Let America’s energy independence and national security be perpetual

Jun 23, 2020 8:30 AM

Dan Brouillette, Post Register | June 23, 2020

Idaho’s state motto, “Esto Perpetua,” or “Let It Be Perpetual,” aptly describes the relationship between American energy and national security. The two are perpetually linked: The United States cannot be truly secure without energy independence.

Real energy independence means that our country is not beholden to any other nation for access to the fuel needed to keep our cars and factories running. It means that American families, businesses, and industries live with the certainty that they will have reliable access to safe and affordable sources of energy. As the world’s largest energy consumer, this is no small feat.

We are fortunate today — thanks to a marriage of private sector innovation and public sector research — to be the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. But our resource wealth is only one piece of the puzzle; without the ability to deliver energy to customers, the story of our energy independence would remain unfinished. That is why one of our priorities at the Department of Energy is protecting the critical infrastructure that keeps our energy moving and our country running.

The Department, following the strong leadership of President Trump, is also focused on advancing an American energy model that pursues all available sources: coal, oil and gas, but also nuclear and renewables.

Idaho is no stranger to this dynamic. In fact, Idaho’s own commitment to fuel diversity — with the majority of its electricity derived from renewables, particularly hydropower — has led to Idaho being among our nation’s top 10 states with the lowest average electricity prices.

But Idaho offers another vital contribution to our energy landscape — it is home to the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, whose ongoing research in critical infrastructure and nuclear energy is making our country safer and stronger today, and positioning us to be even more competitive and resilient as we address the challenges of tomorrow.

INL’s work has provided the United States with invaluable expertise as we develop technologies, tools, and techniques to reduce the risks posed by physical and cyber-attacks from our adversaries.

For instance, the Lab has the Critical Infrastructure Test Range, which is specifically designed to research, pilot test, and demonstrate the protection of the grid from cyber, electromagnetic, and physical threats. The range features an independent electrical power and transmission testing system, including a 61 mile, 138-kilovolt dual-fed power loop with seven substations and a control center, where we can stress test systems against the worst physical and cyber threats that the world can throw against them.

As another aspect of that work, in 2018, INL received a “Research, Design, and Development” funding prize for the Autonomic Intelligence Cyber Sensor, which provides a capability for the protection of our infrastructure from cyberattacks by working autonomously with private industry to aid its ability to quickly identify and divert potential hackers. It cannot be overstated how important INL’s work is for diversifying our defense strategies so that we can continue to strengthen our cybersecurity preparedness and coordinate cyber incident response and recovery.

INL’s work in nuclear energy is similarly critical to our national security. Once the site of the first American nuclear power plant, today INL is spearheading research into the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies. That work directly supports this administration’s commitment to revitalizing and growing our domestic nuclear energy industry and better equipping us to compete on the global stage.

Earlier this year, DOE released a report, “Restoring America’s Competitive Nuclear Energy Advantage,” which includes a series of sweeping recommendations for potential future action that spans the nation’s executive, regulatory and legislative landscape. It aims to ensure a healthy and growing nuclear energy sector to which domestic uranium miners, fuel cycle providers, and reactor vendors can sell their products and services. It supports making critical research, development, and deployment investments to spur next-generation civil nuclear technologies.

And the good news is that the president and his administration have already taken an important step forward toward meeting its goals. Just this past week, the International Development Finance Corporation moved forward with one of the key report recommendations by announcing for public comment a change to the agency’s environmental and social policy and procedures that would enable the consideration of support of nuclear power projects.

In short, this strategy envisions and supports a full-scale effort by the United States to reinvigorate key elements of civil nuclear energy that can enable the United States to regain its rightful position as the global leader — and INL will play a critical role in that achievement.

As we approach July 4, it’s worth remembering that it is in our power to make America’s security and independence perpetual, and we’ll do so — through continued innovation, constant vigilance, and ever-renewed strength and energy.