Idaho National Laboratory comments on pressing topics.
Q: What are the core research areas at your laboratory? What are the prospects for federal funding for these areas through FY 2012? Describe any opportunities for collaborations or partnerships with other government labs, academia, or industry to advance this research.
John J. Grossenbacher, Laboratory Director, Idaho National Laboratory: Within the Department of Energy’s system of multiprogram research and development laboratories, Idaho National Laboratory occupies a unique niche at the nexus of energy supply and security. As DOE’s designated nuclear energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment leader, INL plays a key role in the global nuclear energy renaissance
—the worldwide reconsideration and expansion of nuclear energy based on its capacity to deliver power cleanly, safely, reliably, and on a massive scale. INL also has important projects related to fossil and alternative energy, the environment, cyber security, and national and homeland security.
Even during these challenging economic times, we’re confident that the nation’s leaders will prioritize projects that contribute to domestic energy security. Moreover, nuclear energy research and development projects offer unique opportunities for political compromise, environmental stewardship, and industry collaboration.
Q: Describe your laboratory’s research goals for the next two years. Will the lab add or expand programs? Consolidate or shut down research programs? Shift research focus into other areas with more funding opportunities?
INL has always been a place to research, develop, demonstrate, and deploy new technologies. That mission still runs through much of INL’s signature programs and visions for the future. First, INL ensures coordination among the national labs for many of the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy’s national programs. Examples include Light Water Reactor Sustainability, Fuel Cycle Research & Development, and the Next Generation Nuclear Plant. Each aims to help reduce carbon emissions and bolster energy security through nuclear energy research and development. INL researchers also work to integrate environmental protections; water management; and energy resource development, production, and use. One example is the study and demonstration of a hybrid approach to energy systems. Finally, private and public agencies increasingly look to INL for national and cyber security expertise—an area where the laboratory has established a solid and growing reputation.
Q: How do you communicate your organization’s scientific and technology contributions to voters and elected officials who determine funding levels?
INL is constantly communicating with voters and elected officials. Government representatives visit and tour the lab throughout the year, and INL hosts about 250 public tours each year for citizens and media. Additionally, INL officials regularly visit congressional and legislative offices and provide public testimony to inform elected officials about INL projects, achievements, contributions, and missions. Coverage of INL activities in news and social media outlets also helps keep the public and decision-makers informed.
Q: What is the greatest research/science challenge your organization faces (not related to funding or budget issues)?
First, people are the most important component of any serious research endeavor, so attracting and retaining the nation’s most talented scientists and engineers is a top priority. Second, nuclear energy is an area that requires a serious, consistent, and disciplined approach—the timelines are long and the dollars are big. Both industries and researchers developing the next generation of advanced nuclear systems require consistency and persistence from government policy makers and appropriators. A related issue is the challenge of deploying new technologies developed and tested at national labs such as INL. Public-private partnerships are critical in many cases to demonstrate that these technologies are commercially viable.
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