"At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they're using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities," Obama told members of Congress and the American people. He said that the brand-new program is conducting some of the world's most innovative research in the nuclear field and has three goals.

President Barack Obama singled out research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee while talking about energy innovation during the annual State of the Union address on Tuesday.

"At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they're using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities," Obama told members of Congress and the American people.

Obama was referring to the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, or CASL, ORNL spokesman Billy Stair confirmed on Wednesday. He said that the brand-new program is conducting some of the world's most innovative research in the nuclear field and has three goals:

• Get more power out of nuclear reactors

• Extend the life of current reactors, most of which are more than 40 years old

• Help design the "next generation" of reactors.

"All three of those goals would contribute to ORNL's leadership and America's leadership in the nuclear industry," Stair said.

Obama's speech focused on education, innovation and infrastructure, and he said his administration was issuing a challenge to reinvent the nation's energy policy. Among other things, he said, the country should break its dependence on oil, eliminate oil company subsidies and support innovative energy research and incentives.

The United States could become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and should set a goal of generating 80 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2035, the president said.

"We're telling American scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we'll fund the Apollo projects of our time," Obama said, referring to the U.S. spaceflight program that brought humans to the moon and back roughly four decades ago.

Stair said the CASL program is part of an effort by the U.S. Department of Energy to focus on today's major scientific challenges.

"This is a perfect example of how targeted research and development can sustain America's leadership in scientific innovation," he said. It can also bring about "some very real benefits to the American economy."

ORNL was selected to host CASL in the spring of 2010 at the end of a tough competition that included other labs and universities, Stair said. But he wasn't sure if ORNL has been mentioned in previous State of the Union speeches. At the least, it hasn't been since 2000, Stair said.

"It's very rare that any lab is mentioned," he said.

Stair said the lab endorses Obama's support of science, technology, engineering and math education.

"For a science laboratory, there's no more important part of the education system," Stair said.

In his Tuesday address, Obama said many teachers from the baby boomer generation are retiring, and his administration wants to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

John Huotari can be contacted at (865) 220-5533 or john.huotari@oakridger.com.