UT and Y-12 Team-Up for Nuclear Engineering Class Project

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KNOXVILLE — Here is the scenario: weapons-grade uranium is being secretly stored inside Pasqua Hall, the engineering building on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus by the fictional government of Elbonia, and a terrorist organization is trying to get it and blow it up.

Those are the hypothetical terms of nuclear engineering professor and Governor’s Chair, Dr. Howard Hall’s class project, pitting one half of class against the other.

The blue team’s goal is to protect the uranium. The team members have devised a multi-tiered strategy to secure the dangerous material.

The red team is the bad guys. The team’s goal is to infiltrate the facility and detonate the material. Their tactics include an induced riot, food poisoning and sneaking in through steam tunnels.

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“What the students are learning here today is a real practical exercise in putting together a system, or really it is a system of systems, to keep that material out of the hands of the bad guys,” Dr. Hall said.

The class played out the scenario in the form of a tabletop exercise using a 3-D model of Pasqua Hall to allow for more realistic movement. The model removes a lot of the simulations or “playisms” commonly associated with these types of exercises.

The exercise took place at the Y-12 National Security Complex, a real-life weapons-grade uranium storage and processing facility in Oak Ridge.

“The fact that they can come here, do the exercise, see the highly-enriched uranium nuclear facility, it really brings home the reality and importance of this,” Dr. Hall said.

“It gives an extra sense of realism that you aren’t just sitting in a classroom where you have done everything else for the course,” said Dave Dixon, a first-year nuclear engineering PhD student.

In the exercise, the two teams are separated. In one room, they strategize and debate what to do next. In the other, they make their move.

“We didn’t know what the defenses were and how to infiltrate. It is like chess. We move in anticipation that they are going to react in a certain way,” said nuclear engineering senior Jeremy Townsend.

The approach to the exercise is the same used by Y-12 to train nuclear security personnel all over the world.

Moves are made inside the Pasqua Hall model and dice are rolled to see who gets shot and with which weapon.

This exercise even included a mole — a traitor on the inside of the blue team.

All the while, Hall and nuclear security experts from Y12 watched and analyzed the teams’ responses.

“It’s a great liaison for us,” said Justin Kesterson with Y12′s national security training and analysis programs. “It gives us the opportunity to meet with folks who we will probably be working with in the near future and probably be working for.”

Y-12 personnel not only were involved in the facilitation of the table top exercise, but also in the development of both blue and red team strategies. Periodically throughout the semester, Y-12 Physical Protection Experts from the National Security Analysis and Training Program would meet with class participants and field questions regarding the application of protection strategies learned during the course.

This is the first time Y-12 and UT Knoxville have collaborated in nuclear security education and Dr. Hall is committed to making sure it won’t be the last.

“We are going to continue to partner,” Dr. Hall said. “We are going to continue to find new ways to bring the real world experiences and real world facilities like Y-12 into the academic mission.”

After four hours of attacks and counterattacks, the red team won, obtaining not just the uranium, but most likely, a good grade in the class.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Holmes (865-235-3302, wholmes7@utk.edu)

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