GT in the EU

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Category: Foreign Policy (Page 3 of 4)

IFRI and Iran’s Nuclear Crisis

At IFRI we had a speaker addressing the Iranian Nuclear Crisis and France’s interest in the issue. The issue centers around Iran’s enrichment of Uranium past being just fuel-grade. Fuel-grade Uranium does not require as much U-235 than weapons-grade Uranium, so this enrichment has caused skepticism among the international community towards Iran’s intentions. But this is not news, this has been the case for many years. France’s interest in this affair lies both in the security threat of Iran to Europe as a whole and in their role as one of the major nuclear powers (along with the US). Current negotiations are hoped to be completed by the end of this year and provide a medium- to long-term solution to this crisis. Specifically, a solution that is long-term enough to be effective and sustainable, but short-term enough to not be affected by changing regimes. Our speaker mentioned how nuclear fuel is at the center of these negotiations, because if an alternative fuel or means of acquiring fuel could be found, the crisis would be solved, for the most part.

Now that that is out of the way, it’s time to get to the purpose of this post: I asked a technical question regarding the fuel situation, one that probably only 4 people in the room could’ve hoped to understand, at least in my opinion, and one of which, the speaker, flat out stated that he had no clue about what I was talking about, because of his lack of research into that specific matter (though he still answered to the best of his abilities). My question was about the use of Thorium as a fuel source for Iran that would both mitigate the conflict and benefit the scientific community. The purpose of this post is to give a basic nuclear engineering background for my fellow students (and speakers, if they happen to read this) to be able to better understand this and to maybe get some basic publicity for what is a very realistic solution to this problem.

The use of Thorium as a fuel source is very easy to adapt to because few modifications would have to be made to Iran’s current nuclear reactors. Thorium, as a fuel, naturally mainly comes in the form of Thorium-232, which is considered “fertile.” “Fertile” means that the material is not fissile (able to undergo fission), but can be bred to become a fissile element (U-233). Uranium-233 is the element that actually undergoes fission in the Thorium fuel cycle. Fission and breeding both occur in generally the same process, so if Iran wanted to collect U-233 to make bombs, they would have to shut down their reactors and remove the fuel. Because of this it is an easy safety check to Iran because we just have to track their waste stream. Also, U-232 which is non-fissile and not fertile, and also a part of the Thorium fuel cycle, cannot be chemically separated from the U-233, and so acts as an inherent proliferation guard. In addition to this, U-233 is universally considered to be completely not effective as weapons material and thus poses little more risk than a dirty bomb. Dirty bombs are conventional explosives laced with radioactive materials, and thus much easier to develop than nuclear weapons for terrorists or rogue nations. Also, Thorium is more than 3 times as abundant as Uranium, so would be a much cheaper fuel for Iran. And in addition to this, because the most common form, Thorium-232, is the fertile isotope and the one that would be used, no enrichment facility would be needed in Iran, which is also at the center of the issue with Iran. Because of the ease of tracking U-233 in the waste stream, the fact that U-232 acts as a natural guard against proliferation, the relative ease of adaptation for Iran to use Thorium-232 (the only natural isotope of it) as a fuel, and the abundance of Thorium, it is of my opinion that this is a very realistic solution to this issue with Iran, one that should be near the center of the discussion if it is not already. Now, I am only a first year nuclear engineer, so I am not extremely well-versed in all of the implications of Thorium as a fuel for Iran, but I do feel that from the knowledge I do have, it would be very successful in ending this crisis. Also, the use of Thorium as a fuel would pose benefits to the scientific community because it has only been very scarcely used throughout history. So, the use of this by Iran would not only improve political relations with the West, but help increase its scientific standing in the international community, which could pose future benefits for Iran as a nation, as well. Thus, I believe that both France and the US, along with all other nations that are parties to the negotiations with Iran, should at least consider this in their solution and maybe do more research into the technical background of this and whether or not it truly is plausible solution.

It’s all Greek to me

“The Greek government-debt crisis is part of the ongoing Eurozone crisis triggered by the arrival of the global economic recession in October 2008, and is believed to have been directly caused by a combination of structural weaknesses of the Greek economy along with a decade long pre-existence of overly high structural deficits and debt-to-GDP levels on public accounts.”

It is one thing to read this very bland description of the 2008 financial crisis’ effect on the Greek economy (courtesy of Wikipedia), but an entirely different experience to see abandoned buildings falling apart in the heart of Athens.

One statistic that is often thrown around in class is that Greece has recently had higher unemployment than America had during the Great Depression. It doesn’t take an economics or international affairs background to see that there is unrest in Greece. It’s literally written on the walls. These high levels of unemployment have led to some of the most beautiful and disturbing pieces of graffiti that I have ever seen. To say that there is an exorbitant amount of graffiti in Athens is like being out at sea and noting that the ocean seems to have a lot of water. You’re literally surrounded by it on all sides.

This lovely piece of graffiti depicts Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and an avid supporter of austerity measures in the highly indebted southern European countries.

Austerity – Without boring you, austerity is the act of cutting government spending in light of high levels of debt. This sounds great in theory: You’ve been spending too much. It’s time for you to spend less and start paying off some of your debt. However, adopting austerity measures during a recession is like trying to finish paying off your car payments right after your boss cuts your hours. You’re going to be hungry. The people of Greece are ravenous. They cry out for change.

One argument I’ve heard is that Greece has a strong economy that was simply knocked down by the financial crisis and subsequent sovereign debt crisis. Supporters of this argument often point out that Greece had decent levels of growth during the years prior to the 2008 crisis despite high deficit percentages relative to GDP. I find this comparable to a teenage boy driving to school 25 miles per hour faster than the speed limit, who suddenly crashes into another car. The boy has a broken leg and is taken to the hospital. A passerby notes, “Well if he hadn’t crashed, he would have been on time for school.” Just like driving at a high speed will get you to your destination more quickly, high levels of government spending will stimulate growth since government spending is a part of a country’s GDP. However, if the boy had been going the speed limit, he would not be on time for school, just like if Greece had not been running huge deficits it would not have experienced the growth that it did.

What does this mean? In the situation with the boy driving to school, the solution is simple: he needs to leave the house earlier on his way to school so that he has plenty of time to get there. Greece’s problem is not so easily solved. If I could tell you in a few short sentences exactly what Greece needed to do to get out of its problems, they would be so easy that they would have already been solved. Difficult as change may be, it is needed. The people are hungry, and another crash may leave Greece with more than just a broken leg.

Students meet General Philip Breedlove, SACEUR

On Saturday, May 24, the students and faculty returned to SHAPE, but this time the host was General Philip Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Georgia Tech alum (Civil Engineering, 1977).  As befitting their host, the students got a detailed briefing from the general and his senior officers on the system (called the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre) NATO has developed to assess and manage threats within Europe, the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and part of Asia. 

Briefing from General Philip Breedlove, SACEUR

Afterward, the students and faculty joined General Breedlove as well as dignitaries from Georgia Tech—including President Bud Peterson, Provost Raphael Bras, Executive Vice President for Research Steve Cross, Vice President for International Development Marta Garcia, Dean of Engineering Gary May, Nunn School Director Joe Bankoff, and Chair of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Reginald DesRoches—for a reception in the SHAPE Officer’s Club.


General Breedlove and President Peterson speak to students, faculty, and administrators


There, General Breedlove devoted the entire reception to talking with our students, and our students took every advantage of the opportuntity.


After the reception, General Breedlove made it very clear how impressed he was with our undergrads and the direction and development of the Nunn School.  Our students  represented themselves and the program very well indeed.  General Breedlove is Georgia Tech through and through, and his pride in GT and his home department (Civil and Environmental Engineering) was a treat to witness.

Some students also took the opportunity to meet with President Peterson.

In all, an amazing experience for students and faculty alike, and certainly one for a lifetime.


Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

On Wednesday, the students visited the military side of NATO: Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

Students and faculty at SHAPE with Lt. Colonel Ochyra

Along the way we passed the historic Waterloo battlefield.

Waterloo in passing on the bus to SHAPE

The headquarters was originally in Paris, but when France withdrew from NATO unified command in 1966, the headquarters moved Mons, Belgium, where it remains today.  We were hosted by two excellent officers: Lt. Colonel Claus Richter (Germany, middle of photo) and Lt. Colonel Miroslaw Ochyra (Poland, right side of photo).  The students also heard from Commander Krasimir Kiranov of the Bulgarian Navy (left side of photo).  The students had a very rich experience, with briefings from a range of officers on a number of aspects on the military side of NATO.  As usual in these types of situations, we cannot provide any further details on what the officers discussed.

Students have a chance to question officers at SHAPE

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