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Nuclear War Research

September 5, 2022
Taylor Jones

The Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear War

An International Request for Research Proposals

Letters of Intent due November 15, 2022 (11:59PM Eastern Standard Time).

I. Background on FLI

The Future of Life Institute (FLI) is an independent non-profit, established in 2015, that works to steer transformative technology towards benefiting life and away from extreme large-scale risks.
We seek to reduce large-scale harm, catastrophe, and existential risk resulting from accidental or intentional misuse of transformative technologies. FLI presently focuses on issues of advanced artificial intelligence, militarized AI, nuclear war, bio-risk, biodiversity preservation and new pro-social platforms. The present request for proposals is part of the broader grant program described here.

II. Research on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear War

With the risk of nuclear weapons use growing and the recent threats to use nuclear weapons, a deeper evidence-based understanding of the consequences of nuclear war is urgently needed. The current request for proposals targets research on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use and nuclear war. This focus builds upon the 2022 Future of Life Award. On August 6, 2022, FLI presented John Birks, Paul Crutzen, Jeannie Peterson, Alan Robock, Carl Sagan, Georgiy Stenchikov, Brian Toon and Richard Turco with the Future of Life Award for their roles in discovering nuclear winter and bringing it to the world's attention. Nuclear winter is the severe and prolonged global climatic cooling that may result from a nuclear war. Nuclear detonations over fuel-dense areas may start violent firestorms, lofting large quantities of soot and smoke into the stratosphere. State-of-the-art climate models suggest it might envelop the planet, blocking out sunlight for years, chilling the planet and devastating global agriculture.

However, even just one nuclear detonation, by accident, miscalculation or design would unleash catastrophic humanitarian impact. Urban areas look very different than in 1945, and rising geopolitical tensions call for more research and knowledge about any type of nuclear weapons use.

The proposed research program can address issues such as:

  • Nuclear use scenario development
  • Fuel loads and urban fires
  • Climate model simulations
  • Humanitarian, environmental and societal impacts of nuclear weapons use
  • Impact of nuclear testing
  • How and to what extent nuclear-weapons-based security and military doctrines, policies, and concepts are informed by scientifically accurate humanitarian impact assessments

III. Evaluation Criteria & Project Eligibility

In this competition, grants totaling at least $3M will be available to researchers in academic and other non-profit institutions for projects of duration up to three years. Grant applications will be subject to a competitive process of external and confidential expert peer review similar to that employed by all major U.S. scientific funding agencies. Renewal funding is possible and contingent on submitting timely reports demonstrating satisfactory progress.

Proposals will be evaluated according to their relevance and impact.

  • Relevance: Proposals should relate to the identified priority topics, focusing on understanding the consequences of nuclear weapons use rather than on mitigation. Below is a non-exhaustive list of examples of topics that are deemed relevant:
    • Nuclear weapons use scenario development
      • Developing range of plausible detailed scenarios
      • Modeling what will be targeted in various scenarios
    • Radioactive fallout modeling
      • Modeling radioactivity from nuclear explosions using regional models
      • Modeling radioactivity from reactor spent fuel pools whose cooling systems are crippled by an EMP attack/nuclear war
    • Fuel loads and urban fires
      • Interactive database of worldwide fuel loads
      • Modeling of how urban fires from a nuclear detonation are ignited and how such fires spread in various urban areas.
      • Improved modeling of smoke composition, especially for wood burning under hot, oxygen-limited conditions.
      • Improved modeling of high-altitude smoke lofting as function of yield, fuel load and meteorology
      • Improved modeling of smoke removal via pyrocumulonimbus clouds.
    • Earth system model simulations
      • Simulations for smoke with organic coatings, which may enhance absorption, but decrease lifetime of smoke.
      • Improved optical modeling of how sunlight interacts with smoke coated with organics.
      • Improved modeling of washout of radioactive particles from airbursts.
      • Improved modeling of effects of UV light and radioactivity on land and ocean biota in Earth System models, and expand range of biota (especially crops and livestock) contained in such models.
      • Improve multi-model studies of agricultural and ecosystem responses to changes in climate, atmospheric chemistry (particularly ozone), UV radiation, and radioactivity.
    • Human impacts
      • Casualty modeling based on detailed warhead targeting scenarios.
      • Improved modeling of radiation effects on survivors and ecosystems, including gendered-specific impact on women and girls.
      • Psychological impacts on communities impacted by nuclear use and testing.
    • Societal impacts
      • Modeling of post-use economic, societal and political changes to banking, agriculture, transportation, trade, markets, infrastructure, mass migration, power generation, power distribution, medical support, communication, and global and local politics.
    • How evidence of the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons informs policy
      • Analysis of security and military doctrines, policies, media and academic discourse based on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons.
  • Impact: Proposals will be rated according to their expected scientific impact per dollar, taking all relevant factors into account, such as:
    • Intrinsic intellectual merit, scientific rigor and originality.
    • Potential for significant contribution to basic science relevant to the topic and a high product of likelihood for success and importance if successful.
    • The likelihood of the research opening fruitful new lines of scientific inquiry.
    • The feasibility of the research in the given time frame.
    • The qualifications of the Principal Investigator and team with respect to the proposed topic.
    • The part a grant may play in career development.
    • Cost-effectiveness: Tight budgeting is encouraged in order to maximize the research impact of the project as a whole, with emphasis on scientific return per dollar rather than per proposal.
    • Potential to impact the greater scientific community as well as the general public via effective outreach and dissemination of the research results.

Acceptable uses of grant funds include:

  • Student or postdoctoral salary and benefits.
  • Summer salary and teaching buyout for academics.
  • Support for specific projects during sabbaticals.
  • Assistance in writing or publishing books.
  • Modest allowance for justifiable lab equipment, computers, publication charges, and other supplies.
  • Modest travel allowance.
  • Development of large workshops, conferences, or lecture series for professionals.
  • Development of outreach or educational programs for laypeople.

Overhead Policy: Overhead of at most 15%. Institutional overhead or indirect costs cannot exceed 15% of the grant’s direct costs. The organization hosting the grant must be prepared to cover any overhead or indirect costs that exceed 15% of direct costs.

IV. Application Process

Applications will be accepted electronically through a standard form at and evaluated in a two-part process, as follows:

1. LETTERS OF INTENT—DUE November 15, 2022—Must include:

  • A project summary not exceeding 500 words, explicitly addressing why it is relevant and impactful.
  • A draft budget with description not exceeding 200 words, including an approximate total cost. We envision that typical awards amounts will be in the range $100k-$500k. To encourage tight budgeting, reviewers will rank proposals not by total impact, but by impact per dollar.
  • A Curriculum Vitae for each Principal or Co- Investigator including:
    • Education and employment history
    • A list of up to five previous publications relevant to the proposed research and up to five additional representative publications
    • Full publication list

A review panel assembled by FLI will screen each Letter of Intent according to the criteria. Based on the review panel assessment, anticipated to be completed by December 11, 2022, FLI will invite some applicants to submit a full proposal. Please keep in mind that however positive FLI may be about a proposal at any stage, it may still be turned down for funding after full peer review.

2. FULL PROPOSAL—DUE February 19, 2023—Must Include:

  • Contact information for the person administering your grant (e.g., your institute’s grant specialist or department head).
  • A 200-word project abstract, suitable for publication in an academic journal.
  • A project summary not exceeding 200 words, explaining the work and its significance to laypeople.
  • A detailed description of the proposed research, including a short statement of how the application fits into the applicant's present research program, and a description of how the results might be communicated to the wider scientific community and general public. The proposal should be at most 15 single-spaced pages, using 12-point Times Roman font or equivalent, including figures and captions, but not including a reference list, which should be appended, but which has no length limit,
  • A detailed budget over the life of the award. The budget must include justification and utilization distribution (drafted by or reviewed by the applicant’s institution’s grant officer or equivalent). Please make sure your budget includes administrative overhead if needed by your institute (15% is the maximum allowable overhead; please see the overhead policy stated above).
  • A list, for all project senior personnel, of all present and pending financial support, including project name, funding source, dates, amount, and status (current or pending).
  • Evidence of tax-exempt status of grantee institution, if other than a known university. There is a possibility of individual researchers getting funded via an intermediate non-profit organization; please reach out to FLI if you would like more information about this.
  • Names and contact information of 3 recommended reviewers.
  • Curricula Vitae for all project senior personnel, including:
    • Education and employment history
    • A list of up to five previous publications relevant to the proposed research, and up to five additional representative publications
    • Full publication list

Completed Full Proposals will undergo a competitive process of external and confidential expert peer review, evaluated according to the criteria described above. A review panel of scientists in the relevant fields will be convened to produce a final rank ordering of the proposals, and make budgetary adjustments if necessary. We aim to make public award announcements by June 1, 2023. Funding should be planned to start around September 1, 2023.

V. Funding Process

FLI will direct these grants through a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. FLI will solicit and review grant applications, and based on these reviews, FLI will send the DAF the funding recommendations. After SVCF has completed its due diligence on the grantee institutes and disbursed funds, FLI will work with SVCF to monitor grantee performance via grant reports. In this way, researchers will continue to interact with FLI, while SVCF mostly interacts with the institutes’ administrative or grants management offices.

Submit Your Letter of Intent Here


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