Sean Dunlop: Nonproliferation Graduate Fellow, Department of Energy

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Sean Dunlop is committed to public service and the elimination of nuclear weapons.

September 21, 2010 - 12:00am


1) Tell us about yourself.

I studied music in college before volunteering with the Peace Corps in Belize where my wife and I worked with Mayan communities to promote sustainable income-generating projects. And I recently graduated from the Monterey Institute with a Master's degree in nuclear nonproliferation.

2) You just landed a fellowship with the Department of Energy in Washington D.C. What will your role be?

Through the Nonproliferation Graduate Fellows Program, I'll work for the Office of Nonproliferation and International Security within the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

3) What will you work on?

We will take high-level directives from President Obama, for example, and implement strategies to reach these goals - such as how to secure ratification for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. I will spend the summer preparing briefing materials for the Secretary of Energy's delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency's general conference in September.

4) How have your experiences at the Monterey Institute prepared you for this opportunity?

This is one of two Master's programs in the world that gives you the opportunity to specialize in the nonproliferation field. The academic program, my two internships, and my graduate assistant position at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies prepared me in a short time to become a professional in the field.

One additional factor that drew me to Monterey Institute was the critical languages program. I took three semesters and two summer sessions of Arabic to polish my language skills.

5) You had the opportunity to intern for an international organization in Vienna. Tell us about that experience.

I interned for a semester at the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization. The organization started gathering signatures in 1996, but one of the major obstacles to its implementation is that the U.S. Congress voted down ratification in 1999. I helped with the organization's communications: newsletters, web content, press releases, and press conferences. They also had me write background memos for senior staff on various topics. Or if they were taking a trip to Washington D.C. or New York, I researched think tanks, academic institutions, and NGOs to partner with.

6) What is your focus within the nonproliferation field?

Within the specialization, there are also focus areas such as international organizations and applications of strategic trade controls (or export controls). Thanks to a class on the "Nuclear Renaissance," I had the opportunity to conduct in-depth research on safeguard issues.

7) For those of us who haven't yet become non-proliferation experts, why are safeguards important?

Safeguards entail allowing a third party to verify that material and equipment isn't being misused or diverted at civilian nuclear sites. That involves inspections and systems of accountability. We need more and more of that in the future.

8) As a student, what helped you find internship and professional development opportunities?

One class in particular - the "Nuclear Renaissance" class - helped me get a summer internship sponsored by the Department of Energy that dealt with safeguard issues at Lawrence Livermore National Lab near San Francisco.

Our coursework focused on the resurgence of interest in Asia right now to build nuclear reactors for power: Will that have implications for nonproliferation? We looked at nuclear technologies: reactor types, approaches to the uranium fuel cycle, and whether or not these processes could lead to nuclear weapons.

9) What were the most valuable experiences of this internship?

I wrote two research papers most of the summer while working nine to five. Since the program was set up as a mentorship, as I had questions, I had access to experts in the field. I wrote one paper about India's nuclear program, for example, and I met with the U.S. expert on the topic. We also participated in a simulation in partnership with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and I was selected to help guide the simulation about Iran's nuclear program.

10) Where do you see yourself next?

I'm hoping that this fellowship with the Department of Energy is a springboard for a career in public service. I would like to work for the government for about 10 years, learn more about the big picture, and then try for a position in an international organization. With the goal of someday living in a nuclear weapons free world...