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Weekly Column: INL Helps Meet Our Country's Challenges

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The 2022 National Defense Strategy identified access to efficient and clean-energy technologies as a growing need at bases and battlefields.  Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is, of course, at the cutting edge of meeting the challenge of providing mobile energy sources.

Military operations in remote regions and battlefields have trouble with generating enough energy due to their inaccessibility to electrical grids, difficulty receiving energy from conventional fuel sources, challenges generating sufficient energy from renewable sources and threats to traditional energy supply lines.  Nuclear power is the only source that can provide carbon-free, baseload energy from crucial infrastructure in these locations. 

As a result, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) launched Project Pele.  Project Pele seeks to design, build and demonstrate a prototype mobile nuclear reactor at INL by 2025. 

I have led efforts in the U.S. Senate in support of Project Pele and the innovative, important work at INL.  Recently, I sent a letter with my colleagues stressing the projected increase in battlefield energy usage requires the DOD continue Project Pele and ensure the seamless integration of this new technology as soon as possible. 

INL has a history of meeting our country’s defense and nuclear needs.  From proving we could use atomic power to generate electricity more than 70 years ago, to its role in nuclear-powered submarine propulsion and powering NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover, INL has driven and continues to make critical advancements for our country.  Supporting this novel work helps ensure our country leads in nuclear development.  It is also a significant contributor to our economy, as the INL reported its economic impact on the State was $3.38 billion in fiscal year 2022.

In April, I joined in introducing S. 1111, the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act.  Similar to Project Pele, this legislation grew out of an identified need.  A U.S. Department of Energy report underscored the decline of our industrial nuclear supply capabilities threatens our national interests and security.  The ADVANCE Act, also co-sponsored by fellow U.S. Senator for Idaho Jim Risch, would implement key report recommendations to improve the nation’s nuclear infrastructure, secure America’s uranium supply chain, grow the economy, create jobs, reduce carbon emissions and strengthen national security. 

The ADVANCE Act contains a number of provisions to:

  • Facilitate American nuclear leadership in international forums to develop regulations for advance nuclear reactors;
  • Reduce regulatory costs and incentivizing the successful deployment of next-generation nuclear reactor technologies;
  • Preserve existing nuclear energy by modernizing outdated rules restricting investments;
  • Strengthen America’s nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain infrastructure by directing efforts to advance nuclear fuel and nuclear reactor production;
  • Authorize funds for environmental cleanup programs; and
  • Improve the efficiency of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the congressionally-created agency tasked with ensuring the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes.

In May, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed S.1111,  which builds on previous legislation I worked to enact that furthered nuclear innovation: S. 97, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act; and S. 512, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Modernization Act.  These laws help ensure the solutions from INL continue to contribute to our diverse domestic energy resources and keep our nation at the forefront of nuclear innovation.

We must meet the known challenges of today to prepare for and deter the challenges of tomorrow.  With the world-leading INL in our backyard, Idaho is contributing to facilitating and promoting international nuclear competitiveness through research, innovation and workforce development.  Continued investment in nuclear energy backs this important work by providing energy and national security. 

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