Newswise – ALBANY, NY (February 29, 2024) – Small modular reactors (SMRs) are transforming the nuclear energy industry. SMRs are a fraction of the size of a traditional nuclear reactor and generate a large amount of low-carbon electricity – up to 300 megawatts, enough to supplies around 150,000 households with electricity. The technology has the potential to make nuclear power plants faster, cheaper to build and safer to operate.

With interest growing rapidly around the world, Brandon Behlendorf wants to ensure that SMRs don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Behlendorf, an assistant professor at the University at Albany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC) is leading a new research project focused on identifying gaps and challenges in SMR regulation and export controls.

Sponsored by The Stanton FoundationThe year-long project, a private foundation whose goals include nuclear safety, is designed to examine the export control risks that still-developing SMR technology will pose over the next few decades.

“SMRs are well on their way to being the nuclear technology of the future. The rapid global interest and development of SMRs has raised concerns about potential misuse of this technology,” said Behlendorf, who is part of CEHC’s Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

“Although SMRs have unique properties that may make them more resistant to proliferation, these risks still need to be carefully managed. Ensuring the technology does not fall into the wrong hands is critical to global security.”

A secure future for nuclear energy

To assess these risks, the project will first conduct an assessment of countries interested in developing and/or acquiring SMR technologies. With over 80 designs currently underway and more than 30 countries already interested in deploying them, this assessment will help identify where proliferation risks might arise.

Second, the project will assess the export control systems of these interested countries and record the extent to which SMRs are discussed in the regulations on dual-use technologies.

These two efforts are combined in a gap analysis that identifies existing export control weaknesses in regulating the global transfer of SMR technology, particularly for countries interested in acquiring the new technology.

“By conducting a comprehensive review of the issues and vulnerabilities associated with the upcoming global trade in SMR technology, we can provide tailored insights and recommendations to governments, international organizations and industry associations,” said Behlendorf.

Advanced Red Teaming

Following the analysis, Behlendorf plans to work with export control and SMR technical experts to conduct a red-teaming exercise that will further examine loopholes and how adversaries might exploit them.

UAlbany’s was founded in 2019 Center for Advanced Red Teaming (CART) is a global leader in developing the art and science of red teaming, a tactic used to understand adversarial behavior and test security processes across a variety of industries. Behlendorf serves as the center’s director and, along with founding director Gary Ackerman, associate professor at CEHC, has conducted exercises on four continents for government officials and industry leaders.

“The goal of our red teaming exercise is to find out how gaps in export controls regulating SMR technologies could potentially be exploited by adversaries,” said Behlendorf. “The results will serve as an important source of policy decisions for a range of authorities around the world.”

Working with CART research associate Jenna LaTourette, the project will also involve student researchers from across the university.

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