IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - A dozen city and county leaders from Idaho Falls recently returned from a trip to Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia.
Why did they go there? Because they're building a new nuclear power plant. That is something that hasn't been accomplished in about 30 years in the U.S.
Why do 'we' care? Because there's a really good chance we're going to be building some big nuclear projects at the Idaho National Lab site in the next few years and our leaders want to know what we have to do locally to prepare.
Just recently the INL was named the 'National Reactor Innovation Center' for the U.S. It means the site will be 'the' place for construction and demonstration of new advanced reactor types. Things will need to be built. There will be new jobs.
They will be good-paying jobs, but, "We have to get on top of the planning in anticipation of that happening," says Amy Leintz, the director of the supply chain for the INL.
For example, it is looking very likely NuScale will come to Idaho to build the new small module reactors. Twelve reactors, actually. That's not all that 'might' happen.
"Additionally, we're not chosen yet, but the microreactors for the Department of Defense might be built here. You have the demonstration reactor project, versatile reactor project, and the Navy is building new spent fuel facilities," says Lientz. "Eastern Idaho needs to plan, and plan now," she adds.
The President of the College of Eastern Idaho agrees. "Welding is absolutely going to be essential. Welding and machine tooling. We will not be able to produce enough welders to support what's going to happen at the site in the future," says Rick Aman. Aman is already taking steps to get the school ready. He is adding faculty, new curriculum, and construction skillset classes. He's got to prepare a workforce for the jobs when the reactors are ready for construction. Then there are the jobs needed once the plants are built.
"We need to train plant operations people, deal with cybersecurity, the networking, the programming. Operators would be a big area," says Aman. 'You can't sit back and wait and next week you have 1000 jobs that need to be filled"
The Mayor is already scheduled to meet with trade union representatives and the Idaho Transportation Department. If we're going to need a thousand new workers, there has to be a place for them to live and there has to be a highway to the site that can handle the extra traffic.
"I'm looking into infrastructure," says Mayor Casper. " That means roads, water lines, sewer lines, bridges and overpasses big enough to handle supply shipments in and out of the site." The Mayor will also meet with school districts to make sure there's room for new students. Maybe we won't get these projects, but there is a good chance we will, and " it'll be hard to implement if you don't have people's eyes open to the potential. plan ahead," says the Mayor.
The director of Idaho Falls Power is helping to lead the NuScale project, or the carbon-free power project that is small modular reactors. Bear Prairie says the INL site is the 'selected' site for the project to build twelve small modular reactors. They could be operational by as soon as 2026. He went to Plant Vogtle to find out when it comes to building nuclear plants, no matter how small, what has worked and what hasn't?
"That plant experienced delays in construction and had cost overruns. We don't want that to happen here. There was a whole line of lessons to be learned in Georgia," says Prairie.
If these future projects do come to pass, it will mean many job opportunities with good family wages. The trick is to be prepared.