Woman of Influence

By Stephanie Holinka

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Sylvia Saltzstein honored at Albuquerque Business First annual awards

Sylvia Saltzstein
SAFETY LEADER — Sylvia Saltzstein has been named a 2020 Woman of Influence by Albuquerque Business First. She was recognized for her work on nuclear transportation safety and her leadership in the community. (Photo courtesy of Brian’s Photography for Albuquerque Business First)

Sylvia Saltzstein recently earned an Albuquerque Business First Women of Influence award for her leadership in Sandia’s nuclear energy groups and in the community.

Sylvia has been at Sandia for 26 years and currently serves as acting senior manager for nuclear energy safety and security. She spent the past seven years setting and implementing the national research agenda for the safe and secure storage, transportation and potential reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

“While this is not a topic many people in the world think about, I think about it every day and help influence the research path and engineering solutions the United States and other countries put in place to develop permanent solutions for the disposition of radioactive and toxic material and to help provide tools that do their part to ensure that our nuclear energy is always produced in a safe manner,” Sylvia said.

Prior to her work at Sandia, Sylvia was an Earth science and biology high school teacher. She retains her passion for middle and high school science education and communication.

“I view my role as communicating the big picture and connecting people of different backgrounds to create high-performing teams,” she said.

After undergraduate school, Sylvia worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the Superconducting Supercollider, and then was a graduate intern at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Sylvia said this was a wonderful introduction into the national laboratories.

One skill Sylvia brings to her Sandia work, as well as her volunteer actions, is her strong communication skills, especially around difficult or sensitive subjects such as those in the area of nuclear energy and safety.

“It’s a difficult topic. There’s a huge amount of emotion around it, even in professional conversations.”

Recognized expert and leader

In her role as an expert on nuclear energy transportation safety, Sylvia has shared her expertise with critical stakeholders all over the world, including DOE, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Electric Power Research Institute, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, the German Federation of Materials Science, the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute and the Korean Radioactive Waste Association. 

“Because America has the largest inventory of used nuclear fuel in the world, understanding our risk in this area is important for the nation, as well as all the other countries who have nuclear power,” she said.

Sylvia led two DOE teams that earned Secretary of Energy Achievement Awards in 2017 and 2018.

The first team collected and analyzed data on the shocks and vibrations that fuel assemblies from nuclear reactors experience during transportation, revealing that the fuel moved so little during shipping that it could be transported across the nation millions of times before any risk of breakage.

The second award was for data collection work on the mechanical strength of spent nuclear fuel once it goes into storage after being used in a nuclear reactor. Both projects involved teams spread across at least four different national laboratories. The teams included crucial international collaborators as well.

In her free time, Sylvia volunteers for the New Mexico Future Cities Competition and Albuquerque Public Schools elementary and middle school science activities.

Sylvia was nominated by previous awardee Shari O’Laughlin, head of Children’s Grief Center of New Mexico.

For the past 16 years, Albuquerque Business First has honored women who have made a positive and influential impact in the New Mexico business community. The awards were presented in a Feb. 24 ceremony at Sandia Resort and Casino.