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Idaho National Laboratory
Idaho National Laboratory logo.svg
Motto The energy of innovation
Established 1949
Research Type Nuclear energy, national security, energy and environment
Budget US$1227 million (2006)
Director John J. Grossenbacher
Staff 8,452 (2006)
Location Idaho Falls, Idaho and a large area to the west
Campus 2307 km² (570,000 acres)
Operating Agency Battelle Energy Alliance

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is an 890 square miles (2,300 km2) complex located in the high desert land of eastern Idaho, between the town of Arco to the west and the city of Idaho Falls to the east of it, at 43°31′N 113°00′W / 43.52°N 113.0°W / 43.52; -113.0Coordinates: 43°31′N 113°00′W / 43.52°N 113.0°W / 43.52; -113.0. It lies within Butte, Bingham and Jefferson Counties. Most of INL is essentially a desert space with some scrub vegetation and a number of facilities scattered throughout the area. The average elevation of the complex is 5000 feet (1524 m) above sea level. A few publicly-accessible roads go through the INL area, but most of the area except EBR-1 is restricted to authorized personnel only - those with appropriate security clearances. The tiny town of Atomic City is directly to the south of the INL area.

It was established in 1949 as the "National Reactor Testing Station" (NRTS).[1] In 1975, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was divided into the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The Idaho site was for a short time named ERDA and then subsequently renamed to the "Idaho National Engineering Laboratory" (INEL) in 1977 with the creation of the Department of Energy (DOE) under President Carter. After two decades as INEL, the name was changed again to the "Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory" (INEEL) in 1997. Throughout its lifetime, there have been more than 50 nuclear reactors of some type throughout INL for testing. Many of them are shut down by now.

On February 1, 2005, Battelle Energy Alliance took over operation of the lab from Bechtel, merged with Argonne National Laboratory-West, and the facility name was shortened to "Idaho National Laboratory" (INL). [2] At this time the laboratory's clean-up activities were moved to a separate contract, the Idaho Cleanup Project, which is managed by contractor CH2M-WG Idaho. Research activities were consolidated in the newly named Idaho National Laboratory. The lab currently employs about 8,000 people, with a major economic impact on Idaho Falls and surrounding communities.



First powered town

The original mission of NRTS was the development of nuclear energy during the immediate post-war years. In 1951, one of the most significant events in the 20th century occurred at the NRTS — the first harnessing of atomic energy for generating electric power. This happened at the Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1). The site of this event is memorialized as a Registered National Historic Landmark, open to the public every day Memorial Day through Labor Day. On July 17, 1955, a reactor at the NRTS made Arco the first town in the world to be powered by atomic energy.

Fatal accident

On January 3, 1961, the only fatal nuclear reactor accident in the U.S. occurred at the NRTS. An experimental reactor called SL-1 (Stationary Low-Power Plant Number 1) was destroyed when a problem control rod was removed incorrectly leading to core meltdown and steam explosion. All three military enlisted personnel working in the reactor were killed. Due to the extensive radioactive isotope contamination, all three had to be buried in lead coffins. The events are the subject of two books, one published in 2003, Idaho Falls: The untold story of America's first nuclear accident,[3] and another, Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History, published in 2009.[4]

Test Area North

In 1949, an area of the fringe of the NRTS property named "Test Area North", or TAN, was developed by the U.S. Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission to support the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program's attempt to develop a nuclear-powered aircraft. The programs' Heat Transfer Reactor Experiments (HTRE) were conducted here in 1955 by contractor General Electric, and were a series of tests to develop a system of transferring reactor-heated air to a modified General Electric J47 jet engine. The planned aircraft, the Convair X-6, was to be test flown at TAN, and a large hangar with radiation shielding was built on the site. The program was cancelled, however, before the accompanying 15,000-foot (4,600 m) runway was built.[5]

Naval Reactors Facility (NRF)

In the early 1950s, the first full-scale prototype nuclear plant for shipboard use, called S1W Prototype, was constructed to test the feasibility of using nuclear power aboard submarines. The prototype plant was the predecessor to a similar nuclear plant of S2W design which was installed in the first nuclear-powered ship, the submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571). Later, two more prototype plant facilities were built at this location called the Naval Reactors Facility (NRF for short). There is also an Expended Core Facility (ECF for short) also at NRF as well as administrative buildings/facilities. NRF's chemistry lab was located at the S1W prototype. By now, the prototype plants for shipboard use development have been shut down. Only the Expended Core Facility / Dry Storage Area is in use.

Other sites

  • The Idaho Chemical Processing Plant chemically processed material from used reactor cores to recover reusable nuclear material. It is now called the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center.
  • The Materials Test Area tested materials' exposure to reactor conditions.
  • The Materials Test Area is the Advanced Test Reactor Complex.[6]
  • Central Facilities Area where whole body counts for radioactivity are done for INL employess.
  • Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity (AVTA) about plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).

Current Research

  • Next Generation Nuclear Plant: INL is coordinating the Generation IV Nuclear Systems initiative, an international effort to develop the next generation nuclear power reactors. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, $1.25 billion was authorized to design and construct a “Next Generation Power Plant Project” for electricity-hydrogen cogeneration at the Idaho National Laboratory, and possibly at existing reactors, to explore production of hydrogen fuel from nuclear power.

Advanced Test Reactor

INL operates the Advanced Test Reactor, a facility used to radiate materials or test new components and fuels. Work at INL has included initial development of nuclear reactor designs, testing experimental reactor designs, developing prototype reactors for ships in the U.S. Navy, and developing technologies to manage nuclear waste. The HTRE test facilities can be seen in the foreground.

In the News

The New York Times reported in 2005 that a reactor at INL would be used to manufacture plutonium-238, most of it for classified national security purposes.[7] This isotope is known for its intense alpha decay, which is useful in making extremely long-lived power sources such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG)s for deep space probes and heart pacemaker batteries. INL has 52 reactors, three of which are reportedly still operating (see list of nuclear reactors). The Idaho State Journal reported that the batteries would be used for a voyage to Jupiter's moons and the New Horizons trip to Pluto.[8]

See also


  1. ^ INL History
  2. ^ .:Post Register - Idaho Falls, ID:. article on INL
  3. ^ McKeown, William (2003). Idaho Falls: The Untold Story of America's First Nuclear Accident. Toronto: ECW Press. ISBN 978-1550225624.  
  4. ^ Tucker, Todd (2009). Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1416544333.  
  5. ^ Abandoned and Little Known Airfields, Test Area North, Monteview, ID
  6. ^ INL Map-Driving Directions
  7. ^ William J. Broad (2005-06-27). "U.S. Has Plans to Again Make Own Plutonium". New York Times.  
  8. ^ Friederich, Steven. "Argonne Lab is developing battery for NASA missions". Idaho State Journal. Retrieved 2007-04-13.  

External links

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