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M. Case - S. M. Stoller Corporation
B. Jonker - U.S. Department of Energy-Idaho Operations Office
In 1949, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission created what is now the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site as the National Reactor Testing Station to build and test nuclear power reactors. Approximately 2300 km2 (890 mi2) of the upper Snake River Plain in southeastern Idaho is occupied by the INL Site. For many years the INL Site was the location of the largest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. Fifty-two types of reactors, associated research centers, and waste handling areas were constructed, including the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 (EBR-I) which produced the first usable amounts of electricity from nuclear power, a reactor which was the first to provide electricity to a U.S. community, and the U.S. Navy’s first prototype nuclear propulsion plant. During the 1970s, the laboratory’s mission broadened into other areas, such as biotechnology, energy and materials research, conservation, and renewable energy. At the end of the Cold War, waste treatment and cleanup of previously contaminated sites became a priority.
With renewed interest in nuclear power the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced in 2003 that Argonne National Laboratory-West (ANL-W) and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) would be the lead laboratories for development of the next generation of power reactors. On February 1, 2005, the INEEL and ANL-W became the INL. The cleanup operation, the Idaho Cleanup Project (ICP) is now a separately managed effort.
The INL is focused on meeting the nation’s energy, nuclear technology, science, and national and homeland security challenges. As such, it is committed to providing international nuclear leadership for the 21st century, developing and demonstrating compelling national security technologies, and delivering excellence in science and technology as one of the DOE’s multiprogram national laboratories. The INL contractor is Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA).
DOE contractors who operate environmental management facilities at the INL
Site include the ICP, managed by CH2M-WG Idaho, and the Advanced Mixed Waste
Treatment Project, managed by Bechtel BWXT Idaho. The ICP is charged with safely
and cost-effectively completing the majority of cleanup work from past
laboratory missions by 2012.
Other facilities located at the INL Site include the Naval Reactors Facility, operated for Naval Reactors by the Bechtel Bettis, Inc., and the Specific Manufacturing Capability, operated for the Department of Defense by BEA.
Approximately 8000 people work at the INL Site, making it the largest employer in eastern Idaho and one of the top five employers in the State. The INL Site has a tremendous economic impact on eastern Idaho. The INL Site infuses more than $750 million into the Idaho economy.
This report provides an introduction to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site, discusses site missions, and highlights the Site’s various environmental-related programs. Included are sections discussing site compliance with local, state, and federal environmental laws and regulations; site operations including environmental restoration, waste management, and footprint reduction activities; effluent and emissions from Site facilities; onsite and offsite environmental monitoring activities; radiological doses to public and biota; and ecological research activities at the Site. The report describes INL’s impact to the public and the environment particularly with regard to radioactive contaminants. It is prepared annually in compliance with DOE Orders 231.1A, 450.1, and 5400.5.
In 2005, the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory was merged with the Argonne National Laboratory-West to form the Idaho National Laboratory or INL. BEA, owned by Battelle Memorial Institute, is a limited liability company created to lead the new INL, transforming it into the preeminent, multi-program national laboratory envisioned by DOE as the vehicle for achieving the renaissance of nuclear energy and reshaping world’s energy economy. BEA is comprised of the Battelle Memorial Institute, BWXT Services Inc., Washington Group International, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
DOE awarded contracts to CH2M WG - Idaho (CWI) for the Idaho Cleanup Project and to Bechtel BWXT Inc. for the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project. CWI is comprised of CH2M Hill, Washington Group International, and Premier Technology, Inc.
The INL Site mission is to operate a multi-program national research and development laboratory and to complete environmental cleanup project activities stemming from the Site’s cold-war legacy. DOE-ID receives implementing direction and guidance primarily from two DOE Headquarters offices, the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology (NE) and the Office of Environmental Management (EM). NE is the Lead Program Secretarial Officer for all DOE-ID managed operations on the INL Site, while EM provides direction and guidance to DOE-ID for environmental cleanup operations on the INL Site and functions in the capacity of Cognizant Secretarial Officer. Naval Reactors operations on the INL Site report to the Pittsburgh Naval Reactors Office and so fall outside the purview of DOE-ID.
The Department of Energy’s vision is for the INL to enhance the Nation’s energy security by becoming the preeminent, internationally-recognized nuclear energy research, development and demonstration laboratory within ten years. The INL will also establish itself as a major center for national security technology development and demonstration.
The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) mission is to ensure the nation’s energy security with safe, competitive, and sustainable energy systems and unique national and homeland security capabilities. Its vision is to be the preeminent nuclear energy laboratory, with synergistic, world-class, multiprogram capabilities and partnerships. To fulfill its assigned duties during the next decade, INL will work to transform itself into a laboratory leader in nuclear energy and homeland security research, development, and demonstration. Highlighting this transformation will be the development of a Generation IV prototype reactor, creation of national user facilities based on the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) and the Critical Infrastructure Test Range, piloting of an Advanced Fuel-Cycle Facility, demonstration of thermochemical/high-temperature hydrogen production, and expansion of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies. Applying critical mission enablers will propel the INL transformation. These enablers will include developing public trust and confidence in INL and nuclear energy; demonstrating world-leading safety, environmental, and operational performance; creating three modern laboratory campuses; developing, recruiting, and retaining a world-class work force; adopting best-in-class laboratory management systems and information technology; and establishing and leveraging new research centers.
The Idaho Cleanup Project (ICP) is charged with safely and cost-effectively completing the majority of cleanup work from past laboratory missions by 2012. In March 2005, DOE selected CH2M-WG (CWI) Idaho to lead the cleanup effort. The seven year, $2.9 billion project, funded through the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM), targets legacy waste generated from munitions testing, government-owned research and defense reactors, laboratory research, and defense missions at other DOE sites. Cleanup efforts include decommissioning and dismantlement of 215 excess EM facilities including three reactors, management of spent nuclear fuel, treatment and disposal of sodium-bearing waste, empty and dispose of all tank farm facility waste tanks and remediation of the Subsurface Disposal Area (SDA) at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC).
British Nuclear Fuels Limited operated the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP), until April 30, 2005. On May 1, 2005, Bechtel BWXT Idaho, assumed the operation of the AMWTP. This facility is used to retrieve mixed transuranic waste in temporary storage, treat the waste to meet disposal criteria, and package the waste for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
The primary facility areas (buildings and structures) are clusters of typically less than a few square miles each and separated from each other by miles of gently rolling sagebrush-covered semi-arid desert (Figure 1-1). The buildings and structures at the INL Site are clustered within these areas. In addition to the INL Site, DOE owns or leases laboratories and administrative offices in the city of Idaho Falls, 40 km (25 mi) east of the INL Site border. About fifty percent of INL’s employees work in administration, scientific and engineering research, and nonnuclear laboratory programs having offices in Idaho Falls.
Central Facilities Area - located centrally on the INL Site, is the main service and support center for INL’s desert facilities. Activities here support transportation, maintenance, construction, environmental and radiological monitoring, security, fire protection, warehouses and calibration activities. CFA is operated by BEA.
Critical Infrastructure Test Range Complex - The Critical Infrastructure Test Range Complex encompasses a collection of specialized test beds and training complexes that create a centralized location where government agencies, utility companies, and military customers can work together to find solutions for many of the nation’s most pressing security issues. The Test Range provides open landscape, technical employees and specialized facilities for performing work in three main areas: Physical Security, Contraband Detection and Infrastructure Testing. CITRC is operated by BEA.
Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center - INTEC is operated by CWI. Current operations at INTEC include management of sodium-bearing waste, nuclear material disposition, and demolition of excess facilities. CWI has four primary objectives for the INTEC facility: eliminate risks to the Snake River Plain Aquifer, continue safety and compliance in adherence to all regulatory requirements and commitments, expedite consolidation of EM’s spent nuclear fuel from wet to dry storage, and substantial reduction of EM footprint and costs.
Materials and Fuels Complex - The Materials and Fuels Complex (formerly Argonne National Laboratory-West) located on the INL Site is a prime testing center for advanced technologies associated with nuclear power systems. This complex is the nexus of research and development for new reactor fuels and related materials. As such, it will contribute increasingly efficient reactor fuels and the important work of nonproliferation – harnessing more energy with less risk. Projected new construction will include a facility for preparing remote-handled waste for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Depending on the feasibility of a key project, buildings will be constructed at this location to support manufacturing and assembling components for use in space applications. MFC operated by BEA.
Naval Reactors Facility - The Naval Reactors Facility (NRF) is operated for Naval Reactors by Bechtel Bettis, Inc. Developmental nuclear fuel material samples, naval spent fuel and irradiated reactor plant components/materials are examined at the Expended Core Facility (ECF). The knowledge gained from these examinations is used to improve current reactor designs and to monitor the performance of existing reactors. The naval spent fuel examined at ECF is critical to the design of longer-lived cores, which minimizes the creation of spent fuel requiring long-term disposition. NRF is also preparing the current inventory of naval fuel for dry storage and eventual transportation to a repository.
NRF is excluded from this report. As established in Executive Order 12344 (FR 1982), the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is exempt from the requirements of DOE Orders 450.1, 5400.5, and 414.1c. The director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, establishes reporting requirements and methods implemented within the program, including those necessary to comply with appropriate environmental laws. NRF’s program is documented in the NRF Environmental Monitoring Report (BBI 2005).
Radioactive Waste Management Complex - Since the 1950s, the DOE has used the RWMC to manage, store, and dispose of waste contaminated with radioactive elements generated in national defense and research programs. The RWMC, located in the southwest corner of the INL Site, encompasses 72 hectares (ha) (177 acres) and is operated by CWI. The RWMC manages solid transuranic and low-level radioactive waste. The facility supports research projects dealing with waste retrieval and processing technology and provides temporary storage and treatment of transuranic waste destined for the WIPP in New Mexico.
The SDA, a 39-ha (97-acre) landfill located inside the RWMC, has been used for the disposal of low-level and transuranic wastes. The SDA contains an active shallow-land-burial area for the permanent disposal of solid, low-level waste in addition to pits and trenches that have been used to store radioactive waste for more than 50 years. Most of the transuranic waste buried in the SDA was received from the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado between 1954 and 1970. A small portion of the transuranic waste inventory came from other sites in the DOE Complex as well as the INL Site.
To achieve 2012 cleanup goals for RWMC, CWI will
CWI will remove targeted wastes that present the highest risks. The company plans (pending regulatory approval) to mitigate the remaining risk with an impermeable boundary and cap combination to prevent contaminant migration.
Reactor Technology Complex - The Reactor Technology Complex (formerly Test Reactor Area) is dedicated to research supporting DOE missions, including nuclear technology research. It will be the focal point for designing, testing and proving the new technologies of the nuclear renaissance. The new mission is broad, far-reaching, and encompasses large scope involving multiple technological options important to coming generations of nuclear power reactors. Facilities planned at this complex include buildings to house laboratory activities, offices, warehousing, and a cafeteria required to support the Advanced Test Reactor. A hot cell connected to the Advanced Test Reactor canal also will be included to support future materials and fuels development. Multicraft shop buildings will be constructed to enhance operational activities. RTC is operated by BEA.
Science and Technology Campus - The Science and Technology Campus, operated by BEA, is the collective name for INL’s administrative, technical support, and computer facilities in Idaho Falls, as well as the in-town laboratories where researchers work on a wide variety of advanced scientific research and development projects. The name of this cadre of facilities indicates both basic science research and the engineering that translates new knowledge into products and processes that improve our quality of life. This reflects the emphasis INL is placing on strengthening its science base and increasing the commercial success of its products and processes. New laboratory facilities and a new building for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) are envisioned within this campus environment. The CAES facility is designed to promote education and world-class research and development. Other facilities proposed over the next 10 years include a national security building, a visitor’s center, visitor housing and a parking structure–all in close proximity to current campus buildings. Facilities already in place and those planned for the future are integral for transforming INL into a renowned research laboratory.
Test Area North - Located at the north end of the INL Site, Test Area North (TAN) was originally built to house the nuclear powered airplane project during the 1950s. Currently, the TAN facilities support two projects. The Specific Manufacturing Capability Project, operated for U.S. Department of Defense by BEA, manufactures protective armor for the U.S. Army M1-A1 and M1-A2 Abrams tanks. TAN personnel also manage cleanup of environmental contamination from previous operations. The TAN facility has gone through major changes in the last few years as cleanup projects are completed and buildings no longer needed for the INL mission are demolished. The cleanup mission at TAN is performed by CWI.
Two secondary facilities at the INL Site include a national historic landmark and a former dairy farm. These facilities provide the INL with public relations and an experimental field station.
Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 - The Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 (EBR-I) is a Registered National Historic Landmark located at the INL Site off U.S. Highway 20/26. It is open to the public, free of charge, every summer from the Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
At 1:50 p.m., on December 20, 1951, the first usable amount of electricity from a nuclear power reactor was generated. EBR-I’s real mission was not to show that electricity could be generated by a nuclear reactor, but it was to determine whether scientists’ theoretical calculations on fuel breeding could actually be achieved. EBR-I was also successful in this task, breeding (creating) more fuel than it consumed.
Experimental Field Station - The Experimental Field Station (EFS), first called the Experimental Dairy Farm (EDF), was established to conduct Controlled Environmental Radioiodine Tests (CERTs). The first CERT at EDF was conducted on September 2, 1964. The CERTs at EDF ended in 1970. The EFS was established in 1973 as a major environmental monitoring site with high- and low-volume air samplers. Since that time, the EFS has served as a field station for various experiments, the longest running being the Protective Cap/Biobarrier Experiment (see Chapter 9.4).
The INL Site is located in a large, relatively undisturbed expanse of sagebrush steppe habitat. Approximately 94 percent of the land on the INL Site is open and undeveloped. The INL Site has an average elevation of 1500 m (4900 ft) above sea level and it is bordered on the north and west by mountain ranges and on the south by volcanic buttes and open plain. Lands immediately adjacent to the INL Site are open rangeland, foothills, or agricultural fields. Agricultural activity is concentrated in areas northeast of the INL Site. Approximately sixty percent of the INL Site is open to livestock grazing.
The climate of the high desert environment of the INL Site is characterized by sparse precipitation (less than 22.8 cm/year [9 in./year]), warm summers (average daily temperature of 15.7oC [60.3oF]), and cold winters (average daily temperature of ‑5.2oC [22.6oF]) (DOE-ID 1989). The altitude, intermountain setting, and latitude of the INL Site combine to produce a semiarid climate. Prevailing weather patterns are from the southwest, moving up the Snake River Plain. Air masses, which gather moisture over the Pacific Ocean, traverse several hundred miles of mountainous terrain before reaching southeastern Idaho. Frequently, the result is dry air and little cloud cover. Solar heating can be intense with extreme day-to-night temperature fluctuations.
Basalt flows, which produce a rolling topography, cover most of the plain. Vegetation is visually dominated by big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Beneath these shrubs are grasses and flowering plants, most adapted to the harsh climate. A recent inventory counted 409 plant species on the INL Site (Anderson et al. 1996). Vertebrate animals found on the INL Site include small burrowing mammals, snakes, birds, and several game species. Published species counts include six fishes, one amphibian, nine reptiles, 164 birds, and 39 mammals (Reynolds et al. 1986).
The Big Lost River on the INL Site flows toward the northeast, ending in a playa area, called the Big Lost River Sinks, on the northwest portion of the Site. Here it evaporates or infiltrates into the subsurface. Surface water does not move offsite. The fractured volcanic rocks under the INL Site, however, form a portion of the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer (ESRPA), which stretches 267 km (165 mi) from St. Anthony to Bliss, Idaho, and stores one of the most bountiful supplies of groundwater in the nation. An estimated 80 to 120 million ha-ft (200 to 300 million acre-ft) of water is stored in the aquifer’s upper portions. The aquifer is primarily recharged from waters of the Henry’s Fork and the South Fork of the Snake River, as well as the Big Lost River, the Little Lost River, Birch Creek, and irrigation. Beneath the INL Site, the aquifer moves laterally to the southwest at a rate of 1.5 to 6 m/day (5 to 20 ft/day) (Lindholm 1996). The ESRPA emerges in springs along the Snake River between Milner and Bliss, Idaho. The primary use of both surface water and groundwater on the Snake River Plain is crop irrigation.
The geologic events that have shaped the modern Snake River Plain (SRP) took place during the last 2 million years (Lindholm 1996, ESRF 1996). The plain, which arcs across southern Idaho to Yellowstone National Park, marks the passage of the earth’s crust over a plume of melted mantle material.
The volcanic history of the Yellowstone-Snake River Plain (YSRP) volcanic field is based on the time-progressive volcanic origin of this region that is characterized by several large calderas in the eastern SRP with dimensions similar to those of Yellowstone’s three giant Pleistocene calderas. These volcanic centers are located within the topographic depression that encompasses the Snake River drainage. Over the last 16 million years, there was a series of giant, caldera-forming eruptions, with the most recent at Yellowstone National Park 630,000 years ago. The youngest silicic volcanic centers correspond to the Yellowstone volcanic field that are less that 2.0 million years old and are followed by a sequence of silicic centers at about 6 Ma, southwest of Yellowstone. A third group, near ~10 Ma, is centered near Pocatello, Idaho. The oldest mapped silicic rocks of the SRP are ~16 Ma, are distributed across a 150 km-wide (93 mi-wide) zone in southwestern Idaho and northern Nevada, the suspected origin of the YSRP (from Smith and Siegal, 2000)
Humans first appeared on the upper SRP approximately 11,000 years ago. Tools recovered from this period indicate these earliest human inhabitants were almost certainly hunters of large game. The ancestors of the present-day Shoshone and Bannock people came north from the Great Basin around 4500 years ago (ESRF 1996).
The earliest exploratory visits by European descendants came between 1810 and 1840. Trappers and fur traders were some of the first to make their way across the plain seeking new supplies of beavers for pelts. Between 1840 (by which time the fur trade was essentially over) and 1857, an estimated 240,000 immigrants passed through southern Idaho on the Oregon Trail. By 1868, treaties had been signed forcing the native populations onto the reservation at Fort Hall. During the 1870s, miners entered the surrounding mountain ranges, followed by ranchers grazing cattle and sheep in the valleys.
A railroad was opened between Blackfoot and Arco, Idaho, in 1901. By this time, a series of acts (the Homestead Act of 1862, the Desert Claim Act of 1877, the Carey Act of 1894, and the Reclamation Act of 1902) provided sufficient incentive for homesteaders to attempt building diversionary canals to claim the desert. Most of these canal efforts failed because of the extreme porosity of the gravelly soils and underlying basalts.
During World War II, large guns from U.S. Navy warships were retooled at the U.S. Naval Ordnance Station in Pocatello, Idaho. These guns needed to be tested, and the nearby uninhabited plain was put to use as a gunnery range, then known as the Naval Proving Ground. The U.S. Army Air Corps also trained bomber crews out of the Pocatello Airbase and used the area as a bombing range.
After the war ended, the nation turned to peaceful uses of atomic power. The DOE’s predecessor, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), needed an isolated location with an ample groundwater supply on which to build and test nuclear power reactors. The relatively isolated SRP was chosen as the best location. Thus, the Naval Proving Ground became the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS) in 1949.
By the end of 1951, EBR-I became the first reactor to produce useful electricity. In 1955, the Borax-III reactor provided electricity to Arco, Idaho – the first time a nuclear reactor powered an entire community in the U.S. The laboratory developed prototype nuclear propulsion plants for Navy submarines and aircraft carrier. Over time, the Site evolved into an assembly of 52 reactors, associated research centers, and waste handling areas. The NRTS was renamed the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in 1974 and INEEL in January 1997. The AEC was renamed the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration in 1975 and reorganized to the present-day DOE in 1977.
With renewed interest in nuclear power the DOE announced in 2003 that Argonne
National Laboratory and the INEEL would be the lead laboratories for development
of the next generation of power reactors. On February 1, 2005, the INEEL and ANL-W
became the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The INL is committed to providing
international nuclear leadership for the 21st Century, developing and
demonstrating compelling national security technologies, and delivering
excellence in science and technology as one of the DOE’s multiprogram national
The ICP is now a separately managed effort. The ICP is charged with safely and cost-effectively completing the majority of cleanup work from past laboratory missions by 2012. In March 2005, DOE selected CWI to lead the cleanup effort. The seven year, $2.9 billion project, funded through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, targets legacy waste generated from munitions testing, government-owned research and defense reactors, laboratory research, and defense missions at other DOE sites. Cleanup goals include decommissioning and dismantlement of 215 excess Environmental Management facilities including three reactors, management of spent nuclear fuel, treatment and disposal of sodium-bearing waste for disposal, emptying and disposing of all tank farm facility waste tanks and remediation of the SDA at the RWMC.
With 8000 scientists, researchers and support staff, the INL Site programs work with national and international governments, universities and industry partners to discover new science and develop technologies that underpin the nation’s nuclear and renewable energy, national security and environmental missions. This number includes about 400 federal employees, most of whom work for DOE-ID. The majority of the other employees work for the INL contractor, BEA, and the ICP contractor, CWI, at the INL Site. During 2005, other employees worked for contractors at facilities operated by other DOE organizations, such the AMWTP at the RWMC, and at the NRF operated by Bechtel Bettis, Inc. for the Navy.
The INL Site infuses more than $750 million into the Idaho economy through the purchase of goods and services, corporately funded economic development, and contributions to the State and local tax base.
Anderson, J.E., Ruppel, K.T., Glennon, J.M., Holte, K.E., and Rope, R.C., 1996, “Plant Communities, Ethnoecology, and Flora of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory,” Environmental Science and Research Foundation, ESRF-005, June.
Bechtel Bettis, Inc. (BBI), 2005, 2005 Environmental Monitoring Report for the Naval Reactor Facility, NRFRC-EE-012.
Environmental Science and Research Foundation (ESRF), 1996, “The Site, the Plain, the Aquifer, and the Magic Valley (Part One of Four),” Foundation Focus, Volume 3, Issue 3, October.
Lindholm, G.F., 1996, “Summary of the Snake River Plain Regional Aquifer-System Analysis in Idaho and Eastern Oregon,” U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1408-A.
Reynolds, T.D., Connelly, J.W., Halford, D.K., and Arthur, W.J., 1986, “Vertebrate Fauna of the Idaho National Environmental Research,” Great Basin Naturalist, 46(3): 513-527.
Smith, R.B. and L.J. Siegel, 2000, “The Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks,” Windows of the Earth.
U.S. Department of Energy Idaho Operations Office (DOE-ID), 1989, “Climatography
of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory,” 2nd Edition, DOE/ID‑12118,
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