Second Online Conference

Virtual Science Challenge for Youth

2nd Online Conference

CNS’s innovative conference offers lessons to US and Russian high school students tackling nuclear spent fuel management from experts world-wide.

High school students, teachers, and nuclear scientists participating in the US-Russia Virtual Science Challenge for Youth enjoyed its first interactive online conference on March 7, 2013. Participants from more than ten different time zones, representing both the United States and Russia, attend the conference online.

*****Dear Students, 

you can watch the recording of the conference here ***** 

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The US-Russia Virtual Science Challenge for Youth held its second interactive online conference on March 7, 2013, with the participation of world-renowned nuclear experts. High school students and teachers participating in the project interacted with experts from Tokyo, Geneva, and California. Project participants from the United States and Russia logged on from more than ten different time zones, with online communication technology making it possible to bring these participants together virtually.

Since the project launched earlier last year, the students study basic nuclear science, nuclear energy under the guidance of teachers and mentors using the online education modules created by CNS. With this background knowledge, students are now ready to investigate nuclear spent fuel management and try to find a solution to one of the most pressing issues in the world.


The conference, titled “A Global Overview of the Nuclear Spent Fuel Problem,” included three lectures following the overview of nuclear spent fuel issues by Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, CNS Scientist-in-Residence, and the subject matter expert of the project.

In his statement, Dr. Dalnoki-Veress emphasized the fundamental issues of nuclear spent fuel problems, namely, that spent fuel stays hazardous for tens of thousands of years, not decades. Since no one wants to have the nuclear waste “in their backyard,” he highlighted the importance of engaging the public in a discussion to find a solution to the spent fuel management problem.

Three country experts discussed spent fuel management challenges in Russia, Japan, and the United States:

  • Russia’s Nuclear Spent Fuel Management Challenges
    by Dr. Pavel Podvig, International Panel of Fissile Material

    Dr. Podvig illustrated Russia’s spent fuel challenges, including spent fuel storage locations, importing foreign spent fuel, and reprocessing. He also detailed different types of nuclear reactors in light of spent fuel annual discharges and stocks. He pointed out that the closed fuel cycle policy will be completed by 2030, but currently there is no active program or site to build a geological repository for either spent fuel or high-level waste.

  • Japan’s Nuclear Spent Fuel Management Challenges
    by Dr. Tatsujiro Suzuki, Vice Chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission

    Dr. Suzuki first highlighted the impact of the Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant accident on Japan’s nuclear energy policy, and how this is going to affect spent fuel management policy. Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle policy is very complex, both socio-politically and economically, so this issue needs to be resolved carefully. In this sense, he endorsed the idea to shift the policy to a more flexible fuel cycle policy through the introduction of direct disposal and expansion of spent fuel storage capacity. Especially given the public distrust in nuclear policy after the Fukushima accident, it is important to exercise transparency in order to restore public trust both domestically and internationally. In terms of management of the plutonium stockpile, he emphasized that it is essential not to possess excess plutonium.

  • US Nuclear Spent Fuel Management Challenges
    by Mr. Thomas Isaacs, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lead Advisor to Blue Ribbon commission on America’s Nuclear Future

    Mr. Isaacs provided an overview of the current world nuclear energy usage and spent fuel challenges, highlighting that there is no operating spent fuel repository in the world. He emphasized that it is essential to prompt efforts to develop a geologic disposal. Based on his experience as a lead advisor to the US Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future formed at the request of President Obama, he discussed main recommendations of the commission, including the need for a new consent-based approach to siting, and active US leadership in international efforts.

Students’ Work for the Final Project

The Virtual Science Challenge project’s main components include online education modules, interactive online conferences, and student assignments.
40 students from the US and Russia, grouped into five teams, worked collaboratively to complete their first mini-project investigating basic nuclear physics and nuclear energy. Students’ creative and innovative first mini-projects utilizing multi-media can be viewed on this page of the project website.

For example, Team 4 (La Puente High School from California and Lyceum #39 in Ozersk, Russia) created a comic about preventing the meltdown of a nuclear reactor core. Presenting such complicated issues using a comic required tremendous effort, but the students enjoyed working collaboratively with guidance from mentors and teachers.

At the end of the program, all teams will come together and present their findings and proposed solutions at the Virtual Science Fair.

The US-Russia Virtual Science Challenge for Youth is funded by the US Department of State. The goals of the program are to develop a science education community of US and Russian teachers and high school students; to help develop and enhance students’ scientific knowledge, critical thinking and scientific reasoning abilities, and presentation skills; to promote cross-cultural cooperation in the sciences among students and teachers in the United States and Russia; and to guide students in a scientific investigation of real-world solutions for the safe and secure storage and management of nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel.

Flyer on 2nd Online Conference copy