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Idaho National Laboratory could soon become the home of the National Reactor Innovation Center to test and demonstrate private sector-proposed and funded reactor concepts.

BOISE — Idaho National Laboratory may soon be home to a major reactor testing center.

Congress passed a bill last year to create a National Reactor Innovation Center to test and demonstrate private sector-proposed and funded reactor concepts. While the U.S. Department of Energy has yet to announce where the center will be, “it seems pretty clear and obvious that Idaho National Laboratory is the right place to do this,” INL Associate Laboratory Director John Wagner told the state’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission at its meeting Wednesday in Boise.

Wagner said he expects DOE to announce its decision within the next month. INL is helping DOE develop its report on the center to Congress.

“I don’t want to get in front of my headlights (but) ... it’s hard to imagine it being anywhere else,” Wagner said.

In a slideshow he showed the commission, the first major piece of INL’s reactor future is the development and deployment of microreactors in the early 2020s, followed by bringing the Versatile Test Reactor, a fast neutron reactor now under development, into operation.

“Right now, if you’re a company like TerraPower that has a fast-spectrum system ... (you want) to test, you’re pretty much going to Russia. And that’s not helpful for our domestic technology development,” Wagner said.

Another key piece is the small modular reactors NuScale Power plans to build at INL’s desert site. They would provide power to Idaho Falls and the member cities of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, and INL would also use them for research and power. By 2030, Wagner hopes to have a non-light water advanced demonstration reactor at INL.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who is on the LINE commission, said the center would give INL a mission for years to come.

“It really gives us a sense of purpose, where we can go someplace,” he said.

Wagner agreed. He said some recent years have been “dark times” for the lab, where there wasn’t much demand for its work. The next few years, though, will be busy for microreactor research. And the Versatile Test Reactor is expected to come online in 2026 or 2027, and Wagner said he expects that to be in operation for more than 40 years.

“This is now a competitive market amongst these advanced reactor developers,” he said. “This is a different future from what I say we would have been talking about even 10 years ago.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.