Dr. Justin Conrad, the Gary K. Bertsch Director of the Center for International Trade & Security (CITS) and Associate Professor of International Affairs at SPIA has received a joint appointment to the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), which is the first joint appointment that SRNL has had with the University of Georgia.

These prestigious appointments are offered to scholars and practitioners in an effort to bridge resources and build collaborative opportunities between academic institutions and national laboratories. “Academics at a university receive an appointment to a lab to apply a certain kind of expertise in the lab, while lab employees may be placed in a university setting where they can collaborate with faculty on mutually beneficial projects,” says Dr. Conrad.

SRNL is one of seventeen national laboratories and is a multi-program national laboratory with an annual operating budget of ~$400M and is a leading research and development institution for the Offices of Environmental Management and Legacy Management at the U.S. Department of Energy as well as the Weapons and Nonproliferation programs for the National Nuclear Security Administration. SRNL’s mission areas include Environmental and Legacy Management, National Security and Science and Energy Security.

“This has been a long time coming,” says Dr. Conrad. “It just makes so much sense that an organization like CITS that already works with the national lab system and the DOE on nuclear issues should be partnering with this well-established, national lab that’s right down the road in Aiken, SC.”

There is an abundance of opportunity for UGA to contribute to the lab’s mission and to also assist in the educational focus of the university. Dr. Conrad explains, “This joint appointment formalizes a lot of the work we’ve already been doing, but it is an even greater chance to help the lab grow its national security and environmental management portfolio.” CITS is able to connect the lab to research experts on campus, particularly in SPIA. In addition, workforce development arrangements are being made, providing internship and post-grad opportunities for UGA students. The laboratory benefits from the top talent coming out of UGA while students receive hands-on experiential learning opportunities that provide a baseline of technical knowledge in energy security, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear management.

The relationship with SRNL began in 2020 when UGA was awarded a contract from the Department of Energy, along with four other universities, to manage the lab (UGA Today). “The estimated value of the contract is $3.8 billion over the course of 10 years if all options are exercised” (UGA Today). “Given CITS’ historic focus on nuclear proliferation, nuclear security, and energy security, we contributed to the proposal,” says Conrad, which was a milestone in the UGA-SRNL relationship.

“Out of all the labs, SRNL is the gold standard for engaging with regulators and the public, setting best practices for the entire lab system, especially in nuclear waste and environmental management,” says Conrad. Because of this, SNRL is working to help other laboratories improve collaboration and communication within their individualized ecosystems. Earlier this year, the lab announced their new Regulatory Center of Excellence (RCE), “charged with helping [Emergency Management] and others manage complex issues involving science, government and communications.” (EM Press release) Dr. Conrad advised on the creation of the RCE, which has further strengthened the relationship between SRNL and UGA.

Going forward, Dr. Conrad hopes this appointment will unite resources and tackle tough issues. A top issue is how various energy resources can play a role in our nation’s future energy needs. This is impacted by both international trade and emerging nuclear technology, two areas in which CITS specializes. This also ties in to what CITS and SPIA have been doing to support UGA’s Electric Mobility Initiative, spearheaded by S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “That’s right in our wheelhouse – we are looking at how we can ensure a reliable and sustainable supply of energy as the world seeks to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions,” says Dr. Conrad.

The collaboration required for this historic appointment has been overwhelming and speaks to the power of diverse agencies working together toward common goals. “UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory is located at the site and has a long history of collaboration with SRNL. They were very helpful in making this happen,” says Dr. Conrad. In addition, the Provost’s Office, UGA’s Office of Research, and SPIA’s Dean and Department of International Affairs have supported the appointment every step of the way. Dr. Conrad’s appointment began on July 1st of this year.