Nuclear power safe, says ISU grad who shared Nobel Prize

July 10 2007

In an era of high-priced oil and gas, nuclear power is becoming more of an option for generating electricity, and that option is safe, says an Indiana State University graduate who shared the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

Russell Clark, a Dugger, Ind., native who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Power Engineering Section, says Americans who remember Three Mile Island and Chernobyl need not fear the nuclear reactor of the 21st century.

“I think safety concerns have been addressed and nuclear power is a viable option for electricity, especially in today’s world where other sources are becoming very expensive,” said Clark, who returned to the Wabash Valley for a mid-summer family gathering.

“Most of you who live in Indiana know that you compete for natural gas to heat your homes. We have the potential for energy consumption to grow in Indiana. It’s not going to go down,” Clark said. “Because oil prices are high, many countries are looking at nuclear power.”

While the United States is home to nearly one in four of the world’s 438 nuclear power reactors, it’s been 17 years since a new nuclear power plant went online in the U.S.

So far this year, new nuclear generating units have been connected to power grids in China and India, according to the IAEA. In addition, China, Russia and South Korea have all started construction on new reactors.

The Nuclear Power Engineering Section supports IAEA Member Countries in many areas of their nuclear power programs and when requested evaluates each of those country’s nuclear power programs to ensure compliance with international requirements and standards.

“We look at the technology and make sure it’s correct and meets all safety standards,” Clark said. “However, issues are not always technical. As with most industries, concerns often involve management skills and we address those, as well.”

A United Nations entity marking its 50th anniversary this year, the IAEA shared the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize with its director-general, Mohamed El Baradei. The Nobel Committee indicated the recipients were chosen “for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way” • a reflection of the work of Clark and his 20-member international staff.

“The Nobel committee came out and said IAEA had done a lot for peace,” said Clark. “It was exciting. I never dreamed something like that would happen.”

While known as the world’s nuclear weapons watchdog, the IAEA does much more, Clark notes, ranging from the power plant inspections his unit does to the agency’s efforts to provide cat scans for hospitals.

The Nobel Peace Prize comes with a monetary award of approximately $1 million. The IAEA staff used its share of the money to create a fund to improve cancer management and childhood nutrition in the developing world. ElBaradei directed his share of the prize to help an orphanage in his native Egypt.

Clark, 58, graduated from Indiana State in 1970 with a degree in life sciences. He taught biology at Union High School in Dugger for one year before accepting a position at an international school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia • a move that led to a series of teaching jobs in several countries. In 1981, he returned to the U.S. and after training, began working at a nuclear power plant in Massachusetts, a career change that eventually led to his position at IAEA in 2000.

Citing the influence of the late William Hopp, professor of zoology, and William Brett, professor emeritus of life sciences, Clark said Indiana State “instills a feeling in people like me that it’s important to give back to society.

“That was the message I took from the life sciences and chemistry department. It was the things I learned about dealing with people that helped me and that has paid off over and over, both in teaching and with the IAEA,” he said. “I was just an average student because I was also working to help pay my way through college. The message was that if you worked hard and were really focused you could make a difference in the world.”

The recent safety record of the world’s nuclear power plants • and recognition by the Nobel Prize Committee - are indeed evidence of the difference Russell Clark has made.

Russell Clark
Clark/El Baradei
Russell Clark (left), an Indiana State University graduate and Dugger, Ind. native who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency's Nuclear Power Engineering Section, shakes hands with Mohammed El Baradei, IAEA secretary-general. The IAEA and El Baradei shared the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their efforts to prevent the military use of nuclear energy and to ensure the safest possible use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743 or

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Story Highlights

In an era of high-priced oil and gas, nuclear power is becoming more of an option for generating electricity, and the option is safe, says an Indiana State University life sciences graduate who shared the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Dugger, Ind. native Russell Clark heads the Nuclear Power Engineering Section of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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