MacArthur Backs a Push at Stanford to Train Next Gen Nuclear Security Experts

Over the years, the MacArthur Foundation’s Nuclear Security program has been pretty agile in terms of addressing the nuclear weapons concerns of today’s world. Although the program does pay attention to non-proliferation efforts, it’s increasingly concerned with keeping fissile materials like enriched uranium and plutonium out of the hands of terrorists.  

One challenge to addressing nuclear security threats is finding experts to work on this issue, since the number of academics in nuclear and radiochemistry has been declining since the 1970s. In turn, that's meant fewer people (in the U.S., at least) training in the field of nuclear security. 

MacArthur is worried about this problemworried enough that it recently gave a $2.37 million grant to Stanford University to help nurture the next generation of nuclear security experts. 

The four-year, $2.37 million grant will go to Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) to help support four to six fellows per year and a senior mentor, who will conduct scholarly, policy-relevant research on international security issues at (CISAC). 

Within its Nuclear Security Program, the MacArthur Foundation funds two different kinds of proposals: policy research and advanced education. The foundation's ties to academia run deep, and you can understand why: Top research universities have historically supplied many of the researchers and policy experts grappling with nuclear challenges. 

MacArthur’s $2.37 million grant for nuclear security studies at Stanford is the latest in the foundation’s longstanding commitment to the school. Between 2002 and 2015, MacArthur has awarded Stanford nearly $7 million in grants related to international security. In the beginning, grants to Stanford were earmarked for security related work in nuclear hotspots like China and North Korea. In 2012, MacArthur began funneling money into Stanford’s CISAC with a $175,000 grant in support of its Peace and Cooperation in the Asian-Pacific Region program. At the time, MacArthur ran an Asia Security Initiative. However, grantmaking for this initiative officially ended in 2014.

The current nuclear landscape looks a lot different than it did 30 years ago, when MacArthur was an early leader in addressing the nuclear threat. Visions of a nuclear war between the superpowers have given way to other chilling scenarios involving stolen nukes or fissile material or a nuclear holocaust in South Asia. Indeed, to some experts, these threats are far more real than an ICBM volley ever was. 

The Bulletin for Atomic Scientists seems to agree, having recently moved its fabled Doomsday Clock forward by a full two minutes. The big hand on the clock now sits at three minutes to midnight.

Yet as scary as a the situation remains, you can count the number of major funders awarding big grants to nuclear security on one hand. In that sense, MacArthur may be playing an even greater leadership role in this area than it did in the past.

Editor’s Note: The MacArthur Foundation is currently winding down several of its grantmaking programs. Although the foundation has not officially announced a plan to close its Peace and International Security program, it is “exploring the elements and feasibility of a big bet based on a new approach to reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons. We also think that a big bet could be a place, rather than an issue.” MacArthur is currently exploring Nigeria as a region of focus for its future nuclear security related grantmaking. We’ll keep you posted as new information comes in.