As challenges go, bringing a nuclear test reactor back to life after 20 years of hibernation might rank near the top of the list.
When the U.S. Department of Energy decided in 2014 to restart Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT), which had been put in stand-by mode in 1994 after 35 years in operation, the operators and trainers were long gone. Old procedures had to be recovered and updated, and a whole new training regimen had to be written.
This was when Battelle Energy Alliance, INL’s management and operations contractor, began looking for a subcontractor who could help. Tennessee-based S.R. Martin Group was awarded a subcontract led by Michael Martin.
“The plant manager, Keith Penny, has known me since around 1987-88 when we worked together at High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and knew of my work in recent years at INL,” he said. “Keith and Loran Kinghorn asked if I could come build a training and procedures program for them.”
Although S.R. Martin only dates back to 2009, Martin had been doing private consulting work at INL since 2000. His experience in nuclear energy dates back to the 1970s, when he served in the U.S. Navy, then 10 years at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex, including the restart of HFIR in April 1989 and the restart of the Tower Shielding Reactor (TSR) in 1990. Eventually, he decided he would be happier working for himself, but the network he built during that time would be one of his greatest assets as a contractor.
Today, S.R. Martin Group has 22 employees — 13 in Idaho, eight of them local residents. “I typically hire people I’ve worked with. I have a lot of friends, and I reach back to them,” he said.
With the TREAT restart, Martin relied mainly on reactor operators and trainers he knew from the commercial nuclear industry. “I just have a lot of good people who don’t need to work 2,000 hours a year,” he said.
“S.R. Martin is efficient at getting people here, and they work well with procurement personnel,” said Dave Broussard, TREAT division director. “When it comes to procedure writing and training, his go-to employees are top-notch. He also has a deep understanding of DOE orders.”
TREAT was restarted in late 2017, 13 months ahead of schedule and for nearly $20 million less than the baseline cost estimate. Martin credited the TREAT management team. “It’s a lot of fun working with people who are competent and focused on getting a job done,” he said.
S.R. Martin Group now has several subcontract jobs at INL, including one at the Advanced Test Reactor that includes writing procedures for installing new equipment.
“Small businesses like Mike’s are a key component to the success of many projects at INL,” said Stacey Francis, the lab’s Small Business Program manager. “Our small business partners provide exceptional value and expertise in achieving our mission.”
One added advantage Martin has is his certified rating through the Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE) as a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB), which entitles him to special procurement considerations from DOE and the Department of Defense. Certification is not the easiest process, but it is well worth it. “I talk to veterans all the time, and I tell them it pays to get rated as service disabled, even for a landscaping job at the Air Force base,” he said.
At 60, Martin is looking at handing off some of his responsibilities in the next five years. “I’m trying to find some new young managers,” he said. “There is a whole new generation of young, smart people here in Idaho.”