Nuclear engineering alumnus named director of Idaho National Laboratory


By Gabrielle Stewart

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — John Wagner, a Penn State nuclear engineering alumnus, has been selected director of Idaho National Laboratory (INL). He will begin his new role on Dec. 11.

INL is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory that supports each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment through nuclear energy research and development. It is managed by Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA).

Wagner has worked at INL since 2016 and served as associate laboratory director for nuclear science and technology since 2017. Before INL, he worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for 16 years and at Holtec International for two years after completing his graduate degrees.

“As the associate laboratory director for nuclear science and technology, I already had the best job in the world,” said Wagner, who earned his master of science in 1994 and doctoral degree in 1997, both in nuclear engineering at Penn State. “Now this role is beyond the dream come true.”

As INL director, Wagner will lead the $1.5 billion research enterprise, which has more than 5,000 staff. He plans to build two new advanced reactors by 2025 and to continue to implement advanced reactor technology in the following years.

“I care passionately about nuclear energy and want to improve its public perception through innovation,” Wagner said. “Our innovation can ensure that nuclear is affordable, safe, secure and broadly deployable.”

Wagner, who studied at Penn State after completing his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, said that Penn State’s research and professional opportunities provided invaluable experiences for starting his career. He credited his research adviser, Alireza Haghighat, now a professor and director of the nuclear engineering program at Virginia Tech, with helping him to learn what he was capable of as a researcher.

“John Wagner possesses the qualities the BEA Board was looking for in INL’s next director: advanced nuclear expertise, managerial experience and strategic leadership,” said Ron Townsend, chairman of BEA, in a press release. “John is a proven leader who gets results.”

Wagner is a fellow of the American Nuclear Society. He received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award from the DOE Office of Science in 2013. In 2014, he was named Outstanding Engineering Alumnus, the highest honor bestowed by the Penn State College of Engineering.


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Megan Lakatos

A researcher poses for a professional headshot.

John Wagner, a Penn State nuclear engineering alumnus, was named director of Idaho National Laboratory. IMAGE: PROVIDED