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uranium bowl

A team of terrorists attacked a nuclear material facility in Knoxville, but were successfully repelled by the facility’s guard force. Then the guards and terrorists switched roles, and did it again.

UT Institute for Nuclear Security Director Howard Hall (right) presents the Uranium Bowl trophy to NCSU Professor Steve Skutnik and the NCSU team.
UT Institute for Nuclear Security Director Howard Hall (right) presents the Uranium Bowl trophy to NCSU Professor Steve Skutnik and the NCSU team.

Luckily, the attack was fiction and response was just an exercise in the inaugural Uranium Bowl – a physical security “play-off” between students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and North Carolina State University.  Sponsored by UT’s Institute for Nuclear Security (INS), the Uranium Bowl is a capstone event in the classes in nuclear security at UT and NCSU.

“We’ve been developing our nuclear security classes at UT for several years,” said INS Director and Governor’s Chair Professor Howard Hall. “This year, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) helped us extend that work to a new class at NCSU.”

The UT student team was from UT’s Nuclear Engineering Department class on Physical Security for Nuclear Facilities taught by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) staff member and UT faculty member Dyrk Greenhalgh. The NCSU team was from professor Steve Skutnick’s nuclear engineering students.

Both teams fought off the attacking forces, and although the terrorists breached the facility perimeter, neither team was able to penetrate the building where the hypothetical weapons-grade material was stored.

“There were several reasons why each opposing force was unable to successfully reach the materials—and it has everything to do with the depth of analysis of the facility security elements, team game strategy, and outright luck,” Greenhalgh said. “The point of the exercise was to determine facility weaknesses and both exploit and harden those for each round.”

Having essentially fought to a tie, the final decision on victory was made by the judging team led by Greenhalgh. NCSU took home the prize.

“The fact that they fought to a draw tells me that they were extremely well-matched and mitigated the vulnerabilities determined to exist in the facility,” Greenhalgh said.

“This has been a great experience for our students,” Skutnick said. “The Uranium Bowl had all of my students really engaged and competing hard.”

“Although UT didn’t bring home the trophy, we’re very pleased to have partnered with NCSU on this,” Hall said.  “The real winner in the Uranium Bowl is everyone who cares about securing and protecting nuclear material from bad guys. All these students will eventually go on to lead ongoing global efforts in nuclear security.”

INS is a collaboration of ORNL, the Y-12 National Security Complex, and Oak Ridge Associated Universities. The institute seeks to develop and provide expertise that will shape national and international policies for nuclear security with a formulation process that involves research, education, training, and field activities. It is housed within UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.