GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Category: Security (Page 2 of 2)

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.

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

The first week in the EU

After getting settled in with their host families and acclimated to Brussels with a walking and bus tour, the students dove right in to learning about the EU and transatlantic relations. The students had their first official site visit, a day of meetings at NATO headquarters in which they met with the head of the Polish delegation as well as representatives from the US and French delegations.  They also had the opportunity to hear from a member of the international staff on issues in Russia and Ukraine.  Unfortunately the meetings were off the record, so we cannot disclose any more information about what was discussed.  But suffice it to say the students came prepared with excellent questions and represented Georgia Tech well.

Students and faculty in front of NATO headquarters


The next day the students had a tour at the European Parliament and briefing on structure of the institution as well as dynamics in the upcoming election.  One of the key takeaways from the meeting is the eclectic nature of the European Union an institution, particular the complex web of relations amongst nation states and the European collective as composed in the Commission, the Parliament and the Council.  This is a particularly exciting time to be in Europe with EU elections slated for May 22-25, the first since the Lisbon Treaty took effect in 2010.  As the election tagline goes, “This time it’s different” and the students have a great opportunity to see that in person.  Following the briefing, the students had the opportunity to take a first hand look at the Hemicycle, one of two locations (the other is in Strasbourg, France) where the entire elected body representing the peoples of Europe makes policy.  Interestingly the seats are broken into wedges for each of the major parties, and MEPs sit alphabetically from front to back, with their leaders at the front.


Students with professors Birchfield and Hayes line up with the flags of Europe


Students hear about the dynamics of the European Parliament in the Hemicycle

In the afternoon the students were treated to a guest lecture by Professor Mark Cottle from Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture on the Art Nouveau movement in Europe.  He highlighted the ways in which architecture, like other forms of art, often reflects the social, cultural, even political ideals and tensions of any period of time.  Art Nouveau, like the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK, arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in part as a reaction to the industrial revolution, and the style bears unique characteristics from that specific social and political milieu.  Thus, the students were also encouraged to consider the artistic and cultural influences of their generation.  Following the lecture, Professor Cottle took the students on a unique walking tour of Art Nouveau architecture in Brussels, including buildings designed and built by the famous Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta.


An example of Art Nouveau architecture from Professor Cottle’s walking tour of Brussels

The students had the weekend free, but many took the opportunity to attend the Europe Day – EU Open Doors, including a debate amongst members of the European Parliament on a wide range of issues confronting Europe.  On this day, the Parliament, Commission, and Council open their doors to the public with festivals, information sessions, and tours of otherwise off limit areas like the presidents’ offices, to allow citizens to better connect with the EU institutions.  The students and faculty on the program took full advantage of the opportunity, which included a rare sighting of Europe Man.


Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén