Bethany Lyles Goldblum inside Berkeley Lab's 88-inch Cyclotron

Q+A on nuclear nonproliferation

June 1, 2018
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Spring 2018

Bethany Lyles Goldblum (M.S.’05,Ph.D.’07 NE) is executive director of the Berkeley-based Nuclear Science and Security Consortium. She also leads the university’s Nuclear Policy Working Group and is involved with various aspects of nuclear security research, ranging from online war games to building new technologies to aid in the detection of nuclear threats.

As an engineer, how did you get interested in nuclear security issues?

While I was getting my Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at Berkeley, I got a fellowship to attend a boot camp at UC San Diego called Public Policy and Nuclear Threats. That experience was really powerful. I came out of it wanting to shape nuclear security policy and that has continued to remain a big part of my work. I am now the director of that program.

What is the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium (NSSC)?

The NSSC was founded in 2011 and is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration. The program, which is headquartered at Berkeley, is a multi-institution initiative composed of eight universities and five national labs. The overarching goal of the NSSC is to address nuclear security and nonproliferation challenges while training students for future leadership roles and to break down some of the traditional boundaries between technical and policy disciplines. The proliferation detection landscape is only getting more complicated as more states, like North Korea, are finding pathways toward nuclear weapons. What we’ll need in the future are experts who have backgrounds in a wide range of topics, such as building proliferation-resistant technologies, or who are capable of taking on nuclear forensics investigations to identify where nuclear material is coming from.

Nuclear Innovation Bootcamp

Founded by nuclear engineering professor Rachel Slaybaugh, and now in its third year, the Nuclear Innovation Boot Camp offers an opportunity for current students and professionals to come together for two weeks during the summer to think about the challenges of innovating the nuclear energy sector. Hosted at Berkeley, the boot camp curriculum is developed in collaboration with other university and industry partners. Discussions and projects focus on nuclear innovation startups, and teams develop and pitch ideas at the end of the two-week program.

You also lead the Nuclear Policy Working Group.

I started the Nuclear Policy Working Group as a series of seminar-type gatherings with a few Berkeley students interested in nuclear security. Since then, the group has grown and morphed into a hybrid class, club and research group. We usually do a deep dive on a single research question over the course of a year. Last year we looked at alternative proliferation pathways. This year, we’re exploring the impact of emerging technologies on situational awareness and potential implications for nuclear crisis and stability.

How are you tracking changes in nuclear security threats?

I’ve joined war-gaming exercises at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to explore different nuclear threat scenarios. We also use online gaming platforms to simulate different nuclear weapons deterrence strategies, and to try to understand how those strategies might change if adversaries have access to other kinds of weapons.

What does your fundamental research look like?

In addition to my other work, I’ve also designed a method to measure the light emitted from organic scintillators when exposed to neutrons of a given energy. We built a detector array to measure neutrons produced at Berkeley Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron. The data will help us design and operate future neutron imaging cameras and other nuclear threat detectors.