Belfer Center senior fellow wins Finland science award

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Olli Heinonen, who joined the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs as a senior fellow last month, has received the Scientist of the Year Award in his native Finland.

The 7,500-member Finnish Union of Experts in Science made the award at its annual conference on Oct. 7 to recognize Heinonen’s 27 years of work at the International Atomic Energy Agency directing the safeguards program and monitoring nuclear sites in countries across the world. When Heinonen resigned on Sept. 1, he was deputy director of the IAEA.

In his acceptance speech at the event, Heinonen warned that nuclear programs are likely to spread to more countries in coming decades as nuclear power programs grow – even as the IAEA’s safeguards budget is being reduced.

“While this [nuclear expansion] will help to bring greater prosperity to different parts of the world, it also carries with it safety and security risks,” he said.

Heinonen, who studied radiochemistry and completed his Ph.D dissertation in nuclear material analysis at the University of Helsinki, spent his career working to contain nuclear proliferation and tracking proliferation networks. He said scientific expertise will be more critical than ever in the IAEA’s work as nuclear programs expand, and that new verification technologies are essential to deal with a rapidly evolving technical environment.

Today the IAEA inspects about 200 nuclear power reactors in 24 non-nuclear weapons states, Heinonen said, but that number is expected to grow by 75 percent by 2030. There will also be a rise in nuclear fuel cycle facilities globally.

But Heinonen cautioned that the IAEA’s safeguards budget has remained constant — and was even reduced in the past year. “We must do more with less without compromising the necessary safeguards assurances. Smarter and better verification techniques and technologies should be explored,” he said.