Students and faculty from Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) visited the Texas A&M University Nuclear Science Center (NSC) and participated in a field detection exercise at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Disaster City facility. It was the second visit to Texas A&M for the group from PVAMU as part of the Nuclear Forensics for Minority Serving Institutions (NF-MSI) program sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO). The visit was organized by the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute (NSSPI). NSSPI faculty member and nuclear engineering visiting professor Dr. Craig Marianno and NSSPI research assistant Dr. Royal Elmore coordinated in the planning of the event.
The NSC tour built upon the April 10th presentation by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Dr. John Kelly from the Office of Nuclear Energy that the students attended. The PVAMU students learned about the NSC radiation detection equipment and safety aspects and visited the 1 MW Testing, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics (TRIGA) nuclear reactor, where they were informed about the experiments carried out by the NSC. From a nuclear forensics perspective, the NSC tour emphasized the steps needed to produce nuclear material and some of the associated signatures.
After the NSC tour, the students went to Disaster City in preparation for a nuclear forensics field exercise led by Marianno. The Disaster City event began with a series of briefings to orient the students to the exercise challenge awaiting them. They were tested on their knowledge from PVAMU professor Dr. Irvin Osborne-Lee’s nuclear forensics class, and the PVAMU students proved adept at explaining radiation detectors they saw during their April 10th visit to the NSSPI Nuclear Security and Emergency Response Laboratory.
Marianno then took the PVAMU students to one of the rubble piles at Disaster City for the field exercise. They used different radiation detectors to locate and characterize a simulated contamination event. A major element of the exercise was teamwork. Just like first responders in the field, the PVAMU students needed to share information to identify and characterize the threat situation. In real life, Marianno’s emphasis on cooperation and working together may mean the difference between successfully protecting the public and unnecessary radiation exposure. Nuclear engineering graduate students Manit Shah and Jose “Paco” Trevino, both of whom work with Marianno, helped in setting up and carrying out the exercise.
Later this month, the PVAMU students will be joining nuclear engineering students from Texas A&M on the 4th Annual Nuclear Facilities Experience. This will be the first time that the Nuclear Facilities Experience will include students from another Texas A&M University System partner. The PVAMU and Texas A&M students will visit nuclear facilities in New Mexico and Texas, including the Urenco uranium enrichment plant, Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Pantex nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility.