Nate Sans ’14 thinks the U.S. Navy should redesign its nuclear submarines. And his opinion earned an impressive audience last month when an essay he wrote was published in the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.” While interning this summer at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Sans won the Bulletin’s monthly contest for young people called “Voices of Tomorrow.”
“I think what they’re trying to do is figure out what people my age are thinking about,” said Sans. ”I can’t tell you how many times I heard at CNS that the perspective of younger people is particularly important to them. They came into the business in the cold war, and the perspective of someone who didn’t grow up during the cold war is valuable to them.”
A political science major with a minor in Russian, Sans argued in his essay that the kind of technology used in American nuclear submarines, which use highly enriched uranium, could offer countries like Iran a “back door” route to building nuclear weapons. He notes that a loophole in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows military nuclear reactors like those on submarines to bypass guidelines that civilian reactors must follow.
“What I was pushing at was, let’s reconsider this: maybe the priority of nonproliferation could supersede the priority of having the best submarines. Maybe we can still have a satisfactory submarine and also do work on this nonproliferation priority.”
Sans, who has a strong interest in national security and international studies, happened on the topic while doing research for CNS. ”They were really good about offering us free rein on what we wanted to work on,” he said. “They had a bunch of projects and we could pick and choose based on what we thought was interesting.”
Sans landed the CNS internship as a result of his semester at the Monterey Institute of International Studies last spring. He happened to ask his Russian politics professor for suggestions about internships the day before the CNS deadline. She suggested he hurry up and apply.
He says the Monterey experience was an ideal complement to his Middlebury studies, in part because of the diversity of his classmates, many of whom had worked in fields he cares about. He also says he left Monterey with a better understanding of how foreign policy happens in the massive U.S. government bureaucracy. “You get a good understanding of who the players are and what they do, which helped me figure out what interested me and narrowed my focus.
Jon Wolfsthal, deputy director of CNS, says an experience like this can really pay off for students. “The summer fellowship provided Nate a chance to shine and to share his passion and expertise with his peers, many from other top schools,” said Wolfsthal. “His writing and participation were terrific and we’d welcome more Middlebury students for the fellowship and course work in the future.”
As far as submarines are concerned, Sans says he’s always been fascinated with them, but he’s not about to become a submariner. He’s more interested in the nonproliferation policy implications and how they’ll play out politically. ”Any sort of contribution I made to the debate was that the administration could do more.”