Written by Lauren Conte, @LaurenConte8

Idaho National Laboratory is set to work on 15 new projects with funding from a $220 million Grid Modernization Initiative, according to an INL news release.

The United States Department of Energy is funding INL to lead four new projects and work with various laboratories around the nation on an additional 11 projects, according to the INL website.

Idaho senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Rhode Island’s Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, New Jersey’s Sen. Cory Brooker and Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, proposed the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, according to Crapo’s website.

Programs will be set in motion to study, control and predict the future of energy grids, according to the INL website.

“The Grid Modernization Initiative is a strategic portfolio of projects intended to set the United States on a cost-effective path for an integrated, secure, sustainable and reliable electric grid,” according to an INL news release.

The push for this legislation is to direct the United States Department of Energy to encourage collaboration between private innovators with public laboratories for testing of nuclear reactor concepts, according to Crapo’s website.

Professor Kevin Kelley, a department of physics faculty member, said that focusing funding on one institution might limit the amount of insights that could be gained from research.

“A really important part of collaboration is that you’re going to get viewpoints from several different places,” Kelley said. “I think there’s a lot to be gained from a collaborative type of structure to that research.”

Kelley said conventional reactors might cause fuel to run out because there is a finite amount in the world.

A nuclear reactor produces energy by a constant chain reaction generated by fission of a heavy nuclei, according to the European Nuclear Society website.

“If we use Breeder reactors, then I think nuclear technology can play a significant role in solving our energy problems in our future because it’s going to be a long lasting and relatively clean source of energy,” Kelley said.

A Breeder reactor produces more fuel than it uses and was first constructed at INL, according to the INL website.

“Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 construction began in 1949 at the National Reactor Testing station in Idaho, now called the Idaho National Laboratory,” according to the INL website. “Experimental Breeder Reactor-I made history when on Dec. 20, 1951, it produced usable amounts of electricity from nuclear power for the first time.”

Kelley said that students should do research to be informed before forming an opinion about the use of nuclear energy.

“Go out and learn some of the science and then make up your mind about it,” Kelley said. “When you’re talking about energy, the system that we use to provide energy is a complex system and as people we have a tendency to want all problems to be simple because simple problems have simple solutions. Complex problems tend to have complex solutions and there may be more than one right solution.”

Brooke Jones, a freshman studying art, said that she worries about how safe nuclear energy is.

“When I hear nuclear energy, I think it is negative,” Jones said. “I associate it with a dangerous and destructive force that should not be played with.”

A 2012 White House report claims that severe weather outages cost the United States economy typically between $18 billion to $33 billion per year due to lost wages, ruined inventory, delays of production and various other factors, according to Crapo’s website.

Smart Reconfigure of the city of Idaho Falls power distribution directly affects and reinforces Idaho Falls power in colder weather, according to the INL website.

“The $1 million two-year collaboration with the city of Idaho Falls aims to make the city’s municipal power distribution more robust and dependable,” according to an INL news release.

Other projects INL is working on can be found on the Idaho National Laboratory’s website INL.gov.