Construction spending at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory is expected to reach a record high of $90 million next year with the start of several major projects and some environmental cleanup work at the U.S. Department of Energy site.

At a crowded meeting of INEL contractors and subcontractors, officials for MK-Ferguson, the INEL's lead construction contractor, said the future looks bright for work at the eastern Idaho nuclear and research facility."We do have more work now than ever, and if you can believe it, it's getting more difficult," Bob Lawrence, MK-Ferguson's president and general manager, said. "Environmental issues are putting more pressure on us and on the way we do business."

The previous high for construction work was 1986, when $70 million was spent on work at the INEL even though no major projects were under way. Annual construction spending since has dipped as low as $26 million and this year rebounded to $55 million.

But for at least the next three years, Department of Energy plans for several major, multi-year projects at the Idaho Chemical Processing Plant figure to increase construction spending significantly.

The projects include:

- Completing a new Fuel Processing Facility to replace the existing one built in the early 1950s.

- Building new underground tanks to replace older ones for temporary storage of high-level liquid radioactive waste.

- Constructing a system to remove nitrous oxides from emissions at the New Waste Calcining Facility.

The Fuel Processing Facility alone is expected to cost $200 million over five years. MK-Ferguson Vice President Gene Hicks said the company expects annual construction costs overall to reach $125 million to $140 million in 1992.

In addition, Lawrence said the Department of Energy plans to spend $800 million to $1 billion on environmental cleanup over the next 15 years. While most of that work will begin in 1992 or 1993, he said, some may start by the end of next year.

But Lawrence said he has been surprised by the lukewarm response from contractors.