Unlike the site’s nearly windowless, static caves built during the Cold War era, the new research facility is bright, full of windows and adaptable to the needs of researchers.
“The community should be proud we built these buildings,” administrator David Miller said. “A lot of the work being done here supports the nuclear mission of the INL, we also do a lot of other energy research here and work with universities … it’s a great place to mentor people and that’s part of what the INL is about.”
Miller is chief operations and technology officer of Energy and Environment.
The 148,000-square-foot, three- building facility is a prime example of energy efficiency among U.S. Department of Energy facilities.
“The building was designed to use 48 percent less energy overall than a minimum-standard building built to the (industry) standards,” INL energy manager Ernest Fossum said. “Almost half the energy of a comparable building is saved and that is significant.”
The buildings constitute one of only six DOE complexes nationwide to have received a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The program rates “green buildings” based on sustainable development, water savings, energy efficiency, material and resource selection and indoor environmental quality.
Another unique aspect of the center is its increasing emphasis on openness to the public. Building A is one of the few INL facilities that does not require security clearance and is open to the public. The reception facility houses several conference rooms and presentation areas.
“This gives us for the first time, our own ability to host big meetings, workshops, community events,” Miller said. “In the past we’ve always had to rely on other facilities to do that.”
Buildings B and C require a security clearance for entry. The three-story research buildings house a variety of state-of-the-art technology and are home to a growing number of research scientists and their experiments. Each lab is configured to meet the needs of the scientists and easily are reconfigured, Miller said.
A great deal of research done in Building B involves engineering projects such as the Human System Simulation Laboratory. The virtual nuclear control room is designed to study human interactions with the interfaces of nuclear reactor control rooms and determine ways to improve them.
“The challenge of a nuclear reactor is you always have to maintain the safety of the reactor core … to avoid a nuclear accident,” said Bruce Hallbert, director of Nuclear Energy-Enabling Technologies. “A lot of the emphasis at the INL is on safety, which is why we have a facility like this.”
Building C has an emphasis on chemical sciences. Experiments deal with water and air cleanup to reduce pollution, rare earth minerals recovery and study of nanomaterials, among others.
Many of the projects underway at the facility previously were housed on the desert site. Rather than build a new facility in the desert, INL contracted with Ormond Builders of Idaho Falls to build a privately owned facility. INL has a 10-year lease on the building from Ormond, because it was less expensive then building the facility on its own.