Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Idaho Falls

Since its founding in 1949, 52 nuclear reactors the largest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world have been operated here. Currently, there are three reactors in operation and research is being conducted into the next generation of nuclear reactors. Other activities include research into nuclear waste management and cleanup, radiation sensors and monitors, and, since September 11, 2001, “science-based, innovative solutions to the nation’s homeland security challenges, ” as their official literature says.

The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) was established because a remote site was needed to test nuclear reactors. Among the tests conducted were intentionally operating reactors past their design limits and pushing them into meltdown; over two dozen reactors suffered that fate. In 1951, the first electricity generated by nuclear power was produced here. The first reactors intended for propulsion of ships and submarines were also designed at INEEL. While only three reactors were in operation when this book was written, a dozen reactors are still capable of operation.

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In the 1970s, INEEL’s mission was expanded to include nuclear non-proliferation activities such as improved nuclear materials detection and sensing technologies. In the 1990s, research began into methods of detecting the production, storage, and transport of chemical and biological agents. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, several new programs were launched at I NEEL for the new Department of Homeland Security. These included ways of protecting critical infrastructure (such as dams, power generation and distribution, water treatment and distribution, etc.), damage mitigation (such as advanced firefighting techniques and cleanup methods in the wake of a chemical or biological attack), and ways to reduce vulnerability of structures to various attacks. However, some of the “counterterrorism” research is in such areas as tracking transfer of large amounts of cash, which as INEEL’s website cheerfully boasts “will serve as a powerful tool to eliminate drug trafficking.”

I NEEL is operated for the Department of Energy by Bechtel BWXT Idaho, a division of Bechtel (see listing under CALIFORNIA).

What’s There: INEEL sprawls across an 890-square-mile site located 32 miles west of Idaho Falls. In addition to the previously mentioned reactors, there is a supercomputing center, numerous engineering and research buildings, DOE operations facilities, and managerial and administrative office complexes. There’s also a lot of really nasty waste materials here, such as over two million gallons of highly radioactive liquids in underground tanks and over 250 tons of highly radioactive heavy metals stored in underground pools. Both of these are stored above the Snake River aquifer, which supplies drinking water to over 250,000 homes in Idaho. The DOE is currently under a court order to remove these materials and is trying to figure out what to do with them.

Getting a Look Inside: While there are no regularly scheduled tours of INEEL, invited visitors and those on official business are processed at the Engineering and Research Operations Building located at 2525 North Fremont Avenue, near the intersection with Science Center Drive. INEEL also occasionally sponsors public events at or near the INEEL site and Idaho Falls.

Unusual Fact: In common with other nuclear-related sites, some longtime employees at INEEL have developed chronic problems with their immune, muscular, and skeletal systems. And of course DOE denies any connection between these mysterious disorders and prolonged exposure to higher-than-normal levels of radiation.

Getting There: I NEEL can be reached by taking either Highway 26 or 20 northwest from interstate 15 south of Idaho Falls; both roads will enter INEEL’s territory. The Engineering and Research Operations Building can be accessed by taking Highway 20.

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