Small businesses prove instrumental in building nuclear research flagship facility

January 24, 2022

By Jeremy Johnson

A new laboratory facility in Idaho stands to be the most modern structural materials testing and analysis facility in the world, supporting the deployment of new nuclear innovations, life extension and long-term operation of the U.S.’s existing fleet of nuclear reactors, and new reactor concepts. The Sample Preparation Laboratory will also further enable industry and university collaboration, providing access to state-of-the-art mechanical testing and failure analysis characterization tools.  

The Sample Preparation Laboratory is currently the biggest Idaho National Laboratory (INL) project supported by small businesses. These small businesses are vital to much of the work INL accomplishes. In fiscal year 2021, the lab spent $316 million with small businesses, accounting for most of its spending on goods and services.   

With such an important task ahead, INL project managers knew small businesses would be essential to the new laboratory’s successful completion. “They are laser focused on their areas of expertise, and as an organization, INL benefits greatly from that focus,” said INL Director John Wagner.  

Sample Prep Lab Project director Brady Orchard has seen the benefits small businesses can provide INL firsthand. “The general contractor for the Sample Preparation Laboratory is a small business. We find that a small business makes a great partner for these projects because they provide essential services that large businesses tend to overlook or cannot provide due to their inability to focus on niche markets. Without these specialized businesses, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish many of our projects,” he said. 

This experience is one that Small Business Program Manager Stacey Francis hears frequently when it comes to construction projects, which made up $72 million of last year’s total spending.  

The Sample Preparation Laboratory is currently the biggest Idaho National Laboratory project supported by small businesses.

“INL’s preference for using small businesses for construction projects ties to these companies being focused on the deliverables,” she said. “They develop a strong back-office support staff that understands our requirements and submittal process, and how to work at INL.” 

This understanding will be crucial at the new lab, which will enable the nuclear research community to gain a better understanding at the nanoscale level of how materials perform in the nuclear environment. Coupled with existing capabilities at INL’s Hot Fuel Examination Facility and Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory, the Sample Preparation Laboratory will bolster INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex as the world’s premier center for advanced nuclear fuels and materials characterization. The Sample Prep Lab will be a national center where INL researchers and outside users can perform high-end microscopy. Plus, it will further enable the transfer of low irradiated materials to universities and other national laboratories. 

“INL’s small business partners play a key role in executing our nuclear mission, supporting a large percentage of our construction subcontracts,” said Orchard. “Without their support, the significant strides made in the past five years at the Materials and Fuels Complex would not be possible.”.  

Small businesses play an important part in INL’s success across all mission areas. Whether in construction or engineering services, information technology services, or supplies, INL is always looking for small companies to partner with.  

“There can be longevity in doing work with INL. Often, one project can leverage into other jobs,” said Francis. 

If you are interested in learning more about how small businesses can help INL accomplish its project or organizational goals, contact Francis ([email protected]) in the Small Business Program.  


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About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted January 24, 2022

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