Creating a Community for Global Security

Imagine thousands and potentially millions of scientists committed to making the world safer and more secure. This was the vision of the dedicated group of “atomic scientists” who founded the Federation of Atomic Scientists (the original FAS) in November 1945. As we will soon reach the 70th anniversary, let’s reflect on the meaning of FAS and most especially look forward to the next 70 years. While the next issue of the Public Interest Report will feature many articles that assess the accomplishments of the organization and its affiliated scientists and policy experts during the past 70 years, this PIR issue features many outstanding experts who care deeply about global security.

Before discussing the content of this PIR, I am pleased to introduce to our readers the new Managing Editor: Allison Feldman. Allison started working at FAS in early August as the Communications and Community Outreach Officer. With an undergraduate degree in environmental science and biology from Binghamton University, Allison has a passion for science, and she also brings to FAS her experience in previous jobs in which she has worked with the scientific community and educated the public about science. I am happy to have her working at FAS because she will help FAS continue to revitalize itself as an organization dedicated to involving scientists, engineers, and other technically trained people in advising policymakers and informing the public about practical ways to make the world more secure against dangers such as use of nuclear weapons and outbreaks of pandemics. For example, Allison has recently begun the Scientist Spotlight series that features a prominent FAS-affiliated scientist or engineer on each month.

Due to the transition time to have Allison start in this position, she and I decided to make this PIR a larger issue with about twice the number of articles typically found in the PIR. So, this combined summer-fall issue showcases several articles by seasoned practitioners in the fields of science, policy, and arms control, as well as younger engineers who are seeking to apply their technical training to stopping the further proliferation of nuclear weapons.

This PIR has thought-provoking pieces on nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear winter, preventing nuclear terrorism, the vital importance of intercultural understanding, and several other critical issues. Notably, Steven Starr, Director of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics, writes on a core mission issue for FAS: the survival of humanity in the event of a nuclear war that could trigger a massive cooling of the earth. Also addressing a dreaded event that is preventable, Edward Friedman, Emeritus Professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and longtime FAS member for more than 50 years, has contributed an in-depth review article about the threat of nuclear terrorism and efforts that can reduce this risk.

FAS has an eminent reputation of featuring the work of prominent “hybrid” scientists: those who have distinguished careers in scientific research while also devoting a significant portion of their professional efforts toward societal issues. In this PIR, we show two of these so-called “hybrid” scientists: Professor Rob Goldston and Professor Frank Settle. Dr. Goldston has done path-breaking research for more than 30 years on nuclear fusion and, more recently, has helped develop innovative methods to confirm that nuclear warheads slated for dismantlement are genuine warheads without revealing classified military information. The Q&A with him explores both of these issues as well as his other interests in science and society. Dr. Settle has straddled the worlds of chemistry, teaching, and nuclear policy issues for decades. He has received international recognition for his excellent work in analytical chemistry and in creating an online annotated database for nuclear issues called ALSOS. In his article, he delves into the history of the nuclear age by examining the many leadership roles of General George Marshall in the development of the first atomic bombs and the first initiatives in arms control.

We are also pleased to present the work of early to mid-career engineers and scientists. In this issue, mid-career stars Markus Schiller and James Kim, who have done excellent technical and policy work in Germany, South Korea, and the United States, reveal that the allegedly North Korean missile-launching submarine appears to be “an emperor with no clothes.” They employ their skills in photographic analysis, missile technology, and political assessment to blow the cover on North Korea’s latest purported “super” weapon. This is not to suggest that North Korea is not an international security threat. However, we would be remiss not to provide a possible pathway for resolving this threat. To do that, Texas A&M University graduate students Manit Shah and José Trevino propose adapting the model of the agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear program to the problem of curtailing North Korea’s nuclear program. Of course, North Korea is a greater challenge than Iran, given the fact that North Korea has developed and tested nuclear weapons and Iran has not. But this underscores the need for creative thinking to prevent the further buildup of nuclear weapons by North Korea.

As an organization that supports having all scientific disciplines contribute to improving global security, we are excited to feature an insightful article by Nasser bin Nasser, the head of the Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS), headquartered in Amman, Jordan. Nasser discusses the urgent need to understand the role of social science and cultural studies in effectively addressing international security. Among several issues, he highlights the misunderstandings that arose during the inspections in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. Unfortunately, cultural miss-readings exacerbated an already tense situation between the Iraqis and the inspectors looking for weapons of mass destructions or the programs to make such weapons.

In other news from FAS headquarters, we are happy to welcome Dr. David Hafemeister, an emeritus professor from California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), who will work as a visiting scientist at FAS for the next year. An FAS member since the mid-1960s, Dave has led a distinguished career during which he has served as a scientist in the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government and has been an award-winning educator. During his visiting fellowship at FAS, he will be studying the science policy advisory process and will be seeking opportunities to educate policymakers.

To further our outreach, in June this year, FAS organized a salon dinner in Berkeley. The participants were prominent scientists, engineers, and community leaders in energy, air pollution, climate change, and national security. The two thematic questions the assembled considered were: (1) If you had only three minutes with the president of the United States, what one important issue should he or she know about and act on? And (2) who at the dinner (you had not met before) would you want to collaborate with in your work? In this not for attribution event, we had a very lively discussion with many providing practical advice on how FAS could serve in advancing energy security. Also, we believe that FAS has helped play a convening role in bringing together a diverse group of experts and in fostering interdisciplinary collaboration. We will be seeking to continue these conversations across the United States in the coming years.

We are thankful for the generous financial support from donors like you for FAS to perform these outreach programs and to sustain FAS’s core projects in nuclear security and government secrecy. We are also very appreciative of the advice from several FAS-affiliated scientists about energy and security policy and how FAS can play an effective role in this complex set of issues. Moreover, we welcome and encourage you to send us your ideas about how to get scientists and engineers more involved in societal issues.


A Social Science Perspective on International Science Engagement

In the previous issue of the Public Interest Report (Spring 2015), Dr. Charles Ferguson’s President’s Message focused on the importance of empathy in science and security engagements. This was a most welcome surprise, as concepts such as empathy do not typically make it to the pages of technical scientific publications. Yet the social and behavioral sciences play an increasingly critical part in issues as far ranging as arms control negotiations, inspection and verification missions, and cooperative security projects.

The Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS), the organization that I have headed for five years now, has developed a particular niche in looking at the role of culture in these science and security issues. MESIS works to reduce chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats across the region by creating partnerships within the region, and between the region and the international community, with culture as a major component of this work.

As with empathy, culture is often a misunderstood and misappropriated concept for most policymakers. Admittedly, it is not something that is easy to capture, describe, or measure, which may explain why it is not a popular topic. Notwithstanding, there is growing evidence that cultural awareness can make a crucial difference to the prospective success of negotiations, inspections, and cooperative endeavors. The Central Intelligence Agency produced a report in 2006[1] that examined how a lack of cultural awareness among those involved in Iraq’s inspection regime in the mid-1990s resulted in misinterpretation of the behavior of Iraqi officials, leading to an assumption that the exhibited behavior was that of denial and deception. The report relayed a wide range of incidents that were misread by those overseeing the inspection regime. These included: 1) Iraqi scientists’ understanding of the limitations of their weapons programs, combined with their fear to report these limitations to senior leaders, created two accounts about how far advanced these programs were; and 2) Iraqi leaders’ intent on maintaining an illusion of WMD possession to deter Iran regardless of the implications this may have on the inspection regime. The report even cites misinterpretations of customary (read: obligatory) tea served to inspectors at sites under investigation as being a delay tactic. These incidents demonstrate that local cultural factors, on both societal and state levels, were major determinants of nonproliferation performance, but were poorly understood by inspection officials who did not have enough cultural awareness.

It has become equally important to consider intercultural awareness when it comes to cooperative endeavors in non-adversarial circumstances. The sustainability of cooperative programmatic efforts, such as capacity building, cannot be achieved without a solid understanding of cultural awareness. Though terms such as “local ownership” and “partnerships” have become commonplace in the world of scientific cooperative engagements, it is rare to see them translated successfully into policy. As a local organization, MESIS cannot compete with any of the large U.S. scientific organizations on a technical level, yet by virtue of its knowledge of the regional context, it has numerous advantages over any other organization from outside the region. Try getting a U.S. expert to discuss the role that cultural fatalism can play in improving chemical safety and security standards among Middle Eastern laboratory personnel and this becomes all the more apparent. For example, a Jordanian expert looking to promote best practices among laboratory personnel once made an excellent argument by referring to a Hadith by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that calls for the need to be safe and reasonable ahead of, and in conjunction with, placing one’s faith in God. There have been several studies about the relationship between the cultural fatalism of Arab and Muslim societies, and their perceptions of safety culture, especially on road safety. Although there is no ethnographic evidence to support the claim that this is applicable to lab safety, an anecdotal assessment would strongly suggest so.

Language is another critical area for cultural awareness, as exemplified by the success of a cooperative endeavor between the Chinese Scientists Group on Arms Control (CSGAC) of the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament, and the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. These groups have been meeting for almost 20 years to discuss nuclear arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear energy, and regional security issues, with the goal of reducing the possibility of nuclear weapons use and reducing nuclear proliferation in the world at large. Throughout the exchanges, it was often evident that beyond the never-simple translation of one language into the other, there was also the difficulty of differing interpretations of terms. Accordingly, a glossary of about 1000 terms was jointly developed by the two sides to ensure that future misunderstandings possibly between new members or non-bilingual speakers could be avoided.[2]  In a similar vein, the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) has partnered with MESIS in developing Arabic versions of its Best Practices Guidelines. This is certainly not due to any shortage of Arabic-language translators in Vienna, but rather because they rightly distinguish between translation and indigenization. Typically, a translator with limited understanding of nuclear security is unable to indigenize a text in the way that a local expert can. In the case of the Guidelines, the use of local experts went a long way to ensure that the concepts themselves were understood by Arabic-language speakers (a case not very different from the U.S.-Chinese example).

The sustainability of the international community’s programmatic efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere is strongly tied to this notion of cultural context. MESIS manages the Radiation Cross Calibration Measurement (RMCC) network, which is a project that seeks to raise radiation measurement standards across the Arab world. It has always been a challenge to find funding for this network from funds dedicated to nonproliferation and nuclear security as the project’s relevance or utility is not readily apparent to decision makers. More creative thinking is needed here. A project like RMCC does in fact build the infrastructure and capacity needed for areas such as nuclear forensics and Additional Protocol compliance[3], but it also addresses more local concerns such as environmental monitoring and improved laboratory management. These sorts of win-win endeavors require a strong degree of cultural awareness. If a network of nuclear forensics laboratories had in fact been established, funding would probably be secured with greater ease, while sustainability would certainly be threatened, because ultimately, nuclear forensics is not currently a priority area for the region.

In a period when there is a tremendous amount of skepticism about international science engagement, increased cultural awareness may lead to more meaningful and, in turn, sustainable outcomes. One would expect this to be more readily apparent to members of a scientific community. There may be some merit in taking a page out of the book of another community, the commercial product development one. They are keenly aware of cultural paradigms when developing products for different markets, often leading to better returns.


[1] Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspections Created Picture of Deception: Iraq WMD Retrospective Series (number redacted), 5 January 2006. Accessed online October 1 2015 via the Freedom of Information Act via

[2] Published by the National Academies Press in Washington D.C and the Atomic Energy Press in Beijing respectively, 2008.

[3] The Additional Protocol enhances the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements that states parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have with the International Atomic Energy Agency

Nasser Bin Nasser is the Managing Director of the Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS) based in Amman, Jordan. He is also the Head of the Amman Regional Secretariat under the European Union’s “Centres of Excellence” initiative on CBRN issues.

Science Experiments Blocked Due to Safety Risks

The U.S. government blocked dozens of life science experiments over the past decade because they were deemed to pose undue risks to public health and safety.

Between 2006 and 2013, researchers submitted 618 potentially restricted experiment proposals for review by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT), according to a new study published in the journal Health Security.

Fifteen percent of those (91) were found to meet the regulatory definition of a “restricted experiment.” 31 of those experiments were nevertheless approved because they included appropriate safety measures.

But “DSAT did not approve 60 restricted experiment requests due to potentially serious biosafety risks to public health and safety,” researchers found. “All 60 denied restricted experiments proposed inserting drug resistance traits into select agents that could compromise the control of disease.”

See Review of Restricted Experiment Requests, Division of Select Agents and Toxins, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006-2013 (abstract only) by Jacinta Smith, Denise Gangadharan, and Robbin Weyant, Health Security, Vol. 13, No. 5, September 2015: 307-316.

Regulatory restrictions on research can infringe on academic freedom and may have the unintended consequence of foreclosing important — and beneficial — avenues of scientific investigation.

But the risks involved in genetic manipulation of biological agents are so profound that almost everyone agrees that some limits are necessary and appropriate.

“A product resulting from a restricted experiment has the potential to be directly misapplied by others to pose a threat to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals and/or the environment,” the authors wrote. “In addition, the accidental release of a product of a restricted experiment may compromise the control or treatment of the disease agent in humans, animals, and/or plants.”

There have been four reported cases involving violations of restricted experiment regulations in recent years, the authors noted. Two of the restricted experiment violations resulted in civil penalties ranging from $40,000 to $1 million.

Some say the existing regulatory regime does not go far enough to restrict hazardous research.

“In the current Wild West of otherwise completely unregulated, and otherwise nearly completely unmonitored, US pathogens research, the requirement for review of ‘restricted experiments’ under the select agent rule is the one small bright spot,” said Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University.

He noted that current regulations specify only two categories of potentially restricted experiments, which leaves much research on pathogens beyond regulatory control or oversight.

“The most effective avenue for the [US government] to implement a requirement for review of other pathogen research projects–for example, to implement a requirement for review of pathogen research projects that create new potential pandemic pathogens–would be to add additional ‘restricted experiments’ to the select agent rule,” Dr. Ebright said.

Invention Secrecy Orders Reach a 20 Year High

On October 27, 1977, Dr. Gerald F. Ross filed a patent application for a new invention he had devised to defeat the jamming of electromagnetic transmissions at specified frequencies. But it was not until June 17, 2014 — nearly 37 years later — that his patent was finally granted (Anti-jam apparatus for baseband radar systems, patent number 8,754,801).

In the interim, Dr. Ross’s patent application had been subject to a secrecy order under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, which both prevented issuance of the patent and prohibited its public disclosure.

At the end of Fiscal Year 2014 (on September 30), there were 5,520 such invention secrecy orders in effect, according to statistics released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under the Freedom of Information Act.

That is the highest number of invention secrecy orders in effect since 1994. It is unclear whether this reflects growing innovation in sensitive technology areas, or a more restrictive approach to disclosure by government agencies.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of current secrecy orders were issued in prior years, but there were 97 new secrecy orders that were imposed in FY 2014. Meanwhile, there were 22 existing orders that were rescinded, including the order concerning Dr. Ross’s invention.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act, secrecy orders may be imposed whenever, in the judgment of an executive branch agency, the disclosure of a patent application would be “detrimental to the national security.” This is a lower, less demanding standard than that for national security classification (which applies to information that could “cause damage to national security”) and not all secret inventions are classified. Some may be unclassified but export controlled, or otherwise restricted.

Other newly disclosed inventions formerly subject to a secrecy order that was rescinded by the government during the past year include these (according to data obtained from the Patent and Trademark Office):

Method of producing warheads containing explosives, patent number 8,689,669

Method of treating a net made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, patent number 8,808,602

Ballistic modification and solventless double propellant, and method thereof, patent number 8,828,161

Ballistic modifier formulation for double base propellant, patent number 8,864,923

Synthetic aperture radar smearing, patent number 8,836,569

Wanted: Astronomer with Top Secret Clearance

NASA’s orbiting James Webb Space Telescope will be “the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide, and studying every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.”

So why does its Director need to have a Top Secret/SCI security clearance, as specified in the job description posted last month on USA Jobs?

Clearly, the secrets of the universe do not lend themselves to, or require, national security classification controls, let alone non-disclosure agreements or polygraph testing.

But in practice, the civilian space program intersects the national security space program at multiple points, and former CIA analyst Allen Thomson suggested that the future Webb Director might need a Top Secret intelligence clearance in order to engage with the National Reconnaissance Office on space technology and operations, for example.

The Webb Space Telescope “will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, with longer wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity,” according to NASA. “The longer wavelengths enable the Webb telescope to look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies, as well as to look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.”

The Webb Telescope has a projected launch date in 2018.

In Memoriam

Andrew Marienhoff Sessler

Editor’s Note: This article1)Article available online here: appeared in the August 2014 issue of Physics Today; it can also be accessed online. Dr. Sessler was involved with FAS for over four decades and served as Chairman of the Board from 1988 to 1992.


Andrew Marienhoff Sessler, visionary former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), one of the most influential accelerator physicists in the field, and a human-rights activist, died on 17 April 2014 from cancer.


Born on 11 December 1928, Andy grew up in New York City. He was one of the first Westinghouse Talent Search finalists, for which he visited the White House as a high school senior in 1945. He enrolled at Harvard University just as World War II ended. He received a BA in mathematics, then went to Columbia University and earned a PhD in physics in 1953 under Henry Foley. After an NSF postdoc—in the first group ever awarded—at Cornell University with Hans Bethe and a stint on the faculty at the Ohio State University in 1954–59, Andy joined the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory—as LBNL was then called—in 1959; he spent the remainder of his career there.

Andy left his mark in several areas of physics, including nuclear structure theory, elementary-particle physics, and many-body problems. His 1960 paper with Victor Emery is generally acknowledged, along with a paper from a competing group led by Philip Anderson, as the first to predict the superfluid transition of helium-3.

His interest in accelerator physics began in the summer of 1955 when Andy was invited by Donald Kerst to join the Midwestern Universities Research Association (MURA) study group. MURA researchers were working to host a multi-GeV proton accelerator project in the Midwest based on a novel accelerator scheme called the fixed-field alternating gradient. Although the project did not materialize, their R&D achievements profoundly transformed accelerator design from an intuitive art to a rigorous scientific discipline centered around beam physics.

In collaboration with Keith Symon (another MURA member), Andy studied the RF acceleration process and for the first time in accelerator research employed the full power of Hamiltonian dynamics and computer simulation, using the most powerful computer at that time, ILLIAC. They discovered a method to produce intense circulating beams by “stacking,” repeatedly collecting the injected beam into a phase-space “bucket” and raising its energy. But if the intensity gets too high, beams in general become unstable, rendering them useless. In collaboration with several colleagues, Andy showed that high intensities can still be maintained by carefully controlling the beam environment.Those discoveries made high-luminosity proton colliders feasible; the most famous implementation, the Large Hadron Collider, recently discovered the Higgs particle.

After being at LBNL for several years, Andy became interested in the impact of science and technology on society. He helped usher in a new era of research on energy efficiency and sustainable energy technology and was instrumental in building the research agendas in those areas for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and later the Department of Energy.

In 1973 Andy was selected as LBNL’s third director. His first act was to establish the energy and environment division, with Jack Hollander as director, and the two men started more than 50 research projects in the first year. The division initiated many major research programs in such fields as air-pollution chemistry and physics, solar energy technology, energy economics and policy, and internationally prominent energy efficiency technology under the guidance of Arthur Rosenfeld. Andy supported the development of the nation’s largest geothermal research program, which led to the lab’s establishing one of the nation’s leading Earth-sciences research divisions.

Stepping down from his post as LBNL director in 1980, Andy returned to his first love—research. He began work in earnest on a new area of accelerator physics: the generation of coherent electromagnetic waves through the free-electron laser (FEL) interaction.

Together with Donald Prosnitz, Andy proposed in 1981 a high-gain FEL amplifier for high-power millimeter-wave generation. The group Andy assembled to perform and analyze the successful 1986 millimeter FEL experiment also explored FELs at x-ray wavelengths. The researchers found that the x-ray beam being amplified in a high-gain FEL does not diffract but stays close to the electron beam. That “optical guiding” phenomena presaged the success of x-ray FELs more than two decades later.

Andy noted that the high-power millimeter wave from an FEL can be used for high-gradient acceleration that could reduce the size, and hence the cost, of a multi-TeV electron linear collider. Thus he proposed in 1982 the concept of a two-beam accelerator in which a high-current, low energy accelerator runs parallel to and supplies millimeter power to a low-current, high-energy accelerator. The scheme is still very much alive as the Compact Linear Collider project at CERN.

At the American Physical Society (APS), Andy helped expand the organization’s focus to encompass many issues related to “physics and society,” including national funding, science education, and arms control. With a life-long interest in promoting human rights, Andy was instrumental in initiating the APS Committee on International Freedom of Scientists and raising funds to endow the APS Andrei Sakharov Prize. He and Moishe Pripstein cofounded Scientists for Sakharov, Orlov, and Sharansky; the group’s protests along with those of other groups led to the release of the three Soviet dissidents.

In 1998 Andy served as president of APS. He received many honors, including the AEC’s Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 19702), APS’s Dwight Nicholson Medal in 19943), and the Enrico Fermi Award from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2014.4)

An avid outdoorsman, Andy enjoyed physical activities—swimming, rowing, skiing, bike riding—especially when shared with family and friends. Even later in life, when maintaining his bodily balance took extra effort, he kept up his lunchtime jogging routine and shared jokes and some good physics with the entourage around him. He was a mentor to many younger colleagues and to many his own age who learned more from him than a lot of them realized at the time. Andy ever kept the physics community at the center of his life and work.


Dr. Robert J. Budnitz has been involved with nuclear-reactor safety and radioactive-waste safety for many years.  He is on the scientific staff at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he works on nuclear power safety and security and radioactive-waste management.  From 2002 to 2007 he was at UC’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, during which period he worked on a two-year special assignment (late 2002 to late 2004) in Washington to assist the Director of DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to develop a new Science & Technology Program.  Prior to joining LLNL in 2002, he ran a one-person consulting practice in Berkeley CA for over two decades.  In 1978-1980, he was a senior officer on the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, serving as Deputy Director and then Director of the NRC Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research.  He earned a Ph.D. in experimental physics from Harvard in 1968.

Kwang-Je Kim received B.S in Physics from Seoul National University (1966) and Ph.D. in Elementary Particle Physics from the University of Maryland (1970). Kwang-Je was originally trained as a theorist in elementary particle physics, but switched to accelerator physics in 1978 when he joined LBNL. He moved to Argonne National Laboratory in 1998, where he is currently Argonne Distinguished Fellow. He is also a part time professor at the University of Chicago. He performed groundbreaking research in the emerging area of generating highly bright photon beams via synchrotron radiation and free electron lasers.  He is a Fellow of APS since 1995, received International FEL Award in 1997, USPAS Award for Achievement in Accelerator Physics and Technology in 2013, and Robert R. Wilson Prize for Achievement in the Physics of Particle Accelerators in 2014.

Herman Winick is a Professor (research) emeritus at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Applied Physics Department of Stanford University, where he has been since 1973. After receiving his AB (1953) and PhD (1957) in physics from Columbia University, he continued work in experimental high energy physics at the University of Rochester (1957-9) and then as a member of the scientific staff and Assistant Director of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator at Harvard University (1959-73). In the early 1960s his interests shifted to accelerator physics and then to synchrotron radiation. In 1973 he moved to Stanford University to take charge of the technical design of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Project. Since then he has played a leadership role in the development of synchrotron radiation sources and research at Stanford and around the world.


George S. Stanford

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Stanford served as a member of FAS’s National Council from 1986 to 1990.


The far-ranging and versatile impact of George S. Stanford as a professional colleague includes many contributions to human betterment.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, George — a Canadian-born PhD physicist — became a contributor and spokesperson for universal, conscientious nuclear composure and restraint. His role was initially manifested throughGeorge Sanford opportune and enduring participation with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Chicago chapter, which had been transplanted from the University of Chicago to Argonne National Laboratory.

As a physicist at Argonne, George engaged in hands-on work with reactor and accelerator facilities. He gained a comprehensive understanding and appreciation not only of nuclear reactors, but also of the basic science underlying nuclear weapons and their potential risk to civilization. After retirement, he devoted much of his personal time to promoting the Integral Fast (Breeder) Reactor, having professionally been part of the large Argonne team that worked on power-reactor safety.

Born July 23, 1928, he graduated in 1949 from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia with a BS in Physics/Math; Wesleyan University, in 1951 with an M.A. in Physics; and Yale University in 1956 with a PhD in Experimental Nuclear Physics. He passed away on 7 October 2013.

During much of his professional lifetime, the Cold War seemed to be spiraling out of control, with many hardline protagonists promoting armaments and strategies that could lurch the United States uncontrollably toward nuclear war and human devastation. Along with other nuclear scientists at Argonne and elsewhere, George tried to inject some sense of realism and perspective. He was one of those who frequently practiced public outreach, widely communicating the devastating potential of excessive nuclear armaments.

His outreach extended to then-raging complex and emotionalized issues such as excessive nuclear-armed missiles, needed arms-control initiatives, and improved nuclear-reactor safety. In this connection, George helped organize and became co-chair of the Concerned Argonne Scientists (CAS), an ad-hoc organization of laboratory employees which had separated itself from the local FAS chapter because of the war in Vietnam. The CAS persisted as the Argonne-based group that contributed systemic experience and advocacy about a broad range of public issues.

George served a stint on the FAS national council, and he frequently contributed his knowledge and experience to both the Argonne FAS Chapter and the national organization.

Professionally, he made significant contributions to Argonne analytical and experimental programs in nuclear-diagnostics for reactor safety, and later in arms control and treaty verification.

George’s perceptivity is reflected in several books of enduring relevance. He was a co-author of the two-volume, multi-authored Nuclear Shadowboxing: Contemporary Threats from Cold War Weaponry, which later was transitioned into the contemporary three-volume Nuclear Insights: The Cold War Legacy. The latter book was billed respectively as “an insider history” of U.S. and Soviet weaponry, an analysis of contemporary “nuclear threats and prospects,” and discussion of “nuclear reductions.”

With Gerry Marsh, he co-wrote The Phantom Defense: America’s Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion. George not only participated in the troublesome, but widely publicized Progressive Case in the late 1970s that drew international attention to thermonuclear weaponry and government secrecy, but he was  a consummate and fastidious editor of the resulting narrative: Born Secret: The H-bomb, the Progressive Case, and National Security. [Editor’s note: The Progressive Case involved independent investigator Howard Morland, who was lured by the Progressive magazine to research using openly available resources how thermonuclear weapons worked.]

A sample of wide-ranging articles he wrote or co-wrote include, “Reprocessing method could allay weapons fear,”  “Smarter use of nuclear waste,”  “Reprocessing is the answer,”  “Integral Fast Reactors: Source of Safe, Abundant, Non-Polluting Power,”  “LWR Recycle: Necessity or Impediment?” and “The antiballistic missile: how would it be used?”

George had been a member of the American Nuclear Society and the American Physical Society. Long after formal retirement from Argonne, he was contributing time and intellect to a comparison of future reactors, favoring fast breeders. One of his contemporary memberships was the Science Council for Global Initiatives.

To his very, very last days, he was applying his intellect and experience in promoting nuclear-reactor development and in assessing improved radiation-diagnostic methods.

George Stanford was married twice, living in the Chicago western suburbs, first to Ann Lowell Warren, having several children together, and later to Janet Clarke — all of whom, along with his many friends and colleagues, dearly miss him.

Peace, humanity, and progress were always on George’s mind.


Dr. Alexander DeVolpi,  George Stanford’s colleague and friend since the 1950s, is a nuclear physicist long active in arms-control policy and treaty-verification technology. Retired from Argonne National Laboratory, he has authored or coauthored from first-hand experience several books about arms control. After earning an undergraduate degree in journalism from Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va., Alex served with the U.S. Navy, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander, with numerous assignments to the Naval Research Laboratory and the Radiological Defense Laboratory. Later he received his Ph.D. in physics (and MS in nuclear engineering physics) from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Va. 

Alex was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society for contributions to arms-control verification and public enlightenment on the consequences of modern technology. As a citizen-scientist, he has long been involved in public-interest arms-control issues, including the Chicago/Argonne Chapter of the FAS.  He was cofounder of Concerned Argonne Scientists, and a member of activist organizations and executive committees in the Chicago area. Alex was a participant and technical consultant in the FAS/NRDC joint project with Soviet counterparts on nuclear-warhead dismantlement, as well as an elected member of the national FAS council in 1988-92.


Notes   [ + ]

1. Article available online here:

JASON Views Challenges of Electronic Health Data

The ongoing transition to electronic storage of individual health information was examined in a newly released study from the JASON scientific advisory panel.

“The two overarching goals of moving to the electronic exchange of health information are improved health care and lower health care costs. Whether either, or both, of these goals can be achieved remains to be seen, and the challenges are immense,” the JASON study says.

See A Robust Health Data Infrastructure, prepared for the Department of Health and Human Services, November 2013 (approved for release April 2014).

The JASON study addresses the tension between personal health information, which is “sensitive and therefore must be carefully safeguarded,” and aggregated population health data, which are “a highly valuable, and largely untapped, resource for basic and clinical research.”

“It is in the public interest to make such [aggregated population] information available for scientific, medical, and economic purposes.” Reconciling these competing imperatives of privacy and information sharing is one of the challenges to be overcome.

The JASONs, who normally deal with defense science and technology, strain to affirm a relationship between health and national security. (“From a national security perspective it is important to have an accurate assessment of the current health and potential health vulnerabilities of the population.”)

Interestingly, they suggest that because the United States is less ethnically homogenous than many other countries, it “has a special advantage” in conducting certain types of medical research.

The U.S. “is a genetic melting pot that can be a crucible for discoveries related to personalized medicine and the genetic basis of disease,” the JASONs said.


The Fermi Awards: A Celebration of Outstanding Science and Scientists

On February 3, two outstanding scientists, Dr. Allen Bard and Dr. Andrew Sessler, received the Enrico Fermi Award. Dr. Sessler has been a longstanding member of the Federation of American Scientists and served as the Chairman of FAS during part of the 1980s. In introductory remarks, Dr. Ernest Moniz, the Secretary of Energy, commented that earlier that day Dr. Bard and Dr. Sessler were at the White House, where President Obama said that it was great to be around rational people. According to Dr. Moniz, Dr. Sessler then urged President Obama to listen even more to scientists. In describing Dr. Sessler’s work on arms control and human rights, Dr. Moniz said that Dr. Sessler may have sacrificed a paper or two but it was worth it to serve society. Dr. Moniz called attention to Dr. Bard’s dedication to mentoring and collaborating with many scientists. According to the awards booklet, Dr. Bard has mentored or collaborated with “83 Ph.D. students, 18 M.S. students, 190 postdoctoral associates, and numerous visiting scientists.” These collaborations have resulted in more than 850 peer-reviewed research papers.

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JASON on Enhanced Geothermal Energy Systems

The potential for new technologies to harvest energy from the Earth’s crust was considered in a new report from the elite JASON science advisory board on “Enhanced Geothermal Systems” (EGS).

“EGS offers important opportunities for increasing the contribution of geothermal energy to U.S. power production: by a few-fold over the next few years, according to our estimation, and much more so if this initial success is appropriately leveraged over subsequent years,” the report concluded.

As described in the report, EGS entails drilling deep into the Earth’s crust — 1 to 5 kilometers or more — and forcing a fluid (water or brine) through hot, permeable rock. Energy from the heated fluid can then be extracted.

Of course, the technology is not without hazards. One is the potential for pollution of potable water acquifers. Another more ominous concern is “induced seismicity” — or artificially-generated earthquakes.

“Induced seismicity is a relatively well-documented phenomenon associated with changing fluid pressures at depth,” the report notes. The JASONs assert that “there is a basis for controlling the induced seismicity and therefore for minimizing this potential hazard attributable to EGS.”

The new JASON report is elegantly written and can be at least partially understood by non-specialist readers who may have forgotten their heat and mass transfer equations. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

Over the past year, the JASONs completed eight classified studies containing sensitive compartmented information (SCI) that have not been disclosed. Several other unclassified reports were also performed and their release is pending.

In 2012, the Central Intelligence Agency refused to release a JASON report entitled “Metamaterials.”

Update: For more background on enhanced geothermal systems, see this story in Scientific American.