Peters: Big projects vital to INL future


BOISE — Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters gave his annual presentation Monday to a joint hearing of the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee and the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Peters unveiled a few updated facts and figures on the proposed Cybercore Integration Center and the Collaborative Computing Center (or C3) — updates which make the financial outlook for state government in the proposed deal better than previously reported.

Peters indicated the two projects are estimated to cost about $80 million, slightly less than the $85 million estimate previously reported. And he indicated the lab’s lease agreement would involve paying down a state bond in 15 years, rather than 20.

In response to concerns about INL’s ability to pay the lease, Peters attempted to reassure lawmakers that the two projects would be a central priority for the lab. Even in the face of theoretical budget cuts, he said, it would remain a priority.

“I wouldn’t be pursuing this if I didn’t think it was necessary,” Peters said. “… I’m convinced there is a business case for it.”

Peters said the project would mean more and better educational opportunities for Idaho students, and it would also help INL retain a qualified workforce. Particularly, opening up more research and educational collaboration will help INL establish a reliable “career pipeline” to replace retiring members of its aging workforce, and to expand its mission in the growing area of cybersecurity, he said.

Peters said Cybercore would focus on the protection of control systems. Control systems are integral to electrical grids, power plants and other major infrastructure, Peters said, and they represent a major national vulnerability to cyber threats. Construction of Cybercore would help the state take a leadership role in developing new control systems that are more resilient to those threats, he said.

Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, asked why it was necessary for the state to take a hand in financing the project.

Peters said it would help the project move forward more quickly, though the lab could develop the facilities privately if the state is unwilling to use bonding authority.

Peters also indicated that the continued blockage of research quantities of spent nuclear fuel from entering the state is having a negative impact on INL’s current research mission, and on its future role in the nuclear arena.

“It’s not resolved, and we’re not fine,” Peters said.

Such shipments have been blocked by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden under the terms of the 1995 Settlement Agreement, because the U.S. Department of Energy has been unable to get the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit up and running. The facility is supposed to treat 900,000 gallons of liquid radioactive waste.

Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, asked if the recent news that the Waste Isolation Project Plant in New Mexico will again be accepting nuclear waste shipments would alleviate the problem.

But Peters said the major stumbling block remains IWTU.

“It has a significant impact on the ability of the lab to do research now, but also in the future,” he said.

Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.