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R. Scott Kemp

R. Scott Kemp

Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering



  • Ph.D., Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, 2010.
  • B.A., Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara, 2000.


Kemp's research combines physics, engineering, and the history of science to draw more clearly the limits and policy options for achieving international security under technical constraints. His primary interest lie with policy issues relating to uranium enrichment. He has also worked on space arms control, cyber security, and methods for detecting covert nuclear-weapon programs.

Proliferation Dynamics of Uranium Enrichment
Most policies designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons were developed in a time when nuclear reactors dominated the proliferation landscape. Today that has changed. Five of the six most recent nuclear-weapon aspirants chose uranium enrichment as the means of producing fissile materials for weapons. Enrichment technologies play by different rules, and challenge the international security framework in new and difficult ways. Science-based characterization of enrichment systems helps to provide strong boundary conditions under which one can evolve policy approaches that better fit today’s nuclear-security realities.

Detection of Undeclared Nuclear Activities
Verification of peaceful activities is a fundamental tenet of today’s nuclear-security regime. It is widely viewed as an essential element of any arms-control agreement, and one of the principal benefits of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The ability to verify the absence of undeclared activity, however, is increasingly difficult as nuclear technologies become smaller, cleaner, and more efficient. Unless the current verification gap is bridged, new international agreements in nonproliferation and arms control cannot be effectively negotiated under old conceptions of verification. Either new ways of detecting clandestine nuclear facilities must be developed, or a new understanding of the value of limited verification needs to be articulated. By using a science-based approach, we seek to identify areas rich for development as well as understand better the hard limits to verification.

The Social Construction of Nuclear Power and Security
Both nuclear power and the problem of nuclear proliferation are inseparable from the social systems in which they exist. Science-based approaches can identify hard limits on policy options, but are insensitive to social constraints. By studying the history of the proliferation-nonproliferation interplay, perceptions of nuclear weapons, and the societal challenges facing nuclear power, we aim to understand what kinds of technology policies and engineering research activities will be most in harmony with social requirements, now and in the future.

Selected Publications

  1. SILEX and proliferation, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 30 July 2012.
  2. The End of Manhattan: How the Gas Centrifuge Changed the Quest for Nuclear Weapons, Technology and Culture, Vol 53, No 2. (April 2012).
  3. Gas Centrifuge Theory and Development: A Review of U.S. Programs, Science and Global Security, Vol 17, No 1. (2009).
  4. A performance estimate for the detection of undeclared nuclear-fuel reprocessing by atmospheric 85Kr, Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Vol 99, No 8. (Aug. 2008).

  5. Cyber
  6. Cyber Weapons: Bold steps in a digital darkness?, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 7 June 2012.
  7. Worm Holes — Virus Attacks Iran's Enrichment Operations, Jane's Intelligence Review, 15 Sept. 2011.

  8. Space
  9. Space Weapons: Crossing the U.S. Rubicon, International Security, Vol 29, No 2. (Fall 2004).

  10. more publications


22.04 Social Problems of Nuclear Energy

Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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