Posts tagged ‘Andrew Bieniawski’
You might remember Andrew Bieniawski ’89 from our feature in our Jan/Feb 2009 issue, and from previous mentions on this very blog. If not: He’s the guy from the National Nuclear Security Administration who leads special-ops teams into far-away places (mostly the old Eastern bloc nations) to secure loose nuclear material. He was back in the news this week, when England’s Telegraph newspaper and NPR both featured the latest mission by Bieniawski and his team: trucking a load of bomb-grade uranium—enough to build eight nuclear devices—from Poland to Russia, where it will be reprocessed and made safe. The Telegraph reports that this is the project’s biggest shipment yet.
Like comic book superheroes, Bieniawski and his team can go home when it’s over knowing they really did make the world a safer place. I imagine that must feel pretty cool.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
One of my favorite Penn Stater articles of the past few years is “The Hungary Job,” which Jason Fagone ’01 did for our Jan-Feb 2009 issue. It was a very ambitious story for us: We sent Jason to Hungary to embed with a group of U.S. officials on a cloak-and-dagger mission to remove highly enriched uranium from a reactor and ship it to Russia for safekeeping.
The point man for the operation was a Penn Stater: Andrew Bieniawski ’89 Eng, assistant deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration. For the past 14 years, the NNSA has been conducting secret missions like that all over the world, in an attempt to secure loose nukes and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.
Why am I telling you all of this now? Because Bieniawski and his program are back in the news, in a big way.
They’re in the news for two reasons, actually. One is the nuclear summit in Washington, D.C., this week. Dealing with the worldwide nuclear threat, it seems, requires a two-pronged approach. One part is preventing proliferation—that is, trying to keep countries that don’t have nuclear-weapons capability from getting that capability. The other part is retrieving and securing the highly enriched uranium, or HEU, that’s already out there, so that terrorists can’t get at it.
President Obama has said that the latter effort is the United States’ No. 1 national-security priority. And our man Bieniawski is at the center of that. Quoting an article in this week’s Time magazine:
It is Bieniawski’s job to convince countries to give up their HEU and send it to either the U.S. or Russia. So far, the NNSA has removed a total of 5,935 lbs. (2,692 kg) of fissile material from 37 countries and has its sights on 4,190 lbs. (1,900 kg) more. To meet that goal, Obama has asked for the program’s budget to be increased by 67% percent to $560 million next year.
The other reason that Bieniawski’s work is in the news is that the Time article reveals that his most recent nuclear-removal mission took place in Chile—during the Feb. 27 earthquake. According to the article, Bieniawski’s team had just finished packing up the highly enriched uranium, or HEU, into a shipping container the night before.
So just imagine how much an earthquake could screw up a delicate operation like that: How to transport the container across earthquake-damaged roads, to a port that had been devastated by the quake, while still dealing with aftershocks? They got it done, and the tale of how they did it is well worth the read.
You might also check out Time‘s slide show of images from the Chile operation. The photos remind me a lot of the shots Jason Fagone brought back from the Hungary job. (Bieniawski is the guy in the yellow jacket in the photo above, which was taken by his agency during the Chile operation). And the Washington Post had a story about the Chile adventure on Sunday.
By the way, the Hungary operation in which Jason was embedded ran into some roadblocks and tense moments of its own; you can read our story by downloading a PDF of it here. But nothing like an earthquake.
Tina Hay, editor
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I mentioned the other day that we hadn’t won anything in the overall magazine category in this year’s CASE awards, but that we did win two gold medals in the category called “Best Articles of the Year.” I thought you might want to see the two articles that won.
One of the gold awards was for “The Family Tree” (Nov-Dec 2008), a story by Vicki Glembocki ’93, ’02g, about the film No. 4 Street of Our Lady, which chronicles the heroic efforts of a Polish woman to shelter several Jewish families from the Nazis during the Holocaust. The film is the work of three Penn State faculty members—one of whom is the daughter of one of the Jews who was saved.
As for the other gold award, well, a year or so we learned of a Penn State grad, Andrew Bieniawski ’89, who leads a U.S. government effort to track down and remove nuclear materials that are still scattered throughout eastern Europe, remnants of the Cold War. The effort often involves delicate negotiations with other countries, and lots of secretive work under cover of darkness. We sent Jason Fagone ’01 over to Hungary to follow one such cloak-and-dagger mission, and the resulting article, “The Hungary Job” (Jan-Feb 2009) is one of the most engrossing reads we’ve printed in a long time. It won the other gold medal.
And, if you don’t already get the print version of The Penn Stater magazine, you can have it sent to your mailbox six times a year simply by joining the Penn State Alumni Association. Click here to sign up.
Tina Hay, editor
I’m told that our Jan-Feb issue has “dropped,” as the printer puts it, meaning that all 127,000 copies or so are in the mail to Alumni Association members as we speak. (We actually have more than 160,000 members, but with some members married to other members, we only mail about 127,000 magazines.)
Our printer is in Strasburg, Va., so the first people to get their copies are typically the readers in northern Virginia, Maryland, and south-central Pennsylvania. We can kinda “watch” the magazine make its way across the country as we start getting e-mails and letters to the editor from Texas and Colorado and California—and typically that’s a week or so after the folks on the East Coast get their copies.
The new issue has four feature stories, some of which we’ve already mentioned:
—Senior editor Ryan Jones’ account of his week spent at Paternoville (the cover story);
—A profile on Doug Moorhead ’56, owner of Presque Isle Wine Cellars in Erie;
—A collection of readers’ tales of how they and their college buddies have kept in touch and held informal reunions over the years; and
—A story on the work of Andrew Bieniawski ’89 and others in helping remove Soviet-era nuclear materials from eastern Europe. As mentioned earlier, we actually sent a writer to Hungary to accompany Bieniawski and his crew. The title of the story is “The Hungary Job” and its subtitle gives you a good idea of what the story is like: “A road trip across the Eastern Bloc with dozens of mustachioed Hungarians, a few jolly Czechs, two Slovenians, four Russians, three gung-ho dudes from the U.S. Department of Energy, one Penn Stater, and enough highly enriched uranium to destroy a city.”
Look for the new issue to arrive soon.
Tina Hay, editor
There’s a quote attributed to Douglas Adams that goes like this: “I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by.”
So, the January-February issue was supposed to go to the printer on Monday. As per normal, it didn’t. Actually, in our defense, we did get most of it out, and a few more pages yesterday, and we just have one more feature and the cover to get out the door today. Or tomorrow. (No! Please, let us get this thing out of our hair today.) Luckily we have a very forgiving and flexible printer, and the magazine always manages to get mailed to readers on time.
I thought I’d share the opening spread of just one of our four features for January-February. Back in October, in the week leading up to the Michigan game, Senior Editor Ryan Jones spent a lot of time up at Paternoville—he even camped out with the students outside the stadium one night. (The students were in tents, but Ryan, being tough, just slept in a sleeping bag under the stars.) He wrote a first-person account of the experience, called “Our Town.” It’s a lot of fun. Click on the photo to see a larger-size version of the opening spread.
Other features in this issue include a profile of Doug Moorhead ’56, who runs Presque Isle Wine Cellars in Erie, and a roundup of reader-submitted stories about how they and their Penn State buddies have kept in touch over the years. And perhaps the centerpiece of the Jan-Feb feature well (that’s what we call it in the biz: the “feature well”) is a story by Jason Fagone in which he went to eastern Europe to watch as U.S. Energy Department employees, led by Andrew Bieniawski ’89, removed some nuclear fuel from a Soviet Union-era reactor in Hungary and sent it on its way to Russia for reprocessing. It’s part of a global effort to keep nuclear fuel out of the hands of terrorists. Quite possibly the coolest assignment on which we’ve ever sent a writer.
Look for the Jan-Feb issue to be in your mailboxes by about Dec. 31 or early January, depending on where you live.
Tina Hay, editor