The recent agreement between the state of Idaho and U.S. Department of Energy predictably has generated questions about work conducted at Idaho National Laboratory and our efforts to protect the environment and human health.
I’m writing this column hoping to initiate an ongoing dialogue between INL and our fellow Idahoans in the Wood River Valley.
All of us at INL understand concerns about Cold War nuclear waste in Idaho, the nature of our research and compliance with the 1995 Settlement Agreement. And we are committed to protecting the environment and the aquifer.
We’d like an opportunity to speak directly with you about those concerns and answer your questions.
First, I want to talk about what we do and why we do it.
Drive through the parking lot of any INL building and you will likely see vehicles with a bumper sticker that reads, “Another environmentalist supporting nuclear energy.”
INL’s staff is like most of the people who live in Idaho. We have a reverence for the natural world and are determined to protect it for future generations. That’s why we work so hard to ensure that nuclear energy has a bright future in the U.S. and around the globe.
Nuclear energy produces nearly 20 percent of our nation’s electricity. Importantly, nuclear energy produces about 55 percent of America’s low-carbon-emission electricity, more than wind, solar, hydro and geothermal combined.
The world’s population is growing. Energy demands are expected to increase dramatically in coming decades. If the U.S. is serious about reducing carbon emissions and increasing quality of life for its citizens, nuclear energy must play a prominent role. There is no other way.
America’s 97 nuclear reactors, operating in 30 states, prevent the release of 528 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere every year. That’s the same as taking 111 million passenger vehicles off the road.
That’s why INL is working to extend the lives of America’s nuclear reactor fleet.
And we are working with industry to develop and deploy next-generation reactors that are safe, clean, less expensive to build and operate, and resilient against natural and man-made threats.
Our research requires that we work with materials that are inherently dangerous. That’s undeniable and unavoidable. But we do so with an abundance of experience, caution, transparency and respect for our environment.
Today’s nuclear reactors are more efficient than ever because of fuel developed at INL. Once that fuel can no longer generate energy, we need to understand how to safely store it for generations.
That’s why DOE wants to send a dozen fuel rods for research at the nation’s most capable nuclear fuel laboratory—INL.
That’s why the agreement between Idaho and DOE is so important to INL, Idaho, and our nation. And why it is equally important for DOE to continue cooperation on this agreement with local and state stakeholders in Idaho.
We like to say INL is Idaho’s national laboratory. But that’s only true if we have a relationship with Idahoans outside eastern Idaho. And that we can talk openly and honestly with each other.
So, to all of you, I pose a question: Would you be interested in attending a forum in your backyard, where INL’s leaders and scientists come to the Wood River Valley and talk about our research, answer questions and listen to your concerns?
If the answer is yes, please let us know by writing to the newspaper or on social media, or you can send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. If there’s enough interest, we will make it happen.
In the meantime, I would encourage you to go to inl.gov and learn about our work.
And, if that piques your curiosity, we offer tours of INL facilities where we work on a range of issues, from nuclear energy to electric vehicle batteries, biomass and so much more.
You can sign up for a tour at our website. Know that nothing makes us happier than an opportunity to share with our fellow citizens what we are doing to help resolve the nation’s clean energy and national security challenges.
Mark Peters is director of Idaho National Laboratory, near Arco.