Idaho nuclear lab receives 9-figure federal payout for infrastructure upgrades


The Idaho National Laboratory in the eastern part of the state will receive $150 million for infrastructure improvements to boost nuclear research and development, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday.

The department said the money is part of President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act that includes some $375 billion over a decade to fight climate change. The money will support nearly a dozen projects at the lab’s Advanced Test Reactor and Materials Fuels Complex.

The lab is one of 17 Energy Department national labs and is the nation’s top advanced nuclear energy research lab. It’s a key component in a U.S. effort to revamp the nation’s fading nuclear power industry that started during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump and Biden administrations.

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Nuclear energy is a critical component in reaching Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035, the Energy Department said.

“More than 300 commercial reactors operating around the world today can trace their roots back to Idaho National Laboratory, and these infrastructure investments allow America to continue leading the world in groundbreaking nuclear energy research and development,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement.

She said the Inflation Reduction Act allows the Energy Department to take “critical steps to strengthen domestic nuclear development and deployment — helping ensure the United States is on track to reach a clean energy future.”

The U.S. gets about 20% of its energy from nuclear power produced at nearly 100 nuclear plants, accounting for half of all domestic clean energy. But many are older, and some are having a tough time competing economically.

The push to revamp nuclear power plants coincides with shifting attitudes on nuclear power as it has become apparent that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar won’t be able to replace the burning of fossil fuels to meet demands.

The Idaho National Laboratory is a part of and, in some areas leading, efforts to develop the next generation of nuclear power plants that scientists say will be safer and economically competitive.

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The Energy Department said the $150 million will be used to speed up the replacement of aging components at the Advanced Test Reactor and Materials Fuels Complex, both of which have been in operation for more than 50 years.

The test reactor does research for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear propulsion program and also provides fuels and materials testing for private industries.

The Material Fuels Complex conducts reactor fuels research and is working to produce small amounts of high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel needed by a new wave of nuclear reactors being developed.

The Energy Department said infrastructure updates at the two facilities include upgrading water and electrical distribution systems, improving process control systems and replacing roofs. The work is expected to be done within the next five years.

The Idaho National Laboratory is on a sprawling, 890-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) Energy Department site in high-desert sagebrush steppe, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Idaho Falls. It employs about 5,000 workers and is a major economic driver in the state.

The U.S. Department of Energy will allocate $150 million to the Idaho National Laboratory for infrastructure improvements with the intent to promote research and development.

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