Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Empowering Global Citizen-Scientists to Monitor Radiological Proliferation for Transparency

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Population risk information from nuclear contamination and weapons development often is a closed and secretive system that disenfranchises and endangers citizens who are its most vulnerable stakeholders while also depriving global governments from obtaining critically relevant and real time information on nuclear safety and proliferation. Secrecy and inertia impede the timely ability of our global society to examine and respond to the risks of nuclear technology, promote environmental justice, and mitigate global conflicts. We propose to create a model for training and equipping a global network of citizen scientists who will help produce a permanent and secure web-based nuclear information system that will be freely available to the public. The goal is to empower citizens to better protect their communities from radiological releases from the nuclear fuel cycle and fossil fuel extraction and to prevent the development and limit the advancement of nuclear weapons programs.

Problem Statement

Radioactive releases from Chernobyl, Fukushima, industrial and health-care releases, uranium mining, and fossil fuel burning release large quantities of radioactive material into the local environment that can expose local populations to high quantities of radioactivity which could cause damaging health effects to that population. Presently, the dissemination of nuclear releases and risk is a closed system which limits the timely dissemination of radiation contamination in an indigenous community. This is because there are very few independent laboratories capable of detecting and analyzing environmental radioactive risks which, coupled with the fact that these laboratories must first obtain funding (typically governmental funding) to begin environmental sampling programs. This results in greater program expense, bureaucracy, and time; for example, it took months for environmental samples to be taken and analyzed after the Fukushima meltdown. Nuclear weapons proliferation also threatens the safety of the globe and endangers civilians because nuclear weapons development almost always results in regional contamination and resource misallocation. Finally, fossil fuels must also be considered because they concentrate and release substantial radiation contamination into the environment. This is important since electrical power is synonymous with quality of life. As such, a single 1,000 MW coal power plant releases as much as 5.2 metric tons of uranium into the atmosphere [7]. Yet the impact of these releases often are unknown to local populations.

Solution Overview

We seek to create an open and distributed digital-based nuclear information and monitoring system by using a global network of citizen-scientists who will obtain soil and air samples that will be analyzed at WPI or at a program satellite laboratory for radioactive content and form; once analyzed, the data and its GPS location will be added to our globally accessible website to inform citizens and governments of radiological hazards. The website will use secure block-chain encryption allowing open and safe participation while protecting the security of information transactions and the volunteers who generate nuclear data. WPI and global partners would host advanced analytical capabilities and create, train, equip, and support a network of locally based citizen-scientists. This transparency and security of distributed nuclear data produced by local and regional stakeholders will:1. Allow citizens to make informed energy policy decisions on the environmental impact of energy sources,2. protect environmental and public health by providing immediate data on radioactive contamination or events, and3. use existing local resources to provide open and accurate data on nuclear weapons proliferation activities, making it more difficult for new countries to construct nuclear arms.The real product of this project is the people, indigeneous to their own communities, who are trained and empowered with accurate radiation information and data. The success of the project will be measured by how well a vibrant, open, diverse, and connected community can be established and trained; and by their ability to become empowered in nuclear policy-making.

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