Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

INL Primed to Power Up Space Science

by the Idaho Congressional Delegation

These are busy times on Capitol Hill as Congress begins work in earnest on the nation's budget for next year. And with renewed commitment from both the executive and legislative branches to hold the line on spending, only the most meritorious programs are likely to find broad support. One such program, we’re pleased to report, that is showing that wide backing is the proposed consolidation of a key national priority nuclear science mission in Idaho.

The mission involves the nuclear operations associated with production of radioisotope power systems - what some have called space batteries. Currently, the Department of Energy's only means of producing these systems requires the participation of sites all across the country in facilities retrofitted for this purpose. This is hardly the most efficient means of getting the job done. To be more cost-responsible, productive and secure, the Department is looking to consolidate the nuclear aspects of its space battery production at a single site - Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

These "batteries" have been used for decades to provide heat and electrical energy for exploratory spacecraft in the cold, dark recesses of space - beyond where solar energy and chemical systems can operate effectively. They also fulfill key needs in safeguarding our national security.

The consolidation proposal makes sense. INL has the largest, most capable test reactor in the nation. It's been deeply involved in nuclear science and engineering since day one - way back in 1949. And no other DOE site in the nation has a more advanced security infrastructure to safeguard its operations.

We’re always proud to talk with our fellow lawmakers about the remarkable achievements researchers and technicians at INL have made over the years. Those achievements include production of the first usable amount of electricity from nuclear power, powering of an entire American city with nuclear-generated electricity for the first time, development of propulsion systems for the nuclear Navy, writing of safety and training codes for reactors across the globe, and the collaborative development of cancer treatment planning software and related tools. And just last fall, the INL was proud to announce a breakthrough in the production of hydrogen through nuclear-enabled high temperature electrolysis.

Congress and this administration know well of INL’s record of achievement, and the external recognition it has received for its safety performance. They know Idaho is the place where the federal government has received and will continue to receive maximum return on its investment. That's why both branches have aligned in support of radioisotope power system consolidation in our state. In fact, the work has already been singled out for funding with House approval of $8.5 million in the FY-2006 Energy and Water Appropriations bill.

We know INL scientists and engineers can leverage Idaho's unique world-class facilities to successfully fulfill this proposed new national priority space battery mission. Nuclear science and engineering excellence, and a culture of worker, public and environmental safety will assure that.

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