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Following the June 18 meeting between President Obama and President Putin of Russia at the G-20 Summit in Mexico, the State Department issued a news release touting examples of U.S.-Russian cooperation, including a youth science program developed and implemented by the Monterey Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). The fact sheets accompanying the joint statement by Presidents Obama and Putin cite the U.S.-Russia Virtual Science Challenge for Youth as an example of U.S.-Russian Cooperation on People to People Contacts.

The program brings U.S. and Russian high school students together to meet online to investigate solutions for managing the world's 240,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel. If not managed properly, spent fuel could cause a widespread release of radiation or be used in the development of nuclear explosives. Designed to enhance cross-cultural understanding between U.S. and Russian high school students and collaborative research on major proliferation problems, the project uses a dedicated and secure online learning website to connect 20 U.S. and Russian students representing five high schools in each country.

The students utilize online workshops, e-learning modules, and virtual classrooms to become familiar with unclassified information about the science and technology of nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, the nuclear fuel cycle, and the risks posed by the key weapons materials of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. Then, students focus on options for handling spent nuclear fuel, especially plutonium. The study requires scientific prowess, critical thinking, cross-cultural understanding, and cooperation. At the final stage, all teams will come together and present their findings and proposed solutions in the Virtual Science Fair.

The U.S.-Russia Virtual Science Challenge for Youth is funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Last fall the department chose CNS as the sole U.S. organization in the nation to conduct the project.

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Jason Warburg

Eva Gudbergsdottir