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New research aims to improve global safety of small modular reactors

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ALBANY, NY (February 29, 2024) — Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are transforming the nuclear power industry. A fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear reactor, SMRs produce a large amount of low-carbon electricity — up to 300 megawatts, enough to powering around 150,000 homes. This technology has the potential to make nuclear power plants faster, cheaper to build and safer to operate.

With growing global interest, Brandon Behlendorf wants to make sure SMRs don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Behlendorf, assistant professor at the University at Albany College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC), is leading a new research project focused on identifying gaps and challenges in SMR regulation and export controls.

Founded by The Stanton Foundationa private foundation whose goals include nuclear security, this year-long project aims to examine the risks to export controls that SMR technology, still in development, will pose over the coming decades.

“SMRs are poised to become the nuclear technology of the future. Rapid global interest and development of SMRs has raised concerns about potential misuses of this technology,” said Behlendorf, who is part of CEHC’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

“Even though SMRs have unique characteristics that can make them more resistant to proliferation, these risks must still be carefully managed. Ensuring that technology does not fall into the wrong hands is crucial for global security.”

A secure future for nuclear energy

To assess these risks, the project will first conduct an assessment of countries interested in the development and/or acquisition of SMR technologies. With more than 80 designs currently in progress and more than 30 countries already interested in their use, this assessment will help identify where proliferation risks could emerge.

Second, the project will assess the export control systems of these interested countries, determining the extent to which SMRs are addressed in dual-use technology regulations.

These two efforts will be combined in a gap analysis that will identify existing export control vulnerabilities in the regulation of global SMR technology transfer, particularly for countries interested in acquiring the new technology.

“By conducting a comprehensive review of the issues and vulnerabilities associated with the upcoming global trade in SMR technology, we will be able to provide tailored insights and recommendations to governments, international organizations and industry associations,” Behlendorf said.

Advanced Red Teaming

Following the analysis, Behlendorf plans to collaborate with technical experts in export controls and SMR to conduct a red team exercise that further explores the gaps and how adversaries could exploit them.

Launched in 2019, UAlbany’s Advanced Red Teaming Center (CART) is a global leader in developing the art and science of red teaming, a tactic used to understand adversary behavior and test security processes across a wide range of industries. Behlendorf is director of the Center and, along with founding director Gary Ackerman, an associate professor at CEHC, has organized exercises on four continents for government stakeholders and industry leaders.

“Our red team exercise will seek to determine how loopholes in export controls governing SMR technologies could potentially be exploited by adversaries,” Behlendorf said. “The results will provide an important source to inform policy decisions for a number of agencies around the world. »

Working alongside CART research associate Jenna LaTourette, the project will also involve student researchers from across the University.



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