There at the beginning, Idaho lab still shaping nuclear energy's path

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In the high desert of Idaho is a research facility spanning 890 square miles.

The National Reactor Testing Station was established in 1949 to pioneer nuclear power; and over its lifetime, the site has designed and built 50 unique reactors. Though its name changed, most recently to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in 2005, it remains committed to the exploration of nuclear energy.

“The first town lit by nuclear-generated electricity – Arco, Idaho – was powered by the third reactor in the Boiling Water Reactor Experiment series,” INL Chief Research Officer Kelly Beierschmitt told Power News Wire.

Since then, INL has hosted dozens of reactors that have provided important data to researchers. INL also invests heavily in science education, donating nearly $500,000 to Idaho teachers and students annually, and as the lab looks toward its 70th anniversary in a few years, new research is still being done to advance nuclear science.

“INL has been designated the nation’s lead nuclear energy research lab, with a key role in ensuring nuclear energy remains our largest and most reliable source of baseload low-carbon electricity,” Beierschmitt said. “INL offers both the site geography and facilities to conduct utility-scale research. INL hosts national nuclear assets, including the Advanced Test Reactor, Transient Reactor Test Facility and an extensive array of nuclear R&D facilities at INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex.”

Working with universities, private businesses and other Department of Energy labs, INL harnesses its resources to develop and commercialize the next generation of nuclear reactors safely and efficiently.

Current research includes fabrication of accident-tolerant fuels and safety evaluations on aging light-water reactors. These and other avenues of research aim to help extend the life of the current nuclear fleet and develop next-generation reactor technologies that could revolutionize energy production, such as the small modular reactors the Department of Energy hopes to develop.

INL projects also address broader issues of safety and security. Currently, INL consults nationally and internationally on cybersecurity issues facing nuclear power and hopes to inspire future nuclear generating stations to be designed with cybersecurity in mind.

“Continued support of current nuclear power plants and development of new, advanced, improved performance nuclear technologies are critical to transition this world to sustainable clean energy sources,” Beierschmitt said. “There is a national need to provide research and development to keep these nuclear power plants operating safely and efficiently beyond their current operating licenses while new nuclear plants are built in a timely manner to provide low-carbon electricity-generation alternatives to meet anticipated demand.”


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Idaho National Laboratory

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