Abby Cuthbertson with Ambassador Linton Brooks, former administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, for whom the award she received is named.
Abby Cuthbertson with Ambassador Linton Brooks, former administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, for whom the award she received is named.
Abigail Cuthbertson, 32, was awarded the 2010 Linton Brooks Medal for Public Service last Thursday from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for her work securing high-grade nuclear material that can easily be converted into dirty bombs if it falls into the wrong hands.

Cuthbertson, federal project manager for NNSA's Off-Site Source Recovery Project in the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, oversees the recovery of highly enriched uranium that is legitimately used for medical, industrial and research purposes but poses national security risks when stored on-site.

"These are radioactive sources that are used in cancer therapy, oil and gas exploration and research - usually at hospitals and universities," said Cuthbertson. "It could be weaponized."

Under Cuthbertson's direction, the program has grown from recovering slightly more than 2,000 highly enriched sources per year to almost 3,500 sources per year. She said she was able to improve efficiency by facilitating better coordination between state governments, federal agencies and international partners. According to NNSA, she also centralized the procurement of equipment and training - helping save taxpayers more than $100,000 in the process.

Established in 2008, the Linton Brooks award recognizes newer employees whose work exemplifies a commitment to public service. Cuthbertson, now residing in the Washington, D.C. area, grew up in Thomaston and attended Georges Valley High School. She graduated from Groton Academy in Massachusetts in 1997. Cuthbertson earned a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a graduate degree in foreign service from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. before joining NNSA as a fellow. She became a full-time federal employee at NNSA in 2007.

"The Linton Brooks award acknowledges the success of our NNSA employees here and across the country and signifies our commitment to developing the next generation of nuclear security professionals," said NNSA administrator Thomas D'Agostino, who presented the medal to Cuthbertson. "It recognizes someone who has accomplished significant things in a short period of time and rewards individuals who can see a problem, take the initiative and get the job done. Without a doubt, this is exactly what Abby Cuthbertson brings to NNSA."

Cuthbertson, who spoke from her family home in Thomaston while home for the holidays, said she loves her job.

"The mission is important," she said. "We need this material for medical and research applications, but we also need to keep it out of the hands of terrorists."