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PM Brief: Missing teen found in Utah, ‘inclusion’ bills & a nuclear microreactor

Nuclear microreactor rendering, Idaho National Laboratory
Idaho National Laboratory
As seen in this rendering, the Department of Defense's "Project PELE" is focused on small-scale, truckable nuclear microreactors that could act as portable or backup power sources.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Northern Utah

Happy reunion for teen found in Utah

Summit County Sheriff’s deputies have reunited a 19-year-old with his parents after he had been missing for more than two years. Connerjack Oswalt, who has autism, was found shivering outside of a convenience store in Jeremy Ranch on April 9. After finding a number for his parents, Sheriff Justin Martinez said Oswalt’s stepfather immediately drove in from Idaho to meet him. Oswalt was 16 the last time his parents saw him in northern California. It’s not clear how he ended up in Utah, but Martinez added it’s incredibly rare to find someone who’s been missing for that long. — Jon Reed

Precautions against bird flu at the aviary

Tracy Aviary is taking steps to protect its birds from avian flu. The facility in downtown Salt Lake City is home to around 400 birds including native, exotic and rare species. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza was confirmed in a flock of backyard chickens in Utah County on Friday. Waterfowl and wetland birds are particularly vulnerable to the virus, so the aviary has closed two exhibits and changed procedures for a third. They’ve also added netting to keep wild birds out of some areas and ask the public not to feed any birds inside the aviary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this strain presents a low risk to humans. — Elaine Clark

State

Governor signs “inclusion” bills

Gov. Spencer Cox highlighted legislation that focuses on opportunity and inclusion during a ceremonial bill signing Monday. One new law gives options to non-English speakers for taking their driver's license exam in the top five languages other than English spoken in the state. Another makes Juneteenth an official state holiday after the federal government recognized it as a national holiday last year. The governor also signed a resolution encouraging schools and other organizations to allow student-athletes to wear religious clothing or headwear as part of their uniform. — Emily Means

Region/Nation

Lee wants federal land for housing

Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, is trying to open up federal land in the West for more housing. He recently introduced the Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter or HOUSES Act, which would allow local governments to buy federal land at a reduced price. A majority of the land would then have to be set aside for housing and have strict density requirements. In a press release, Lee said “the federal government’s land ownership is a significant cause of our restricted housing stock.” Environmental groups oppose the HOUSES Act. Kate Groetzinger, with the Center for Western Priorities, sees this as a way for Lee to attack public lands and said the move would encourage urban sprawl. Read the full story. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Editor’s Note: Kate Groetzinger is a former employee of KUER.

Idaho to play a role in nuclear microreactor

The Pentagon has announced a new nuclear design will be assembled in the Mountain West. “Project PELE” aims to produce a mobile nuclear microreactor — a small nuclear reactor that will be able to travel in up to four shipping containers. The Pentagon is still deciding between two final designs, but the assembly of the reactor and fuel will happen at Idaho National Laboratory. Officials say it will give the Department of Defense a backup supply of power and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. The agency said it uses more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day. — Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

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