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DOE report details "state of the labs," including Jefferson Lab

Tamara Dietrich
Contact Reportertdietrich@dailypress.com

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz released a report on the country's 17 national laboratories Tuesday, offering a look at their progress and a comprehensive primer of sorts on the department's larger mission for the incoming Trump administration.

The "Annual Report on the State of the DOE National Laboratories" is the first of its kind, a detailed 212-page document that Moniz says is intended to serve as a "strong foundation" for more concise updates in future.

"Part of the thinking for that, obviously, is to inform all of us," Moniz said in a conference call with reporters. "But with the change of administration coming up, we thought it would also be an excellent opportunity to provide the new team with a comprehensive picture about the laboratories."

Those laboratories include Jefferson Lab in Newport News, which conducts cutting-edge particle beam physics to explore the building blocks of matter.

There, director Hugh "Mont" Montgomery said the hope is that the report "will provide a context for all that we do, both as individual labs, but also, importantly, as a network."

Moniz called the laboratories "a national asset," even carrying out critical missions for other federal agencies such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institutes of Health.

The report's release comes as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is set to face a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination by President-elect Donald Trump to head the DOE, a department Perry has said in the past should be dismantled.

The report notes that the DOE is charged with four broad national missions: "clean energy innovation, scientific leadership and discovery, nuclear security and the environmental stewardship of the nuclear weapons complex."

"Success in these missions," the report states, "has required that DOE build and nurture a powerful science and technology organization, and the need for this will only grow in importance as nuclear security, climate change risk mitigation and American scientific leadership face evolving challenges."

Trump and several of his cabinet nominees have challenged the scientific evidence for climate change.

In the last several years, Moniz said, DOE scientists have been called on to assist in national and international crises — oil spills and natural gas leaks, Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, securing loose nuclear materials as the Soviet Union broke apart and conducting real-time technical analysis to guide negotiations for the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

"What we do is fundamentally apply science and technology to solve important problems and missions that give the distinctive characteristic of the DOE as a cabinet agency, that we are a science and technology and energy agency at our core," Moniz said. "And that the 17 national laboratory system is our critical asset for carrying out that job."

Research associated with DOE labs have earned 115 Nobel Prizes, including six in physics and chemistry in the last eight years of President Barack Obama's administration, Moniz said.

Lab-based technologies have saved consumers about a trillion dollars in energy efficiency and billions in environmental cleanup programs, invented capabilities for effective nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing and "pushed the boundaries of high-performance computing," Moniz said.

As for the incoming administration, he said, "I can't speak to what their policy's going to be. (But) I can assure you that I will certainly be talking more with the secretary nominee, Perry, about the labs as, again, a critical jewel and a critical resource for him personally."

Dietrich can be reached by phone at 757-247-7892.

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