The Idaho National Laboratory (INL), an 890-square-mile section of desert in southeast Idaho, was established in 1949 as the National Reactor Testing Station. Initially, the missions at the INL were the development of civilian and defense nuclear reactor technologies and management of spent nuclear fuel. Fifty-two reactors-most of them first-of-a-kind-were built, including the Navy's first prototype nuclear propulsion plant. Of the 52 reactors, three remain in operation at the site. In 1951, the INL achieved one of the most significant scientific accomplishments of the century-the first use of nuclear fission to produce a usable quantity of electricity at the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1(EBR-1). The EBR-1 is now a Registered National Historic Landmark open to the public.
Beginning in the 1950's the emphasis of work at the site turned toward defense missions. The support of the Navy nuclear propulsion program continued and INL became a training site for Navy reactor operators. The Chemical Processing Plant was constructed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from Navy submarines to recover uranium to be used in nuclear weapons applications. Plutonium contaminated waste from nuclear weapon production at Rocky Flats, Colorado was shipped to INL for disposal. Much of the current Idaho Cleanup Project is focused on cleanup of contamination at the Chemical Processing Plant and at the plutonium contaminated waste burial grounds.
During the 1970s, the name of the Site was changed from the National Reactor Testing Station to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory to reflect its broadened mission into areas like biotechnology, energy and materials research, conservation and renewable energy, and of course nuclear waste cleanup. The Site's name changed again in the spring of 1997 to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory to reflect a major refocus of the laboratory, present and long term, toward engineering applications and environmental solutions for our nation. Beginning on February 1, 2005, the name changed again to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). This change reflects a move back to the laboratory's historic roots in nuclear energy and national security.
Under the purview of the U.S. Department of Energy, Idaho Operations Office (DOE-ID), the INL is home to the largest concentration of technical professionals in the Rocky Mountain region. Sponsorship of the INL was formally transferred to the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology (NE) by Secretary Spencer Abraham in July, 2002. The move to NE supports the nation's expanding nuclear energy initiatives, placing the INL at the center of work to develop advanced Generation IV nuclear energy systems; nuclear energy/hydrogen co-production technology; advanced nuclear energy fuel cycle technologies and providing national security answers to national infrastructure needs.
Today, the INL and the Idaho Operations Office support many DOE program offices and federal agencies. In addition, the Site hosts the National Nuclear Security Agency's Naval Reactors Facility (NRF). The Site also maintains an active presence by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency and the United States Geological Survey.
The Site is also a National Environmental Research Park, one of only seven in the nation. It is situated on otherwise unoccupied, undeveloped, semi- and high-desert terrain surrounded by prominent mountain ranges. All lands within the INL Site boundaries are a protected outdoor laboratory where scientists from DOE, other federal and state agencies, universities and private research foundations conduct ecological studies.