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Dept of Energy: ‘Future’ is top INL priority after incidents

On Wednesday, the community heard a progress report from a top Department of Energy administrator, and a look at Idaho National Lab priorities for years to come.

Department of Energy under secretary Thomas D’Agostino was in Idaho Falls on Wednesday.

He took a tour of facilities at the site, and gave a briefing to community members this morning. He painted a positive picture of the lab’s plans.

He said despite a series of hiccups, it’s tomorrow and the next day that are most important now.

“I think the lab is very much focused on the future,” D’Agostino said.

As he spoke about about the future of the INL at the Center for Advanced Energy studies in Idaho Falls, students who may very well be the lab’s future worked on their research only steps away.

One of those students is INL summer intern Jacob Wagner.

“I’ve always been intrigued by science and the unknown,” said Wagner.

Wagner is working hard to develop technology that can “see” underground to spot drug trafficking tunnels at the U.S. border.

“It could be developed within the next 10 years or so,” he said.

That not-so-distant future is what D’Agostino said the lab is all about these days.

“I saw a focus on, ‘How are we going to move toward the future of nuclear energy?'” he said of his lab tour.

The present is also at issue. The INL goal to convert almost 1 million gallons of liquid radioactive waste to solid by 2013 is slightly behind schedule, he said.

“So we’re going to miss it by months, but the key is to do it in a safe way,” he said.

Safety is also is a priority. A string of incidents in 2012 alone means looking to the future must include lessons learned.

“If we don’t clean up the past, the future won’t happen,” he said. “The future will be bleak.”

Next-generation researchers like Wagner hope that never becomes reality.

“I think it means a great deal to me, our future advancements in technology,” Wagner said.

D’Agostino said safety was a primary focus during his tour.

He said employees expressed feeling comfortable about reporting issues if they exist.

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