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Engineering Nuclear Engineering Level "Q" Security Clearance?

  1. Feb 8, 2016 #1
    Hello,

    I'm a freshman in college, currently dual majoring in Nuclear Engineering and Physics. Recently, it has been brought to my attention that to secure an internship in the nuclear (or some physics) fields, I would need to obtain level L security clearance with the DOE, and further on to get a job in the nuclear field, I would need to obtain level Q clearance.

    It is my understanding that these clearances require detailed background checks by the FBI, and detail your full personal history, including social media checks, interviews with family, friends, neighbors, etc, and that certain things will automatically block you from receiving the clearance.

    In the past, I've been pretty open about my drug use, very little on social media but it's widely known by friends and some family. Additionally, I was previously a political anarchist, and that included a disdain for the US governments, as well as any others. Currently I would describe myself as a libertarian, though I still appreciate non-violent anarchist policies. Additionally, my email address, as well as social media accounts share a name with this username. I don't know if that's something that the FBI would be concerned by.

    I'm not here to hear criticism for my drug use or my political leanings, but I would very much appreciate some thoughts on if I need to change my major, or what my options are. Of course I would never actually be a security risk, as I'm not a bad person, but do I have any chance convincing the FBI that?

    I posted this in career guidance because that's what I'm seeking, but it might be better if a mod moved it to the nuclear section, as that's where I feel I'll receive the most helpful insights.

    Sorry for the long-winded post, I felt it was necessary to provide that level of detail for a thorough and informed answer. Thanks for all your help!!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 8, 2016 #2
    Try this: DOE Personnel Security FAQs
    and this: Office of Personnel Managment FAQs

    I've been interviewed once for a DoD clearance, and I expect to be interviewed again soon for a DoE clearance. Lots of people I know have these clearances for their work. In general, drug use is frowned upon. Depending on what and when, some leeway can be given. As for politics, it really depends on what you mean. If you mean you had a youthful phase where you and your friends talked about anarchism, that doesn't mean much. If you joined an organization that advocated the overthrow of the United States government or politically motivated violence, that is not helpful. I'm assuming you meant the former.

    Above all else, never lie. Lying on the clearance application is way worse than anything you are likely to have done.
     
  4. Feb 8, 2016 #3

    micromass

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    What drugs are we talking about?
     
  5. Feb 8, 2016 #4
    The Q-clearance is not needed for work in the private sector - by which I mean commercial nuclear power plants, their contractors, the reactor vendors, etc. The background checks for this part of the nuclear industry (needed for unescorted access to the power plants) is at a much lower level. They look for police reports, bad credit problems, and they talk to your friends and neighbors. I haven't heard of past drug use being an issue (as long as you weren't arrested for it). But you will be subject to initial and random drug testing. And a psyche test (usually the MMPI test).

    Working at government run facilities - the national labs, other portions of the DoE, etc. is a different story.
     
  6. Feb 8, 2016 #5
    Ben, thanks. I certainly don't intend to lie, and I never joined any organization like that or advocated violence.

    Micromass; alcohol, marijuana and various psychedelics. I don't know if it makes a difference but the hallucinogens I used exclusively for religious/spiritual purposes. Never heavy use for any, a handful of times total with the hallucinogens and marijuana was sporadic, usually while working in fast food. I use alcohol like a college student, so I can't imagine them having an issue with that.

    gmax, really? I did not know that. I've never been arrested, I have a small misdemeanor charge that shouldn't show up on anything short of an FBI check. I have no credit score, is that an issue? And I certainly plan on passing any drug tests career wise. I have no addictions or anything of the sort, and good self-control. Does government run facilities include public research universities? That is unfortunate though, I'm really hoping to focus in deep space propulsion systems, and as far as I'm aware those are mainly government positions.

    Thanks for all your help guys!
     
  7. Feb 8, 2016 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    I'll quickly chime in- I had a 'Secret' clearance at my first job, and one of my best friends used to be in the OSI (Air Force equivalent of FBI). Here's what I learned:

    For a 'secret' clearance, the government wants to know if you can be blackmailed or not. Therefore, if you disclose everything, you can still qualify for a 'secret' clearance because you are less likely to be susceptible to blackmail. The inspectors have heard everything already- you can't shock them. Within reason- disclosing that you have a heavy weapons cache you use to safeguard your heroin empire is a different story.

    Top secret is different, I know a few folks that had a 'Q' clearance, and the process was significantly more intense. Not sure what would disqualify someone from that.
     
  8. Feb 8, 2016 #7

    analogdesign

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    Also, I would add that you don't need Q clearance to do nuclear science work unless you are working on National Defense projects. Even some projects with National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) funding or direction do not require Q clearance. I work at a national lab in part on nuclear science projects and I don't have Q clearance nor do most of my co-workers (the ones that do have it retained from prior Defense-related projects).

    I say this as someone who works at an Office of Science lab... the clearance requirements could be much different at a Defense-Oriented Lab such as Los Alamos or Lawrence Livermore.

    Since OP is interested in Deep-Space propulsion I would add that NASA is similar to DOE in this case. You only need clearance if you are doing Defense work. Also, NASA uses DOD clearances (TS, SCI etc) not DOE clearances. I have a former grad school classmate works at JPL and doesn't have clearance. She says that few people do nor do many want it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2016
  9. Feb 8, 2016 #8
    Thanks, Andy. So to get secret, which apparently ≈ L level clearance, that stuff isn't really a big deal, correct?

    Analog, really? Only if your work pertains specifically to national defense? Or if you work at a lab that does defense work? Because like I said I'm really not interested in the defense sector. So even for NASA, I wouldn't need Top Secret clearance? That's very reassuring, thank you all again.
     
  10. Feb 8, 2016 #9

    analogdesign

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    OP: All I can say is I work at an Office of Science Lab and none of my co-workers need Q clearance and the two that I know of that have it got it for previous assignments. There are several pure-science National Labs that do absolutely zero classified work partly for this reason.

    As for NASA, if you are attached somehow to a Defense-related project you need clearance. NASA does some classified work. Most of their work is not classified so you wouldn't need a clearance for that. When you apply for work the job description makes it very clear if a clearance or ability to obtain one is required.
     
  11. Feb 8, 2016 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    If you are still using illegal drugs, this will usually disqualify you. I wrote "usually", but was thinking "always".

    Clearances usually depend on the job, not so much the employer.
     
  12. Feb 8, 2016 #11
    Alright, that makes sense, Analog, thank you.

    Vanadium, even for L level, or just Secret, clearance?
     
  13. Feb 8, 2016 #12
    When I was an undergrad I did an internship at Argonne. No clearance was required. I also know people who did internships at other DOE and DOD labs and it was rare for interns to need clearances. I know a few who needed them, but they were the minority. I also know many scientists at DOE and DOD labs who don't have or need clearances.

    That being said, there are jobs within the nuclear field the need clearances. If you want one of those jobs, you need to start acting accordingly.
    That fact that you did drugs is a bad mark on your record, but it doesn't immediately disqualify you. The longer it's been since you last used drugs the more likely they give you a clearance. They're not likely to give you a clearance if you're currently doing drugs. However if you've been clean for several years, then they'll take that into consideration. They're also more forgiving on illicit behavior when you are younger. It's often a judgement call, and it can depend on the agent assigned to your case.

    The three things you should do if you want a future clearance are
    1) stop doing drugs
    2) stop advertising the fact the you do/did drugs
    3) be honest on any applications for a clearance
     
  14. Feb 8, 2016 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    1. "Just secret" is still pretty serious. Unauthorized disclosure of secret information could cause serious damage to national security.
    2. Illegal drug use is automatically disqualifying within one year, and almost always automatically disqualifying within two years.
    3. Illegal drug use disqualifies you from many, many programs because of the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. And if you think your university will protect you, remember that millions of dollars are at risk (Duke, for example received a billion dollars in research money last year) They will throw you under the bus in a heartbeat.
    I'm afraid you need to make a choice - your preferred career, or drugs.
     
  15. Feb 9, 2016 #14

    Andy Resnick

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    I'm not sure what you mean by 'that stuff'. Certainly, ongoing criminal activity is not good, even when disclosed.
     
  16. Feb 9, 2016 #15
    Alright, thank you everybody, your responses have been very helpful!!
     
  17. Feb 10, 2016 #16

    ZapperZ

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    Please note that an "internship" is very different than being an employee.

    Even at Argonne, you are subjected to drug tests. I used to have to pee in a cup once a year during the Argonne yearly physical. They have cut it back now due to budget cuts, but you are still subjected to drug tests whenever they want to. So a continuing drug use, even for non-sensitive work, at US Nat'l Labs, will be detrimental to your employment.

    Zz.
     
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