-- Update 12/30/07 --
John Revier, Simpson's Deputy Chief of Staff, provided the latest on INL's funding numbers for 2008. See below. Complete numbers and legislative language also found here.
Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson had some good news, and some practical advice, for an audience of Idaho Falls business leaders this week. Simpson said the now complete congressional appropriation process had been good for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). In fact, he said, it was one of the better years for the lab, and he listed some of the funded line items that matter most to the nuclear energy research facility.The fifth term congressman also had a cautionary note pointing out the reform of nuclear weapons labs like Los Alamos will create "grueling competition" for federal dollars in the coming year. Simpson is a member of the House Appropriations Committee which puts him right in the middle of the fight.
Bringing home the bacon
He told the business and community leaders, and the lab's leadership, they need to get back to Washington to tell their story. That's what they did this year and it paid off. Top nuclear items funded for 2008 include; [corrected 12/30/07]
- $116M for NGNP at INL
- $117M for development of INL's nuclear facilities including a $9.8 million increase to support the Advanced Test Reactor as a "user facility"
- $135M for DOE 2010 program up $21M from President's request
Simpson said Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-IN, chairman of the House Appropriations Energy & Water subcommittee, is "pro-nuclear" and supports development and construction of a high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR) in Idaho. Also, he supports development of ATR as a "user facility." The one other piece of good news Simpson reported is that Congress supports further consolidation of the PU 238 program in Idaho which is used to make nuclear batteries for NASA's deep space missions.The Idaho Cleanup Project, which is separate from the INL's nuclear R&D work, received $513 million, a $9 million increase. The 7-year, $2.9 billion cleanup project, funded through the DOE's Office of Environmental Management, focuses equally on reducing risks to workers, the public, and the environment and on protecting the Snake River Plain.
While Simpson didn't say it, the clear message is that these funding increases show Idaho's lab enjoys bipartisan support on the energy & water subcommittee and that the lab's leadership and business leaders must work both sides of the aisle to keep the funding flowing.
Congress kicked GNEP to the curb
But bi-partisan support for advanced nuclear programs only goes so far. Although the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) is also important to the lab, Simpson says Congress did not support GNEP funding "because DOE does not have a vision for it." The final funding level was halved from the President's request. Another reason GNEP was cut, Simpson said, is that industry is not onboard with GNEP because it has nothing to do with the commercial future of nuclear power.
Democrats will need to recognize the role of nuclear energy
Simpson praised the work of the INL generally, and said nuclear energy is really important as a means to address global warming. He cautioned not everyone agrees and pointed out Democrats have a problem supporting nuclear energy because the environmental movement is part of their political base. In response to a question, he said Hilary Clinton will lose votes in the primaries if she says anything pro-nuclear.However, Simpson noted that Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace, now supports nuclear energy. Simpson asserted that, "the U.S. uses 25% of world's energy, but also creates 25% of the wealth. I think the two might be related." He expressed the hope that when the presidential election is over, that the new administration will have a reasonable approach to nuclear energy.
Community support is a crucial element for funding
Simpson, who was speaking at a quarterly breakfast meeting of the Partnership for Science & Technology (PST), a pro-nuclear group in Idaho Falls, said that community support is one of the best ways to bring new nuclear projects to the Idaho Falls area. The INL is one of the largest employers in Idaho.
Earlier in the meeting Lane Allgood, Director of PST, reported Idaho Falls turned out 750 people at a GNEP hearing in Idaho Falls last March. He said that Idaho Falls had more positive community response that any other DOE community. Simpson told Allgood and the audience to "keep it up." Perhaps more than any other comment, this one says Simpson's message is clear. You must be tenacious in your advocacy for the future of the INL. If you're not others can and will eat your lunch.
That audience included local political leaders, the DOE field office manager, the INL lab director, and executives from most of the contractors that work for the lab. Simpson told them his advice is that there are a lot of countries that want to get nuclear energy projects going because of global warming and that the INL should reach out to them.
Watch out for wing nuts
Simpson also cautioned that 2008 "will not be a productive year" in Congress because it is a presidential election year. He said political parties always shift gears to draw in their most ardent supporters during the primary season and this encourages the "wing nuts" in both parties. He said there are 30 or so on each side of the aisle and some of them don't want a government that works.
He said on balance he is encouraged by the 300 or so members of Congress who know there are common sense things that government ought to do and that these representatives want to get work done.