann Arbor community members gathered to hear Ty Otto, an analyst at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, speak about nonproliferation policy and how it relates to and affects the nuclear industry at the Nuclear Engineering and Radioactive Sciences colloquium.

Otto began by explaining nonproliferation in the nuclear space.

“The nonproliferation regime … is an overlapping set of institutions, laws, treaties, informal treaties between governments … that are all working to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to help roll back nuclear arsenals where they might currently exist,” Otto said.

He then illustrated the difficulty of nonproliferation from a policy perspective and the many intricacies involved in nonproliferation.

“The nuclear nonproliferation regime has emerged as the art of the possible and every one of these agreements requires a serendipitous alignment of political will and interest coming together,” Otto said. “The non-proliferation regime is not perfect … but when you have 195 countries in the world and you want them to all … commit to giving up their freedoms and rights in order to take part in these, sometimes you have to take what you can get.”

Otto continued his talk by discussing the Atomic Nuclear Energy Act of 1954, specifically Section 123 of the act, which lays out the requirements for cooperation between nations.

“The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 … set out a guideline in Section 123 for the requirements for peaceful nuclear cooperation with other countries,” Otto said. “And prior to that time, it was not really something that the United States had meaningfully engaged in.”

He also described the issues facing the U.S. today in an increasingly competitive nuclear industry.

“Back in the day, the United States was basically the sole provider to most of the Western world of enrichment services,” Otto explained. “But now China, South Korea, Russia, France, there is a whole host of different countries that we are competing against the nuclear marketplace, and some of them have different perspectives on nonproliferation than we do.”

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Todd Allen, chair of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at U-M, explained why Otto had been invited and the NERS colloquium.

“We tend to talk about technology (and) theory around nuclear reactors … but we don’t tend to talk as much about policy and a lot of the students have come in saying, ‘That’s all great, but we want to learn more about policy,’” Allen said. “So, I thought it would be interesting to bring in somebody who’s totally from the policy world.”

Engineering graduate student Trevor Smith told The Daily he was intrigued by Otto’s unique description of nonproliferation and its complexities.

 “It’s more of a global approach to doing international treaties and stuff,” Smith said. “So, it was definitely an interesting take on it.”