IDAHO FALLS — Rick Perry made his first trip to the Gem State as the 14th U.S. Secretary of Energy on Monday and Tuesday.
The former Texas governor spent the two days touring parts of the Idaho National Laboratory and the Naval Reactors Facility. He was accompanied by U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Admiral James F. Caldwell Jr. during the visit. He also met with Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper.
“This is my first national laboratory to go to. Not to say that the other 16 aren’t important, but what Idaho does is at the top of the list from my perspective,” Perry said during a news conference Tuesday. “This state is blessed to have this lab. Our country is blessed to have these labs.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Perry spoke to a gathering of several hundred site employees about the importance of their work. He said the work is some of the “coolest” he has seen, but also among the most important work being done. Perry said Idaho is expected to continue to play a lead role in nuclear research in the United States.
“(INL) is going to be one of the lead players if not the lead player as we develop and as we are developing the nuclear energy portfolio that is across the board. (Looking) from a weapons standpoint, it’s obviously from a security standpoint … and it’s also from the civilian nuclear side as well,” Perry said.
During the news conference, Perry addressed the issue of aging nuclear infrastructure in the United States. Many of the country’s nuclear power reactors are decades old and use technology much older than that commonly used in other types of power plants.
Perry said the Department of Energy will do what it can to revitalize the nation’s nuclear infrastructure and that INL has a big role to play in the process. He did say, though, that the Trump administration is focused on decreasing the national deficit — so resources will need to be prioritized.
“Resources are going need to be prioritized to make the right decisions about what are the most important aspects of our labs,” Perry said. “Keeping (nuclear power plants) safe and up to date are certainly high priorities.”
Perry said he thinks the INL’s focus on cybersecurity and super-computing also will continue to grow.
“Both of those are growth areas, and I would suggest to you into the future, both of those will be prioritized,” Perry said.
He said the Trump administration is committed to the growth of nuclear energy to keep up with other world powers.
“We see the Russians and the Chinese headed down that path with fairly good expedition. The United States, I think, would be wise to use the resources that we have here to commit to the future of having our ability to participate in our fast reactor technology and the potential that it has for the future,” Perry said.
Perry also briefly addressed the evacuation at the Hanford site, a former nuclear weapons production area in Washington state. The evacuation was ordered after soil collapsed over a tunnel containing contaminated nuclear material, according to CNN.
Perry said he was fully briefed today on the event and said the appropriate teams were sent in to make sure the event did not escalate.
“It’s not a radiological event — that’s going to cause us greater concern. We’ll continue to monitor it,” Perry said.
Eric Levenson, CNN
Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com
Shelbie Harris, Idaho State Journal
Susan Scutti, CNN