Idaho National Laboratory

Idaho National Laboratory

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Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is an 890 square miles (2,305.1 km²) complex located in the high desert
High desert
High desert refers to the inland and often high elevation deserts of the American West. Examples of high deserts in North America include the Great Basin Desert and the Mojave Desert.High desert can also mean:...

 of eastern
Eastern Idaho
Eastern Idaho is a generic term used to describe areas of Idaho which lie east of the Magic Valley region. It is generally understood to include: Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Bonneville, Butte, Caribou, Clark, Custer, Franklin, Fremont, Jefferson, Madison, Oneida, Power and Teton...

Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

, between the town of Arco
Arco, Idaho
Arco is a city in Butte County, Idaho, United States. The population was 995 at the 2010 census. The city is the county seat of Butte County.Craters of the Moon National Monument is located along U.S. Route 20, southwest of the city. The Idaho National Laboratory is located east of Arco...

 to the west and the cities of Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Idaho Falls is a city in and the county seat of Bonneville County, Idaho, United States, and the largest city in Eastern Idaho. As of the 2010 census, the population of Idaho Falls was 56,813, with a metro population of 130,374....

 and Blackfoot
Blackfoot, Idaho
Blackfoot is a city in Bingham County, Idaho, United States. The population was 10,419 at the 2000 census. The city is the county seat of Bingham County. Blackfoot is self-designated the "Potato Capital of the World", because it claims to have the largest potato industry in the world...

 to the east. It lies within Butte
Butte County, Idaho
Butte County is a rural county located in the U.S. state of Idaho. It was established in 1917, and its county seat and largest city is Arco. As of the 2010 census, the county had a population of 2,891...

, Bingham
Bingham County, Idaho
Bingham County is a county located in the U.S. state of Idaho. As of the 2000 Census the county had a population of 41,735 . The county seat and largest city is Blackfoot. Bingham County comprises the Blackfoot, ID, Micropolitan Statistical Area.Bingham County was created January 13, 1885, and...

, Bonneville
Bonneville County, Idaho
Bonneville County is a county located in the U.S. state of Idaho. As of the 2010 census, the county had a population of 104,234. Its county seat and largest city is Idaho Falls...

 and Jefferson
Jefferson County, Idaho
Jefferson County is a county located in the U.S. state of Idaho. The county was established in 1913, and was named after Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. President. As of the 2000 Census the county had a population of 19,155 . The county seat and largest city is Rigby...

 counties. Most of INL is desert with scrub vegetation and a number of facilities scattered throughout the area; the average elevation
The elevation of a geographic location is its height above a fixed reference point, most commonly a reference geoid, a mathematical model of the Earth's sea level as an equipotential gravitational surface ....

 of the complex is 5000 feet (1,524 m) above sea level. A few publicly accessible highways go through the vast INL, but most of the area (except EBR-I) is restricted to authorized personnel and requires appropriate security clearance
Security clearance
A security clearance is a status granted to individuals allowing them access to classified information, i.e., state secrets, or to restricted areas after completion of a thorough background check. The term "security clearance" is also sometimes used in private organizations that have a formal...

. The tiny town of Atomic City
Atomic City, Idaho
Atomic City is a hamlet in Bingham County, Idaho, United States. The population was 25 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Atomic City is located at .According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of , all of it land....

 is on the INL's southern border, and the Craters of the Moon National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is a national monument and national preserve located in the Snake River Plain in central Idaho, U.S.A. It is along US 20 , between the small cities of Arco and Carey, at an average elevation of above sea level...

 is to the southwest.

The federal research facility was established in 1949 as the "National Reactor Testing Station" (NRTS). In 1975, the Atomic Energy Commission
United States Atomic Energy Commission
The United States Atomic Energy Commission was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by Congress to foster and control the peace time development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S...

 (AEC) was divided into the Energy Research and Development Administration
Energy Research and Development Administration
The United States Energy Research and Development Administration was a United States government organization formed from the split of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1975...

 (ERDA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is an independent agency of the United States government that was established by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 from the United States Atomic Energy Commission, and was first opened January 19, 1975...

 (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
United States Department of Energy
The United States Department of Energy is a Cabinet-level department of the United States government concerned with the United States' policies regarding energy and safety in handling nuclear material...

 (DOE) under President Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

. 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 one-of-a-kind nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

s built at the facility for testing; all but three are out of service.

On Feb. 1, 2005, Battelle
Battelle Memorial Institute
Battelle Memorial Institute is a private nonprofit applied science and technology development company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Battelle is a charitable trust organized as a nonprofit corporation under the laws of the State of Ohio and is exempt from taxation under Section 501 of the...

 Energy Alliance took over operation of the lab from Bechtel
Bechtel Corporation is the largest engineering company in the United States, ranking as the 5th-largest privately owned company in the U.S...

, merged with Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory is the first science and engineering research national laboratory in the United States, receiving this designation on July 1, 1946. It is the largest national laboratory by size and scope in the Midwest...

-West, and the facility name was changed to "Idaho National Laboratory" (INL).

At this time the site's clean-up activities were moved to a separate contract, the Idaho Cleanup Project, which is managed by CH2M-WG Idaho. Research activities were consolidated in the newly named Idaho National Laboratory. The lab currently employs more than 4,000 people and has a significant economic impact on Idaho Falls and the surrounding communities.

Nuclear Energy Projects

Many projects and experiments have taken place at Idaho National Laboratory and continue to do so. The lab’s relationship with federal and state governments, other national labs, universities from across the country, and collaboration with foreign researchers make INL an integration hub as well as a research laboratory. INL works in partnership on many important nuclear energy research projects.

Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP)

INL leads the nation's efforts to develop the next generation of safe, clean and reliable nuclear power plants. One part of this program is the “Next Generation Nuclear Plant
Next Generation Nuclear Plant
A Next Generation Nuclear Plant is a generation IV version of the Very High Temperature Reactor that could be coupled to a neighboring hydrogen production facility. It could also produce electricity and supply process heat...

” or NGNP, which would be the demonstration of a new way to use nuclear energy for more than electricity. The heat generated from nuclear fission in the plant could provide process heat for hydrogen production
Hydrogen production
Hydrogen production is the family of industrial methods for generating hydrogen. Currently the dominant technology for direct production is steam reforming from hydrocarbons. Many other methods are known including electrolysis and thermolysis...

 and other industrial purposes, while also generating electricity. And the NGNP would use a high-temperature gas reactor, which would have redundant safety systems that rely on natural physical processes more than human or mechanical intervention.

INL is working with private industry partners to design, plan and eventually build the NGNP. INL was commissioned to lead this effort by the U.S. Department of Energy as a result of the Energy Policy Act of 2005
Energy Policy Act of 2005
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 is a bill passed by the United States Congress on July 29, 2005, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on August 8, 2005, at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico...


Fuel Cycle Research & Development (FCRD)

The Fuel Cycle Research & Development program aims to help expand nuclear energy’s benefits by addressing some of the issues inherent to the current life cycle of nuclear reactor fuel in the United States. These efforts strive to make nuclear energy's expansion safe, secure, economic and sustainable.

Currently, the United States, like many other countries, employs an “open-ended" nuclear fuel cycle, whereby nuclear power plant fuel is used only once and then placed in a repository for indefinite storage. One of the primary FCRD goals is to research, develop and demonstrate ways to “close” the fuel cycle so fuel is reused or recycled rather than being shelved before all of its energy has been used. INL coordinates many of the FCRD's national research efforts, including:
  • Continuing critical fuel cycle research and development (R&D) activities
  • Pursuing development of policy and regulatory framework to support fuel cycle closure
  • Developing deployable technologies
  • Establishing advanced modeling and simulation program elements
  • Implementing a science-based R&D program

Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) program

Today, many of the nation’s nuclear power plants are approaching the end of their 40-year operating licenses. Some have already applied for and received license extensions for an additional 20 years. The Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program
Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program
The Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program is a U.S. government research and development program. It is directed by the United States Department of Energy and is aimed at performing research and compiling data necessary to qualify for licenses to extend the life of America's current 104...

 supports national efforts to do the research and gather the information necessary to demonstrate whether it is safe and prudent to apply for extensions beyond 60 years of operating life.

The LWRS Program aims to safely and economically extend the service lives of the more than 100 electricity-generating nuclear power plants in the United States. The program brings together technical information, performs important research and organizes data to be used in license-extension applications.

Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility (ATR NSUF)

INL’s Advanced Test Reactor is a unique research reactor located approximately 50 miles (80.5 km) from Idaho Falls, Idaho.

The Department of Energy named Advanced Test Reactor
Advanced Test Reactor
The Advanced Test Reactor is a research reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory, located east of Arco, Idaho. This reactor is primarily designed and used to test materials to be used in other, larger-scale and prototype reactors. It can operate at a maximum power of 250 MW and has a "Four...

 (ATR) a National Scientific User Facility in April 2007. This designation opened the facility to use by university-led scientific research groups and gives them free access to the ATR and other unique resources at INL and partner facilities. In addition to a rolling proposal solicitation with two closing dates each year, INL holds an annual "Users Week" and summer session to familiarize researchers with the user facility capabilities available to them.

Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP)

INL is the Department of Energy's lead lab for nuclear energy research and development (R&D), but an essential portion of America’s nuclear research is carried out in conjunction with universities across the country. Students and professors from these institutions play a vital role in current research and in training the next generation of nuclear research and industry professionals.

That's why DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy has designated 20 percent of its R&D budget to support university students and researchers. DOE's Nuclear Energy University Programs provides funding for university research grants, fellowships, scholarships and infrastructure upgrades.

For example, in May 2010, the program awarded $38 million for 42 university-led R&D projects at 23 U.S. universities in 17 states. In FY 2009, the program awarded about $44 million to 71 R&D projects and more than $6 million in infrastructure grants to 30 U.S. universities and colleges in 23 states.
INL's Center for Advanced Energy Studies administers the program for DOE. CAES is a collaboration between INL and Idaho's three public research universities: Idaho State University, Boise State University and University of Idaho.

National and Homeland Security Projects

INL's National and Homeland Security division focuses on two main areas: protecting critical infrastructure such as electricity transmission lines, utilities and wireless communications networks, and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Control Systems Cybersecurity

For nearly a decade, INL has been performing cutting-edge research, conducting vulnerability assessments and developing innovative technology to increase infrastructure resiliency. With a strong emphasis on industry collaboration and partnership, INL is enhancing electric grid reliability, control systems cybersecurity and physical security systems

INL's power and cyber engineers are widely recognized for their efforts to improve the security of current and next-generation industrial control systems and component devices. And cyber team members work to develop cutting-edge defensive strategies against exploits, malware and zero-day attacks by analyzing protocols, developing code and reverse engineering.

INL routinely conducts advanced cyber training and oversees simulated competitive exercises for national and international customers. And the lab supports cyber security and control systems programs for the departments of Homeland Security
United States Department of Homeland Security
The United States Department of Homeland Security is a cabinet department of the United States federal government, created in response to the September 11 attacks, and with the primary responsibilities of protecting the territory of the United States and protectorates from and responding to...

, Energy
United States Department of Energy
The United States Department of Energy is a Cabinet-level department of the United States government concerned with the United States' policies regarding energy and safety in handling nuclear material...

 and Defense
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

. INL staff members are frequently asked to provide guidance and leadership to standards organizations, regulatory agencies and national policy committees.

In January 2011, it was reported by the New York Times that the INL was allegedly responsible for some of the initial research behind the Stuxnet
Stuxnet is a computer worm discovered in June 2010. It initially spreads via Microsoft Windows, and targets Siemens industrial software and equipment...

 virus which allegedly crippled Iran's nuclear centrifuges. The INL, which teamed up with Siemens
Siemens may refer toSiemens, a German family name carried by generations of telecommunications industrialists, including:* Werner von Siemens , inventor, founder of Siemens AG...

, conducted research on the P.C.S.-7 control system to identify its vulnerabilities. According to the Times, that information would later be used by the American and Israeli governments to create the Stuxnet virus.

The Times article was later disputed by other journalists—including Forbes blogger Jeffrey Carr—as being both sensational and lacking verifiable facts. In March 2011, Vanity Fair Magazine's cover story on Stuxnet carried INL's official response stating, "Idaho National Laboratory was not involved in the creation of the stuxnet worm. In fact, our focus is to protect and defend control systems and critical infrastructures from cyber threats like stuxnet and we are all well recognized for these efforts. We value the relationships that we have formed within the control systems industry and in no way would risk these partnerships by divulging confidential information."

Nuclear nonproliferation

Building on INL's nuclear mission and legacy in reactor design and operations, the lab's engineers are developing technology, shaping policy and leading initiatives to secure the nuclear fuel cycle and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Under the direction of the National Nuclear Security Administration, INL and other national laboratory scientists are leading a global initiative to secure foreign stockpiles of fresh and spent highly enriched uranium and return it to secure storage for processing
. Other engineers are working to convert U.S. research reactors and build new reactor fuels that replace highly enriched uranium with a safer, low-enriched uranium fuel. To protect against threats from the dispersal of nuclear and radiological devices, INL researchers also examine radiological materials to understand their origin and potential uses. Others have applied their knowledge to the development of detection technologies that scan and monitor containers for nuclear materials.

The laboratory's expansive desert location, nuclear facilities and wide range of source materials provide an ideal training location for military responders, law enforcement and other civilian first responders. INL routinely supports these organizations by leading classroom training, conducting field exercises and assisting in technology assessments. INL scientists are also leading discussions and performing research to ensure future nuclear facilities are intrinsically equipped with modern safeguards and security policies, practices and technologies.

Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity

INL’s Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity is at the forefront of advancing a potential transportation revolution that will make America more independent, safer and cleaner. INL scientists gather information from more than 250 plug-in-hybrid vehicles. These vehicles, operated by a wide swath of companies, local and state governments, advocacy groups, and others are located all across the United States, Canada and even Finland. Together, they’ve logged a combined 1.5 million miles worth of data that is analyzed by specialists at INL.

Dozens of other types of vehicles, like hydrogen-fueled and pure electric cars, are also tested at INL. This data will help evaluate the performance and other factors that will be critical to widespread adoption of plug-in or other alternative vehicles. See also, The EV Project.


INL researchers are partnering with farmers, agricultural equipment manufacturers and universities to optimize the logistics of an industrial-scale biofuel economy. Agricultural waste products — such as wheat straw; corncobs, stalks or leaves; or bioenergy crops such as switchgrass or miscanthus — could be used to create cellulosic biofuels. But challenges still exist for scaling up production, minimizing impact on food crop production, and being able to compete with the price of gasoline. INL researchers are working to determine the most economic and sustainable ways to get biofuel raw materials from fields to biorefineries.


Pioneering research and development of robots that go where no human wants to go and do what could end in physical harm for a human — that is the goal of INL’s robotics program. The program researches, builds, tests and refines robots that, among other things, clean up dangerous wastes, measure radiation, scout drug-smuggling tunnels, aid search-and-rescue operations, and help protect the environment.

These robots roll, crawl, fly, and go under water, even in swarms that communicate with each other on the go to do their jobs.

Biological Systems

The Biological Systems department is housed in 15 laboratories with a total of 12000 square feet (1,114.8 m²) at the INL Research Center in Idaho Falls. The department engages in a wide variety of biological studies, including studying bacteria and other microbes that live in extreme conditions such as the extremely high temperature pools of Yellowstone National Park.

These types of studies have implications far beyond satisfying scientific curiosity about organisms living in extreme environments. Among other potential applications, studying these types of organisms could boost the efficiency of biofuels production. Other studies related to uncommon microbes have potential in areas such as carbon dioxide sequestration and groundwater cleanup.

Hybrid Energy Systems

INL is pioneering the research and testing associated with a new idea in energy production — hybrid energy systems that combine multiple energy sources for optimum carbon management and energy production. For example, a nuclear reactor could provide electricity when certain renewable resources aren't available, while also providing a carbon-free source of heat and hydrogen that could be used, for example, to make liquid transportation fuels from coal.

Nuclear Waste Processing

The Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU)

Construction of a new liquid waste processing facility is nearly completed at INTEC on the INL Site. The Facility will process approximately 900,000 gallons of liquid nucear waste using a steam reforming process to produce a granular product suitable for disposal. The facility is the first of its kind an based on a scaled prototype. The project is a part of the Department of Energy's Idaho Cleanup Project aimed at removing waste and demolishing old nuclear facilities at the INL site.

Cross-cutting Projects

The Instrumentation, Control and Intelligent Systems (ICIS) Distinctive Signature is building fundamental technological capabilities through a cross-cutting community of researchers, which support mission-related research and development in key capability areas: safeguards and control system security, sensor technologies, intelligent automation, human systems integration, and robotics and intelligent systems. These five key areas support the INL mission to “ensure the nation’s energy security with safe, competitive, and sustainable energy systems and unique national and homeland security.” Through its grand challenge in resilient control systems, ICIS research is providing a holistic approach to aspects of design that have often been bolt-on, including human systems, security and modeling of complex interdependencies.

Scholarships and Grants

Most of tomorrow's scientists and engineers will discover their passions in today's elementary, middle and high school classrooms. INL supports science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in classrooms across the state. Each year, the lab invests nearly $500,000 in Idaho teachers and students. Funding goes toward scholarship programs for high school graduates, technical college students and teachers who want to integrate more hands-on science activities into their lessons. INL also provides thousands of dollars worth of classroom grants to teachers seeking to upgrade their science equipment or lab infrastructure.


INL places a high priority on developing the next generation of scientists, engineers and researchers. The lab hires more than 200 interns each summer to work alongside laboratory employees. And INL is listed by Vault, the online job resource site, as one of the best places in the U.S. to get an internship Internships are offered to high school, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students in applicable fields including science, engineering, math, chemistry, business, communication and other fields.

Small Business Outreach

INL works extensively with small businesses in Idaho and across the nation. In addition to subcontracting more than $100 million worth of work from Idaho's small businesses, INL technologies are often licensed to new or existing companies for commercialization. In the past 10 years, INL has negotiated roughly 500 technology licenses. And INL technology has spawned more than 40 start-up companies since 1995.

Small businesses that contract with the lab can participate in a Department of Energy program designed to enhance their capabilities. INL has worked with a variety of small businesses in this mentoring capacity, including International Management Solutions and Portage Environmental.

Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) Complex

INL’s Advanced Test Reactor
Advanced Test Reactor
The Advanced Test Reactor is a research reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory, located east of Arco, Idaho. This reactor is primarily designed and used to test materials to be used in other, larger-scale and prototype reactors. It can operate at a maximum power of 250 MW and has a "Four...

 is unique in many ways. First, as a research reactor, it is much smaller than the more common electricity-producing reactors most people are familiar with — the reactor vessel measures 12 feet (3.7 m) across and 36 feet (11 m) high, with the core a mere 4 feet (1.2 m) tall and 50 inches across, and it does not generate electricity.

Second, even among research reactors, the ATR stands out as special. It allows scientists to simultaneously test materials in multiple unique experimental environments. Research scientists can place experiments in one of the more than 70 test positions in the reactor. Each can generate unique experimental conditions.

Some have called the reactor a “virtual time machine,” for its ability to demonstrate the effects of several years of radiation on materials in a fraction of the time.

The ATR allows scientists to place a great variety of materials in an environment where the specimens can experience specified intensities of radiation, temperature and pressure. Specimens are then removed to examine how the time in the reactor affected the materials and how the materials could be improved. The U.S. Navy is the facility's primary user, but the ATR also produces medical isotopes that can help treat cancer patients and industrial isotopes that can be used for radiography to x-ray welds on items such as skyscrapers, bridges and ship holds.

Many ATR experiments focus on materials that could make the next generation of nuclear reactors even safer and longer lasting.

Hot Fuel Examination Facility

The Hot Fuel Examination Facility gives INL researchers and other scientists the ability to safely and effectively examine and test irradiated reactor fuel and other materials. Scientists refer to materials that have high levels of radiation as being “hot,” indicating that a researcher will need sufficient shielding to be able to safely handle them.

HFEF provides 15 state-of-the-art workstations known as hot cells. For windows, each cell has leaded glass panes layered 4 feet (1.2 m) thick and separated by thin layers of oil. Remote manipulators allow users to maneuver items inside the hot cell using robotic arms. And special filtered exhaust systems keep indoor and outdoor air safe. At these stations, scientists and technicians can better determine the performance of irradiated fuels and materials. Scientists can also characterize materials destined for long-term storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Space and Security Power Systems Facility

The New Horizons
New Horizons
New Horizons is a NASA robotic spacecraft mission currently en route to the dwarf planet Pluto. It is expected to be the first spacecraft to fly by and study Pluto and its moons, Charon, Nix, Hydra and S/2011 P 1. Its estimated arrival date at the Pluto-Charon system is July 14th, 2015...

 mission to Pluto
Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun...

, which launched in 2006, is powered by a device assembled at this INL facility. The Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) uses nonweapons-grade plutonium to produce heat and electricity for deep space missions such as this one.

Using the RTG on the New Horizons mission is a more practical power source for the satellite than solar panels because the satellite will travel to such a great distance that energy from the sun would provide insufficient power for the craft. Work on the project started in late 2004 and ended with the January 2006 successful rocket launch. The team implemented the fueling, testing and delivery of the RTG for the Pluto New Horizons mission and for the next Mars rover.

Fuel Conditioning Facility

INL's Fuel Conditioning Facility uses electrolysis to separate certain components from used nuclear fuel rods. Unlike traditional aqueous reprocessing techniques, which dissolve the fuel rods in acid, "pyroprocessing" melts the rods and uses electricity to separate components such as uranium and sodium out of the mix. INL is using this technique to remove the sodium metal from EBR-II fuel rods so they can be safely stored in a national repository.

Critical Infrastructure Test Range Complex (CITRC)

The Critical Infrastructure Test Range at INL's 890 square miles (2,305.1 km²) Site allows researchers to conduct resiliency exercises and experiments from conceptual design to full-scale demonstration. INL also has access to a utility-scale power grid, substations, unique real-time modeling and simulation systems, and vendor-supplied Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems for demonstration and deployment exercises.
In addition, INL owns and operates an unmatched communications network designed to research and test cellular, mobile and emerging Internet communication protocols and technology. INL's wireless engineers operate both fixed and mobile 3-G platforms that allow testing and demonstration within a range of experimental frequencies in a low-background environment.

Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES)

This unique partnership between INL and Idaho's three public research universities — Idaho State University
Idaho State University
Idaho State University is a public university located in Pocatello, Idaho. It has outreach programs in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls, Boise, and Twin Falls....

, University of Idaho
University of Idaho
The University of Idaho is the State of Idaho's flagship and oldest public university, located in the rural city of Moscow in Latah County in the northern portion of the state...

 and Boise State University
Boise State University
Boise State University is a public university located in Boise, Idaho. Originally founded in 1932 as a junior college by the Episcopal Church, the university became an independent institution in 1934, and has been awarding baccalaureate and master degrees since 1965...

 — boasts a wealth of research expertise. Its researchers, who have access to each partner institution’s equipment and infrastructure, have competed for and won millions of dollars in national funding for their projects. CAES possesses capabilities and infrastructure unique to the region and nation. The center’s laboratories are equipped with state-of-the-art research instruments and tools, including a Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP) and a Computer Assisted Virtual Environment (CAVE).

Matched Index of Refraction (MIR) facility

The Matched Index of Refraction facility is the largest such facility in the world. Using light mineral oil similar to baby oil, the facility allows researchers to use fused quartz models built to scale to study the flow of liquids inside and around objects with complicated geometries, such as the core of a nuclear reactor. The facility is basically a giant loop through which the mostly transparent oil is pumped at variable speeds. Special lasers perform “Doppler velocimetry,” that produces a 3-D image allowing inspection of an object’s flow properties. Observers can also watch the flow themselves through the polycarbonate viewing panes near the laser equipment. YouTube video


Scientists wanting to know what might happen 10 years in the future with a contaminated fluid contained in a certain type of material may turn to the INL Geocentrifuge. INL’s geocentrifuge helps researchers, among other efforts, improve models of how liquids and contaminants move through engineered caps and barriers used in underground waste disposal facilities.

The INL centrifuge is one of fewer than 25 geocentrifuges larger than two meters (about 6 feet) in the United States.
The centrifuge, located next to the INL Research Center in Idaho Falls, can be operated remotely by computer and is capable of applying 130 times the force of earth’s gravity on a sample.

Many of the experiments that use the geocentrifuge require it to run for hundreds of hours in order to correctly simulate several years’ worth of gravitational effects. The payload is monitored by an onboard computer and can be relayed to a remote monitoring station outside the centrifuge’s chamber where technicians can observe developments.


Much of what the world knows today about how nuclear reactors behave and misbehave was discovered at what is now Idaho National Laboratory. John Grossenbacher, current INL director, said, "The history of nuclear energy for peaceful application has principally been written in Idaho."
More than 50 reactors have been built at what is commonly called “the Site,” including the ones that gave the world its first usable amount of electricity produced from nuclear power and the power plant for the world’s first nuclear submarine. Although many are now decommissioned, these facilities represent the largest concentration of reactors in the world.

Naval Proving Ground

What is now Idaho National Laboratory in southeastern Idaho began its life as a U.S. government artillery test range in the 1940s. Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. military needed a safe location for performing maintenance on the Navy’s most powerful turreted guns (16-inch diameter). The guns were brought in via rail to near Pocatello, Idaho
Pocatello, Idaho
Pocatello is the county seat and largest city of Bannock County, with a small portion on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in neighboring Power County, in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Idaho. It is the principal city of the Pocatello metropolitan area, which encompasses all of Bannock...

, to be re-sleeved, rifled and tested.

In 1949, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission established the National Reactor Testing Station or NRTS at the site.

As the Navy began to focus on post-World War II threats, the types of projects worked on in the Idaho desert changed, too. Perhaps the most well-known was the building of the prototype reactor for the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus
USS Nautilus (SSN-571)
USS Nautilus is the world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine. She was the first vessel to complete a submerged transit beneath the North Pole on August 3, 1958...

, ordered by Adm. Hyman Rickover.

Said Admiral Rickover, “The nation that first develops nuclear engines will rule the oceans of the world; our enemies are working on such engines; we must be first.”

Experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I)

In the early afternoon of Dec. 20, 1951, scientist Walter Zinn and a small crew of assistants witnessed a row of four light bulbs light up in a nondescript brick building in the eastern Idaho desert. Electricity from a generator connected to Experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I) flowed through them. This was the first time that a usable amount of electrical power had ever been generated from nuclear fission.

Only days afterward, the reactor produced all the electricity needed for the entire EBR complex. One ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity — this is equivalent to burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.

More central to EBR-I’s purpose than just generating electricity, however, was its role in proving that a reactor could create more nuclear fuel as a byproduct than it consumed during operation. In 1953, tests verified that this was the case. The site of this event is memorialized as a Registered National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

, open to the public every day Memorial Day
Memorial Day
Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War...

 through Labor Day
Labor Day
Labor Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers.-History:...


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
The SL-1, or Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One, was a United States Army experimental nuclear power reactor which underwent a steam explosion and meltdown on January 3, 1961, killing its three operators. The direct cause was the improper withdrawal of the central control rod, responsible for...

 (Stationary Low-Power Plant Number 1) was destroyed when a control rod was pulled too far out of the reactor, leading to core meltdown and a steam explosion. The reactor vessel jumped up 9 in 1 in (2.77 m). The concussion and blast killed all three military enlisted personnel working on the reactor. Due to the extensive radioactive isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 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, and another, Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History, published in 2009.

Incidents: container leaks "plutonium-related-materials"

On 8 November 2011 in the afternoon a container leaked "plutonium-related" materials, when it accidentally opened. All 17 workers at the incident were immediately taken to a hospital. Six of them proved to be exposed to "low-level-radiation". All workers were kept under close observation afterwards. The Idaho National Laboratory insisted that no radiation leaked outside the facility. Investigations were done to determine how and why the container could open itself.

Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II)

From 1969 to 1994, EBR-II produced nearly half of the electricity needed for test site operations.

In 1964, Experimental Breeder Reactor II
Experimental Breeder Reactor II
Experimental Breeder Reactor-II is a reactor at the Materials and Fuels Complex of the Idaho National Laboratory, formerly the West Campus of Argonne National Laboratory in Idaho....

 and the nearby Fuel Conditioning Facility proved the concept of fuel recycling and passive safety characteristics. So-called “passive” safety includes systems that rely on natural physics laws such as gravity rather than systems that require mechanical or human intervention.

In a landmark test on April 3, 1986, such systems in EBR-II demonstrated that nuclear power plants could be designed to be inherently safe from severe accidents

Loss of Fluid Test (LOFT) facility

The world’s first Loss-of-Fluid-Test reactor started up at INL on March 12, 1976. The facility repeatedly simulated loss-of-coolant accidents that could potentially occur in commercial nuclear power plants. Many safety designs for reactors around the world are based on these tests. LOFT experiments helped accident recovery efforts after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

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
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 and the Atomic Energy Commission to support the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion
Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion
The Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program and the preceding Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft project worked to develop a nuclear propulsion system for aircraft. The United States Army Air Force initiated Project NEPA on May 28, 1946...

 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
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

, and were a series of tests to develop a system of transferring reactor-heated air to a modified General Electric J47
General Electric J47
|-Specifications :-Nuclear-powered version – The X39:In the 1950s, interest in the development of nuclear-powered aircraft led GE to experiment with two nuclear-powered gas turbine designs, one based on the J47, and another new and much larger engine called the X211.The design based on the J47...

 jet engine. The planned aircraft, the Convair X-6
Convair X-6
-See also:*Project Pluto*Project Rover*NERVA*WS-125Comparable aircraft* Tupolev Tu-119-External links:* original published on Aviation History, March 1995.* Section devoted to NB-36H...

, 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 15000 feet (4,572 m) runway was built.

Naval Reactors Facility (NRF)

In the early 1950s, the very first full-scale prototype nuclear plant for shipboard use, called S1W
S1W reactor
The S1W reactor was the first prototype naval reactor used by the United States Navy to prove that the technology could be used for electricity generation and propulsion on submarines...

 Prototype, was constructed to test the feasibility of using nuclear power
Nuclear marine propulsion
Nuclear marine propulsion is propulsion of a ship by a nuclear reactor. Naval nuclear propulsion is propulsion that specifically refers to naval warships...

 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 . Later, two more prototype plant facilities were built at this location called the Naval Reactors Facility
Naval Reactors Facility
Naval Reactors Facility is located 52 miles northwest of Idaho Falls. The NRF is a United States Department of Energy-Naval Reactors facility where three nuclear propulsion prototypes A1W, S1W and S5G were located...

 (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.

Materials Test Reactor (MTR)

When the nuclear industry was just getting started in the early 1950s, it was difficult to predict exactly how different kinds of metals and other materials would be affected by being used in a reactor for prolonged periods of time. MTR was a research reactor that operated until 1970 and provided important data, helping researchers make nuclear power reactors safer and longer lasting.

BORAX Experiments

The Boiling Water Reactors (BORAX) experiments
BORAX experiments
The BORAX Experiments were boiling water reactor experiments done at the National Reactor Testing Station, now the Idaho National Laboratory....

 were five reactors built between 1953 and 1964. They proved that the boiling water concept was a feasible design for an electricity-producing nuclear reactor. One of the BORAX reactors (III) was also the first in the world to power a city (Arco
-Places:*Arco, a town in Trentino, Italy*Arco, Idaho, in the United States*Arco, Minnesota, a city in the United States*ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California, home of the Sacramento Kings-Companies:...

, Idaho) on July 17, 1955. Video from 1950s of Arco's lighting

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.

  • Central Facilities Area where whole body counts for radioactivity are done for INL employess.

In the news

The New York Times reported in 2005 that a reactor at INL would be used to manufacture plutonium-238
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

, most of it for classified national security purposes. This isotope is known for its intense alpha decay
Alpha decay
Alpha decay is a type of radioactive decay in which an atomic nucleus emits an alpha particle and thereby transforms into an atom with a mass number 4 less and atomic number 2 less...

, which is useful in making extremely long-lived power sources such as radioisotope thermoelectric generator
Radioisotope thermoelectric generator
A radioisotope thermoelectric generator is an electrical generator that obtains its power from radioactive decay. In such a device, the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive material is converted into electricity by the Seebeck effect using an array of thermocouples.RTGs can be...

s (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
Idaho State Journal
The Idaho State Journal is a U.S. daily tabloid newspaper serving the Pocatello, Idaho, area. The paper has a circulation of 17,116 daily, 17,825 Sunday. It is owned by the Seattle-based Pioneer Newspapers....

reported that the batteries would be used for a voyage to Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

's moons and the New Horizons
New Horizons
New Horizons is a NASA robotic spacecraft mission currently en route to the dwarf planet Pluto. It is expected to be the first spacecraft to fly by and study Pluto and its moons, Charon, Nix, Hydra and S/2011 P 1. Its estimated arrival date at the Pluto-Charon system is July 14th, 2015...

 trip to Pluto
Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun...


See also

    SAPHIRE is a probabilistic risk and reliability assessment software tool. SAPHIRE stands for Systems Analysis Programs for Hands-on Integrated Reliability Evaluations. The system was developed for the U.S...

     Probabilistic Risk Assessment
    Probabilistic risk assessment
    Probabilistic risk assessment is a systematic and comprehensive methodology to evaluate risks associated with a complex engineered technological entity ....

  • The SL-1 was part of the Army Nuclear Power Program
    Army Nuclear Power Program
    The Army Nuclear Power Program was a program of the United States Army to develop small pressurized water and boiling water nuclear power reactors to generate electrical and space-heating energy primarily at remote, relatively inaccessible sites. The ANPP had several notable accomplishments, but...

  • nuclear reactor
    Nuclear reactor
    A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

  • list of nuclear reactors – the NRTS reactors are listed here
  • List of Superfund sites in Idaho
  • Advanced Test Reactor
    Advanced Test Reactor
    The Advanced Test Reactor is a research reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory, located east of Arco, Idaho. This reactor is primarily designed and used to test materials to be used in other, larger-scale and prototype reactors. It can operate at a maximum power of 250 MW and has a "Four...

  • LOFT (LOCA) – Loss of Fluid Tests, conducted at INL
  • Light water reactor sustainability - Research program based at INL with goal of extending power-plant life
  • Stored Waste Examination Pilot Plant
    Stored Waste Examination Pilot Plant
    The Stored Waste Examination Pilot Plant is a facility at the Idaho National Laboratory for nondestructively examining containers of radioactive waste to determine if they meet criteria to be stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant...

  • Multiphysics Methods Group
    Multiphysics Methods Group
    The Multiphysics Methods Group is a program at Idaho National Laboratory begun in 2004. It uses modeling software to simulate complex physical and chemical reactions inside nuclear reactors...

External links