2003 International Affairs Recipient: Riaz Awan

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Riaz Awan has devoted his career to the swift, safe and secure permanent closure of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. He is helping coordinate the construction of a new concrete shelter over the destroyed reactor, and advises Ukrainian authorities to ensure that terrorists and rogue states cannot access nuclear materials. Chernobyl is the world’s most well-known nuclear power plant—and not for good reasons. In 1986, an explosion and fire in one of its reactors caused the release of radioactivity into the atmosphere, killing 30 people initially, terrifying local communities and other European nations, contaminating agricultural land and disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents. The Chernobyl accident was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated by inadequately trained personnel and without proper regard for safety. Yet it took until 2000, a decade after the Soviet Union had collapsed and Ukraine had become an independent nation, for the nuclear reactor to shut its doors permanently. U.S. Department of Energy attaché Riaz Awan spent several years at the Chernobyl site contributing to the swift, safe and secure permanent closure of the plant. He also took an active role in coordinating multi-national projects related to the mitigation of social and economic impacts on the city of Slavutych—where Chernobyl workers and their families live. Awan is playing a significant role in Ukraine coordinating the successful construction of a new shelter over the destroyed Chernobyl reactor. The $768 million concrete sarcophagus is one of the largest and most technically complex engineering projects underway anywhere in the world, and has one ultimate goal: to eliminate the possibility of another disaster at Chernobyl. The project’s technical intricacies are nearly matched by its political complexities. Funding is made available by approximately 26 donors; the project is managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and a team of experts from Ukraine, France and the United States; and a Ukrainian task force and G-7 working group monitor its progress. Awan is at the center of it all, flagging issues, troubleshooting problems and recommending corrective actions. Awan has another immense responsibility: to coordinate, set the groundwork for and implement the Department of Energy’s non-proliferation and national security programs in Ukraine. A large part of that relates to keeping nuclear and radioactive materials from getting into the hands of terrorists or rogue states. Ukraine has many radiological sources, which could be used to construct a “dirty bomb.” If terrorists had access to those materials, the results could be catastrophic. To keep that from happening, Awan worked with Ukrainian authorities to initiate, negotiate and implement the much-needed physical protection assistance from the Department of Energy. He continues to advise Ukrainian authorities on implementing additional and more stringent security standards. The Chernobyl disaster was chilling proof of the dangers of unsafe operation of a nuclear reactor. Riaz Awan is working tirelessly thousands of miles from home to ensure that the site of history’s worst nuclear accident is made safe for future generations, that such an accident does not occur again and that terrorists never possess the awesome power to spread catastrophe with nuclear materials.