Senator Ben Ray Luján introduced H.R.5966, the Restore and Modernize Our National Labs Act, in the U.S. Senate to improve infrastructure and modernize national laboratories, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Most of the national laboratory infrastructure was built during the Cold War era, which has since led to a level of neglect from U.S. policymakers who may not be aware of the history of the labs, according to Stephen Ezell, director of global innovation policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
The average age of a U.S. Department of Energy facility is 37 years, and the average age of the systems that support the facilities, such as the water, sewage, road and electricity systems, is now more than 40 years, Ezell added.
“Most of the general public is not as familiar, right? Your average layperson, your lay policymaker probably isn’t familiar with, you know, particle filters and synchrotrons … so the work of the national labs is vitally important, but as I said, this is not always … top of mind to the general consciousness as maybe it should be,” Ezell said.
The goal of the bill, co-sponsored by Senator Alex Padilla and Senator Dick Durbin, is to fund updates and upgrades that enhance the capabilities of DOE laboratories in addressing climate change, strengthening national security and creating future industries, Luján said in a press release.
Luján added that he aims to ensure the labs will have safe, reliable and efficient facilities and technologies with a “world-class” workforce in the future.
“Our nation remains a global leader in advancing science and technology because of our national laboratories in California and across the country,” Padilla said in a statement. “The infrastructure of these labs should reflect that.”
California is home to four of the 17 DOE national laboratories that would benefit from this funding, including Berkeley Lab, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory.
The legislation will help modernize DOE laboratories and advance high-performance computing, Ezell added.
“This kind of modern infrastructure is needed for things like supporting advanced nuclear demonstration projects, the modernization of the electric grid, including electrical storage, supporting nonproliferation, counter-proliferation and counterterrorism missions,” Ezell said. “These are all the types of investments that are envisioned as part of the legislation.”
The laboratories have aimed to tackle challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as DOE supercomputers have been “absolutely pivotal” to the search for COVID-19 treatments and vaccine therapies, according to Ezell.
X-ray light has been used to understand the virus and look for vulnerabilities, and advanced manufacturing expertise has helped address the shortage of personal protective equipment and ventilators, Ezell added.