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Stephen Dahunsi: Fueling a nuclear future

Stephen Dahunsi. Credit: Jason Richards/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Stephen Dahunsi’s desire to see more countries safely deploy nuclear energy is personal. Growing up in Nigeria, he routinely witnessed prolonged electricity blackouts as a result of unreliable energy supplies. It’s a problem he hopes future generations won’t have to experience.

“I have always been fascinated with technologies and how things work and can be improved upon,” Dahunsi said. “I had the idea that studying electrical engineering would put me at the forefront of those solving the challenge of reliable electricity.”

Now, as an R&D associate in international safeguards at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Dahunsi provides subject matter expertise to help countries like his native Nigeria safely and securely develop or expand their nuclear programs.

“Joining ORNL is one of my highest career accomplishments,” Dahunsi said. “I work with some of the best scientists in the world to deliver solutions with global impact in support of nuclear nonproliferation.”

His path to ORNL started with an undergraduate education in electrical engineering and a later role as one of the scientists helping to establish the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission. Then, during a NAEC visit to ORNL, Dahunsi introduced himself to Jeff Chapman, an international expert on nuclear safeguards. With Chapman’s encouragement, Dahunsi pursued a master’s degree in nuclear and radiological engineering, specializing in nuclear security.

After completing his master’s degree, Dahunsi was accepted into the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education — a collaboration between ORNL and the University of Tennessee — which not only continues developing students into technical experts but also develops their policymaking abilities so they can act as advocates for their science.

Working with Chapman as his mentor and with UT Professor Howard Hall as his advisor, Dahunsi worked on  doctoral research that provided vital insight into the conversion of a Miniature Neutron Source Reactor from highly enriched uranium to a low-enriched uranium core. The International Atomic Energy Agency project is part of a worldwide effort to decrease the use of HEU fuel.

“The MNSR is used for education and training, neutron activation analysis and industrial applications,” Dahunsi said. “But I also knew the world’s nuclear community was watching this conversion process and that a positive experience could pay big dividends in the future for planning safeguards and security of small reactors and microreactors.”

Today, Dahunsi supports National Nuclear Security Administration programs that develop technical and regulatory best practices for safeguards and security approaches. Countries embarking or expanding their nuclear programs partner with the NNSA to meet international safeguards obligations and security best practices for the protection of nuclear and radiological materials.

Aside from his nuclear expertise, Dahunsi also provides technical support to the chemical security program of the Department of State’s International Security and Nonproliferation Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism.

“My work here at the ORNL is very fulfilling,” Dahunsi said. “It is also a window of opportunity and encouragement for professionals from Africa and across the globe to contribute to universal solutions to tackle the twin challenge of climate change and energy insecurity.”

But for all his focus on solving global challenges, Dahunsi — a husband and father of three — never loses sight of the reason he does the work: “I consider myself lucky to have had this opportunity — to bring my family to the United States and have this experience of carrying out my passion to make the world a better, safer place to live.”

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit