INL groundbreaking

Dr. Mark Peters, laboratory director, speaks to audience members during the groundbreaking for two new facilities, the Collaborative Computing Center and the Cybercore Integration Center, at Idaho National Laboratory on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. John Roark/

When Mark Peters took over leadership of Idaho National Laboratory in 2015, he made a promise.

“We will be transparent, answer tough questions and address concerns head on. Under my leadership, INL will be responsive. If you have a concern, we will address it.

“By researching complex problems and implementing pragmatic solutions through an inclusive and collaborative process, we can create a world that is more safe, clean and kind,” he wrote.

Over the last five years, Peters has fulfilled that promise.

Under Peters’ leadership, there have been breakthroughs in seemingly deadlocked negotiations between the Department of Energy and the state of Idaho, which endangered INL’s ability to conduct vital research on safe processing and storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear initiative was launched in 2015, providing key support for nuclear energy development in the private sector.

The $90 million Cybercore Integration Center and the Collaborative Computing Center, negotiated in 2017 and opened in 2019, solidified relationships with the state’s university system, expanding cybersecurity education and helping develop local talent to feed the lab’s workforce.

DOE announced last year it plans to build the Versatile Test Reactor, a facility to test fuels and components of new reactors, which INL will lead, and it also announced it will also open the National Reactor Innovation Center here.

In only five years, Peters has advanced INL’s mission to push forward research and innovation in nuclear energy to an astounding degree.

That’s good for employment and economic growth in Idaho Falls, of course. But it’s also essential for the future of humanity.

As terrifying as the coronavirus pandemic has been, the greatest long-term threat to our collective future remains global climate change. Serious solutions to the problem almost certainly involve the expansion of nuclear energy to provide baseload power to compliment clean but intermittent energy sources like wind and solar. Projects like NuScale’s Carbon Free Power Project, based on small reactors that can be factory-built and deployed much more quickly than traditional large reactors, promise to fill that gap.

But that’s only half the story.

During his tenure, Peters has been a moral example to the community of Idaho Falls and the state of Idaho.

At a time when political attacks on diversity and equality have proliferated, Peters and INL Chief Operating Officer Juan Alvarez have been welcoming voices for inclusion, both in the INL workforce and the broader society.

“I can tell you that without question, a diverse group, working together, is the best tool we have to ensure a prosperous and secure future,” Peters said in the midst of the fracas over diversity programs at Boise State University. “At INL, we don’t just value inclusive diversity, we need it. It’s the same with our communities, which are enriched when everyone feels at home and free to be their best selves.”

And as House Bills 500 and 509, two anti-transgender bills which federal courts have blocked for violating the Equal Protection Clause, were advancing through the Legislature, Peters spoke out again.

“I’m hearing concerns within INL and throughout our community about the substance and tone of discussions taking place this legislative session, and how those negatively impact the way in which Idaho is perceived outside our borders,” Peters wrote to House and Senate leaders. “Frankly, I share those concerns.”

Under Peters, INL hasn’t just talked the talk, it’s walked the walk. In January, INL received a 95% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the highest score given to any rated organization in Idaho and an improvement over the prior year.

Peters has helped the lab “create a world that is more safe, clean and kind.”

We hope Battelle Energy Alliance will be diligent in its search for Peters’ replacement. Whoever is picked to succeed him, they will have large shoes to fill.