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Idaho National Laboratory

From the INEEL Archives
Feature Story

Energy Security

INEEL experts help protect the nation's electric grid, and keep the energy flowing

INEEL experts help protect the nation's electric grid, and keep the energy flowing

Most Americans expect to be able to fill up their tanks when they drive to a gas station. They expect to have warm homes and light to read by. They want their computers and trains to run, planes to take off on time and their coffee to be hot and fresh at the local drive-through.

All of this takes abundant, reliable energy, and that’s where the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory comes in. As part of its overall energy security mission, INEEL scientists and engineers are conducting a gamut of programs and projects from examining the viability and safety of the newest concepts for a new generation of nuclear reactors to developing efficient methods to harness the wind. The INEEL’s National Security Division also focuses on energy security, but rather than developing alternative energy sources, the division’s engineers and technicians work to protect the systems that exist today.

“One of our jobs is to reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure systems that operate today,” said Ken Watts, director of National Security’s Infrastructure and Defense Systems organization. “Whether they’re threats from terrorism, impacts from natural disasters or just the effects from aging infrastructure, we look to identify vulnerabilities before the worst can happen, then find ways to fix them.” Critical infrastructure includes those systems that are vital for the operation of the country, such as energy production and distribution, communications and transportation.

To fix the vulnerabilities, they must first be known. The Laboratory’s security staff, for instance, is helping the Nuclear Regulatory Commission review the security plans for commercial reactors. If there are issues, these experts will identify them.

In addition to the INEEL’s work in analyzing the theoretical, other experts appraise the actual. At the request of the federal departments of Energy and Homeland Security, the INEEL sends teams to critical infrastructure sites throughout the nation, such as ports and refineries, to find the weak links in security vulnerabilities and suggest corrections.

But the INEEL is, at its heart, an applied engineering laboratory and its staff would not be content simply identifying the problems. National Security researchers are coming up with solutions.

Engineers have developed a sensor that attaches to power transmission poles. The sensor can detect tampering, such as someone trying to disconnect a guy wire, and alert a central control center.

All threats are not physical, however, so Laboratory computer engineers have developed sophisticated code to detect cyber intruders, and they are educating the energy industry on this and other intrusion detection systems.

In other programs, staff is concentrating on reducing the vulnerabilities — both physical and cyber — of the automated control systems that run many critical infrastructure assets. Because Laboratory staff has designed, built, operated and still maintains a variety of these process control systems for everything from the INEEL’s power distribution to chemical reprocessing and manufacturing activities, the Laboratory is particularly qualified in this arena. The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Energy recognize INEEL’s expertise and rely on Laboratory staff to address this international concern.

The best minds in the country are looking at conventional and alternative energy sources. INEEL National Security experts are helping to protect the systems to keep that energy flowing reliably.

Ken Watts, 526-9628 Send E-mail