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MIT to play key role in national energy lab

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MIT will play a major role in the creation of the nation's premier laboratory for nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and education.

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced today that the Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC has won the contract to establish the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The Battelle team includes a national consortium of eight universities led by MIT, BWX Technologies, Inc., Washington Group International, the Electric Power Research Institute, and leading Fortune 500 companies involved in Battelle's industrial R&D network. The team was selected over three other bidders.

The INL will combine the research and development components of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory West. It will begin operating under its new name and contract on Feb.1, 2005. The term of the contract is 10 years and has an estimated value of $4.8 billion.

MIT's Department of Nuclear Engineering and Nuclear Reactor Laboratory are home to many of the researchers involved in the INL contract.

Professor Ian Hutchinson, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering, said, "We are delighted at the prospect of helping to lead in the renaissance of nuclear energy in the U.S., focused in the Idaho National Laboratory.

"Nuclear is the most environmentally benign energy source we have, and its contribution to our energy mix must increase if we are to address the need for energy independence and the threat of climate change. As the nation's premier technical university, and the acknowledged leading nuclear engineering school in the country, MIT brings unique knowledge and experience to the partnership. Together with the other universities in the consortium, we will ensure strong linkage of the lab to America's university research and educational programs," said Hutchinson.

David Moncton, director of the MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory, said, "MIT brings enormous strengths to the country's quest for a renewal of nuclear power, both in terms of the intellectual quality of its faculty, students and research staff, and in terms of physical research facilities, most importantly the MIT research reactor."

"The MIT reactor is the leading facility operated by a university in this country for performing the critical R&D on new materials and fuels necessary to design the next- generation nuclear power plant. The opportunity to be intimately involved in the operation of the new Idaho National Laboratory will give renewed focus and genuine excitement to the mission of the MIT reactor."

The universities in the consortium are MIT, the University of New Mexico, North Carolina State, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, and a regional collaboration of the major Idaho universities (the University of Idaho, Idaho State University, and Boise State University).

According to Secretary Abraham, "This new laboratory was the missing element in our strategy to provide long-term energy security for the nation. We needed a laboratory that can work with the other labs in our complex, academia and industry to advance nuclear power technology and create an entirely new type of nuclear energy plant for the longer term future."

The Idaho National Laboratory will conduct science and technology across a wide range of disciplines with strong programs in areas such as materials, chemistry, environment, and computation and simulation. The lab will also play a key role in ensuring the nation's security by applying its technical expertise to helping protect the country's critical infrastructure and preventing the spread of nuclear material.

One of the laboratory's first major tasks will be to lead an international research and development effort to create an advanced nuclear energy technology called the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP). The NGNP will be a Generation IV nuclear system that the DOE hopes will produce both inexpensive electric power and large quantities of cost-effective hydrogen to support the development of a clean and efficient hydrogen economy in the United States and reduce the nation's dependence on imported fossil fuel.

The laboratory also will lead the establishment of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies. This center will bring academia into the life of the laboratory in a substantive way and provide students and professors access to the laboratory's unique capabilities.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 10, 2004 (download PDF).

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