Monday, January 25, 1999

DOE official sees promise in site's technology

IDAHO FALLS (AP) - The U.S. Department of Energy is assuring Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory officials it will help them find new missions for the lab once nuclear waste is removed and cleanup projects are finished.

Under Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was intrigued by research on microbes that can eat away contamination in harsh radioactive and chemical environments.

During his first visit to the lab, he also mentioned the development of a high-strength steel and technology that could help improve food safety as promising research areas.

''It's all going on here,'' he said. ''The question is which of these is going to pop up as a major focus.''

Moniz visited the site at the request of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who came to INEEL last November and expressed DOE's commitment to keep a strong research program at the site.

Richardson attempted to calm fears that once cleanup projects come to a conclusion, there could be little left for people to do on the Arco Desert. He pledged to send Moniz to help review the lab's capabilities and refine long-term missions.

Moniz, a nuclear physicist and DOE's chief scientific advisor, brought a brain trust from Washington that included top officials in the environmental management, nuclear energy, energy efficiency and basic science offices.

Moniz said some of the technologies being developed at INEEL could have important applications in the private sector.

''There's never any guarantee that any of these will pan out. But the lab has a lot of things pushing in many directions that have a pretty good chance.''