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Report of the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee, Subcommittee on Nuclear Laboratory Requirements

As an element of its plans to return the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) site in eastern Idaho to its historic mission of nuclear technology development, the DOE asked its Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC) to establish a Subcommittee on Nuclear Laboratory Requirements. The Subcommittee was charged with identifying the “characteristics, capabilities, and attributes a world-class nuclear laboratory would possess”. It was also asked “to become familiar with the practices, culture, and facilities of other world-class laboratories – not necessarily confined to the nuclear field – and use this knowledge to recommend what needs to be implemented at Idaho.”

The definition for a world-class research and development (R&D) organization (originally developed by the National Research Council and modified by the Subcommittee) serves as a good starting point. This definition states that:

A world-class research organization is one that is recognized by peers, customers and competitors as among the best in the field on an international scale.

More specifically, the Subcommittee believes that:

A world-class nuclear technology research laboratory is recognized by peers, customers and competitors as one of the best in a broad range of nuclear technologies and related fields, leads in the discovery of nuclear- related knowledge and in the introduction of new technologies into the marketplace, attracts close interactions with other leading research organizations on a national and international scale, has the respect and admiration of worldwide industry, attracts top students into a career path, and is known and admired in public circles.

The capabilities, qualifications, focus, and drive of the scientific, technical and other professional staff of the laboratory are absolutely critical to a laboratory being, and being recognized as, among the best in the world. In addition, strong and steadfast commitment by sponsors and major stakeholders is an essential prerequisite for a world-class laboratory. This commitment requires a sustained allocation of resources – principally funding, people, and facilities – which are needed to ensure the implementation of the laboratory’s specific vision, mission, goals and objectives.

World-class performance results from achieving excellence in six key areas: customer focus; resources and capabilities; strategic vision; value creation; quality focus (including safety, security, and management performance); and sound governance. The attributes that all world- class scientific and technical laboratories have in common include:

A well defined mission

For applied missions, funding for necessary supporting research programs

A director and staff with broad experience, outstanding technical judgment and a record of prior success

A leadership team that has authority and freedom to manage the laboratory while being held accountable

A sponsoring agency staff that is very knowledgeable and has authority to make decisions for the sponsor

Substantive interaction with peer technical communities

The Subcommittee believes that the vision of this laboratory and its mission to lead in the development of nuclear technology are such that basic research must be conducted and carried over into applied research and development and then followed through into demonstration. Furthermore, it is clearly this laboratory’s mission to lead in all three. World-class demonstrations demand world-class research as a foundation, and world-class research begets world-class developments and demonstrations. Thus, the remainder of this report discusses this continuum as research, development and demonstration (RD&D).