PLP Passport Fund: Nuclear Diplomacy in Vienna

This past summer I was lucky enough to find myself in an internship at the US Mission to International Organizations in Vienna (UNVIE). More specifically, I was in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Section of UNVIE, which meant I was in the office that serves as the interface between the US government and the IAEA. As a student majoring in physics and international studies, I could not imagine a better place to spend the summer. I worked in an office that included personnel from the State Department, Department of Energy, and US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); some were Foreign Service Officers, others had backgrounds in nuclear technology. I often accompanied one women from the NRC to meetings – she had a PhD in nuclear engineering and was a key author on the Fukushima Daiichi report the IAEA produced, and could therefore answer any question I could imagine about the crisis.

Also exciting was working with staff on the US ratification of the most recent amendment to the Convention for the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The piece of paper I am holding and looking down at in the picture where I am standing in front of the flags is the ratification instrument that President Obama had signed and sent for UNVIE to deliver to the IAEA. While delivering the signature, we all got to shake hands with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.  

Vienna is an amazing city to experience, and I have included a picture of its gorgeous city hall illuminated at night. The other interns serving the State Department in the city made for a fun community, and we enjoyed exploring what Austria had to offer in terms of hiking, food, history, and – of course – beer and wine. That being said, so much was going on at the office we would routinely work well into overtime hours (which didn’t really mean much since it was an unpaid internship), and occasionally got called into service on evenings and weekends. Since the State Department is a relatively small organization spread around the globe, the offices often make good use of interns.

Since my internship at UNVIE was an unfunded State Department internship, the PLP grant was crucial in making it happen. While cobbling together funding sources, the PLP grant was instrumental in allowing me to afford housing costs for the summer. The most exciting event was the opportunity to be on-site at the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. Standing 30 feet outside of the room where John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif (himself a DU PhD grad) were conducting one-on-one negotiations, I redefined my notion of how science and international diplomacy interact. In a lucky accident, I was even fortunate enough to end up with my picture in the Washington Post during the negotiating period:

( The woman in the picture is, coincidentally, a DU graduate. The final two pictures included are from the podium at which the various representatives of the P5+1 announced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was the result of weeks of negotiation. Those standing with me are a few of the other interns from the summer.

Watching nuclear diplomacy firsthand is something I will not soon forget. Thank you for making this opportunity possible!


Blog post and passport fund project by current PLPers, Cameron Hickert (’16)


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