Nobel Peace Prize winner, Auburn alumnus to receive honorary doctorate at spring commencement

Published: May 04, 2015
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Nobel Peace Prize winner and Auburn University alumnus John Oakberg will receive an honorary doctorate at Auburn's 2015 spring commencement at 10 a.m. May 9. Oakberg, a '69 graduate in mathematics, was part of a team of scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, in Vienna to receive the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize 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 way possible.

"The most significant highlight during my career was in sharing, along with all other IAEA staff members, receipt of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize," said Oakberg.

When looking back at his career, he recalls his time as a student at Auburn and notes that in addition to a degree in mathematics, he received minors in Spanish and geography.

"At the time (of graduation), I was not sure what I would do with the degree, and initially thought of teaching, weather forecasting or going to graduate school. The prospect of an information technology career was not even a consideration at that time," said Oakberg. "Following graduation in 1969, my entry job as a computer programmer began in July of that year for Union Carbide Corporation's Nuclear Division, which was the contractor operating the three nuclear facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Certainly, my mathematics degree was necessary to be considered for employment, but I was told that the key, critical factor for being hired was a single elective course in Fortran programming that I took during my senior year at Auburn."

Oakberg worked for 12 years at Union Carbide Corporation, and in 1976, he received a master of science in computer science from the University of Tennessee before accepting a position at IAEA as a systems expert developing nuclear material accounting software. He stayed at IAEA for one year. He then worked from 1978-1982 in software development and had special safeguards project responsibilities at the U.S. national safeguards level. He was responsible for the management and supervision of professional and clerical staff in the implementation of a near-real-time nuclear material information system at a large-scale processing facility, as well as the development of information systems for U.S. nuclear material accounting and control.

In 1982 he began working for the IAEA, where he retired in 2007 as a senior information analyst in the Division of Safeguards Information Management. His primary responsibilities were in the areas of correlating and analyzing state-supplied information related to information analysis in strengthened international safeguards, and in providing expertise on nuclear material accounting and reporting with respect to the relevant provisions of safeguards agreements.

"My experience in the nuclear field is in the area of information analysis and management related to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT. This includes IAEA nuclear safeguards, state systems of accounting for and control of nuclear material, nuclear material accountancy at all levels of the nuclear fuel cycle, additional protocol declarations on state nuclear activities, and information systems in support of state and facility nuclear operations," said Oakberg. "This includes a variety of other types of information, including reports under voluntary reporting arrangements and the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials."

Oakberg was also responsible for the operation of nuclear material accounting as implemented in the IAEA safeguards information system, along with state-declared additional protocol information. This included reviewing information systems and their data content in order to detect and determine information relationships.

"In the years working for the IAEA, I enhanced my knowledge through training courses and through many experiences of being in the field at a variety of nuclear facilities and government offices around the world," said Oakberg. "Writing and documentation skills were very important in my job. I have written numerous manuals and procedures and have been involved in negotiating, drafting, preparing and implementing official international safeguards documents. I updated the specifications for nuclear material accounting and reporting under the NPT. I was on the IAEA team that produced the guidelines for completing declarations under the additional protocol for NPT-type safeguards agreements and was the principle technical author for the IAEA Nuclear Material Accounting Handbook."

Oakberg said an additional aspect of his work involved training IAEA inspectors and state personnel in nuclear material accountancy, reporting and additional protocol declarations. As such, he prepared presentations, workshops, and all related material and manuals.

"Giving training was an aspect of my job that was very rewarding and successful," said Oakberg. "Working with states to resolve problems required not only a thorough knowledge of safeguards agreements, it was necessary to correspond at all levels with those states. Communication relevant to actions taken concerning state nuclear material accounting information and resolving nuclear material accounting and reporting problems occurred on a daily basis."

Although technically retired, Oakberg continues to work as a senior nuclear safeguards consultant, providing expertise and technical consulting services in the area of international nuclear safeguards for the IAEA and for the U.S. government on a wide variety of subject areas including nuclear material accountancy and reporting, additional protocol declarations, personnel training, information management, and documentation.

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