Alex Bednarek joined the Nuclear Threat Initiative in September 2016 ,and currently serves as a program officer with the International Fuel Cycle Strategies team, where he focuses on issues relating to verifiable warhead dismantlement, safe and secure management of commercial spent nuclear fuel, and applications of international safeguards. His prior experience includes work with the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Subcommittee for Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade under the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. Bednarek holds a master's degree in Security Policy Studies from The George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, where he focused on transnational security and non-state actors. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
What is your area of expertise?
Are you interested in mentoring high school or college students, or both?
How did you become interested in this area?
An ideal world, in my eyes, is one in which clean nuclear energy continues to grow and benefit society, while the associated security, safety, and nonproliferation risks are successfully mitigated. This is a tough world to envision, but the challenge of building projects and partnerships that help make this ideal world possible is what drew me into this topic area. That means ensuring that global safety/security/safeguards best practices are incorporated at every step of the nuclear fuel cycle, while also working to build trust between governments and affected local communities, which is oftentimes the greatest challenge, even here in the United States.
What was your career path to get here?
I have had a pretty unusual career path so far. With a very unrelated undergraduate degree (classical music performance) that I had no intention of continuing with, I set my sights on graduate school in international affairs/security policy. After moving to DC to pursue my Master's degree at George Washington University's Elliott School for International Affairs, I ended up on the Hill (as many young DC professionals do...) interning with a subcommittee that dealt with nuclear nonproliferation and counter-terrorism issues. This sparked my deep interest in nuclear policy issues, and drove me to an internship with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
I spent a year and a half working on issues related to the security of non-nuclear highly-radioactive materials (such as radioisotopes used in medical and industrial applications), both domestically and internationally. I then took a three-month leave of absence to do a fellowship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Center for Global Security Research, where I studied US-Russia cooperative threat reduction programs, before returning to NTI in July 2018 in a full-time capacity with the International Fuel Cycle Strategies team. I have been with NTI ever since.
Why should the public care?
The problems associated with a safe, secure, and safeguarded nuclear fuel cycle already pervade many peoples' lives. Challenges with management and disposition of spent nuclear fuel lead to safety and security questions that can cause deep divisions between many local populations and their governments, while challenges with applications of the nuclear safeguards that prevent countries from diverting peaceful use nuclear materials to weapons programs are often a central talking point on the news (JCPOA/Iran and North Korea, for example).
What is a current issue or trend that concerns you?
One current issue that deeply concerns me is the lack of a disposal pathway for civilian spent nuclear fuel and most other radioactive wastes, especially in the United States. For several reasons (current and historical), many local communities in the US have a deep distrust of the federal government when it comes to nuclear energy and nuclear waste management, which oftentimes leads to intense policy clashes and seemingly unbreakable walls of built-up frustration. While temporary interim storage solutions are on the horizon, final disposal seems to be a world away, and the challenge of helping to bridge this massive trust gap between local stakeholders and the federal government is one that consistently keeps me up at night. Until that happens, spent fuel storage and disposal challenges will only continue to grow.
Would you be willing to speak to a classroom about your work?Yes
What themes or topics would you be interested in lecturing or discussing with a class?
Nuclear energy, the nuclear fuel cycle, and disarmament verification.