Nuclear Lab-New Director

This Nov. 29, 2018, file photo shows the Transient Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, in eastern Idaho.

The nation’s lead nuclear energyresearch laboratory supported thousands of jobs last year, remaining a key player in Idaho’s economy as private operations injected nearly $2.9 billion into the state’s GDP, according to a report released last week.

Battelle Energy Alliance, a private contractor that runs day-to-day operations at Idaho National Laboratory, employed an average of more than 5,000 workers in 2020.

“The economic impact that Battelle has on our city and our region is unquestionable, but their reach extends well beyond Idaho Falls,” said Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. “They are one of the major economic drivers in our state and are constantly working to create relationships and foster small businesses all across Idaho.

“We feel really fortunate to have them in our community and to benefit from the global leadership that they demonstrate.”

Battelle has long been one of Idaho’s biggest job sources. It was the seventh-largest Idaho private employer and the 10th biggest employer overall last year in the Gem State, according to the latest figures. Employee compensation totaled more than $700 million in 2020.

A windfall effect of thousands of jobs the company directly hires is elevating the need for workers in local economies. The report says almost 4,400 additional jobs earning a total of $200 million income stemmed from the lab’s private operations. “For every $100 in direct economic activity at INL, an additional $93 of activity is created or sustained throughout the state’s economy,” the report said.

“When you think of the jobs built in the Idaho National Laboratory, those were individuals who purchased homes, they purchased goods and services,” said Teresa McKnight, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho. “So it’s just a rippling effect of dollars that are reinvested back into the economy from that success.”

The private federal contractor also donated more than a half-million dollars to K-12 schools and grants to spur tech-related economic development.

“INL’s important mission directly contributes to changing the world’s energy future,” lab Director John Wagner said in a news release. “It’s this important mission that’s driving the growth at the lab. Our workforce wants to work where they have the biggest opportunity to make a difference and they are excited to live in the great state of Idaho.”

Idaho National Laboratory operates on the sprawling 890 square-mile Department of Energy desert site near Arco and also has several office buildings in Idaho Falls.

Only activities managed by Battelle were analyzed in the report. Operations from the federal government, such as the Department of Energy or the U.S. Navy, which runs a facility in INL’s desert site, were not included, according to the lab.

INL is one of 14 U.S. Department of Energy laboratories. The Idaho lab does not currently produce commercial energy. A project underway to build small, interconnected nuclear reactors is expected to bring some commercial power to eastern Idaho and Utah in less than a decade. Congress in 2005 designated the Idaho lab as the nation’s top nuclear energy research lab.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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