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   Citizens Guide to INL
   INL Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage

The Idaho National Laboratory

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) formerly called the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), is a US Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear site located in southeastern Idaho.

EDI believes that the whole truth must be disclosed on past Idaho National Laboratory (INL) operations so that the public can accurately evaluate the risks of existing and new facilities. Some categories of nuclear waste are currently exempt under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act except when mixed with hazardous waste. EDI is committed to closing these loopholes so that all hazardous and radioactive wastes are properly managed by law.

The Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear production site in Idaho has gone through four name changes since its inception in 1949. The site's first name (by the Atomic Energy Commission) was the National Reactor Testing Station (NTRS). In 1974 the site's name was changed to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL), in 1996 DOE changed the site name to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), and in 2004 the name was changed to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

The Environmental Defense Institute (EDI), is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that is actively engaged with issues involving the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Citizens Guide to the INL

For a detailed report about the INL's history, read EDI's Citizens Guide to the INL (Full Report).

For individual report sections

Introduction and Table of Contents

INL Operating History

INL Accident History

Experimental Reactors and Atomospheric Releases

INTEC Reactor Fuel Processing (SNF Reprocessing)

On-site Waste Hazard

High Burnup SNF Memo

INL Stack Emissions Hazard

Snake River Aquifer Contamination

GAO Report and Earthquake and Volcanic Hazard

New Plans for Supersite INL

Environmental Cleanup vs Nuclear Weapon Buildup

INL Cleanup Plans

Independent Health Studies

CDC INL Health Studies

Making DOE Accountable

Protection of Radiation Victims

Appendix A. Accidents

Appendix B. Facility List

Appendix C. Glossary and Appendix D. Units

Appendix E. 1991 Fed Register Nuclear MCLs (pCi/liter)


Overview of INL

Over INL's fifty plus year history, massive quantities of radioactive and chemical wastes were released into the environment as a result of its operations. The Department of Energy's denial of harm from its operations has been accepted in part due to its relative remote location and the fact that it is the single largest employer in the state.

INL designed and constructed 52 reactors since its establishment in 1949 as the National Reactor Testing Station. For many years it was the site of the largest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. After the first reactor at the National Reactor Testing Station (Experimental Breeder Reactor-I) went critical in 1951, scientists built and operated dozens more reactors in the next five decades. Below is DOE's list of these 52 reactors (bolded reactors are currently in operation).

  1. 1. Advanced Reactivity Measurement Facility No. 1 (10/60 - 1974)
  2. 2. Advanced Reactivity Measurement Facility No. 2 (12/62 - 1968)
  3. 3. Advanced Test Reactor (7/67 - present)
  4. 4. Advanced Test Reactor Critical Facility (5/64 - present)
  5. 5. Argonne Fast Source Reactor (10/59 - late 1970s)
  6. 6. Boiling Water Reactor Experiment No. 1 (1953 - 7/54)
  7. 7. Boiling Water Reactor Experiment No. 2. (10/54 - 3/55)
  8. 8. Boiling Water Reactor Experiment No. 3. (6/55 - 1956)
  9. 9. Boiling Water Reactor Experiment No. 4. (12/56 - 6/58)
  10. 10. Boiling Water Reactor Experiment No. 5. (2/62 - 9/64)
  11. 11. Cavity Reactor Critical Experiment (5/67 - early 1970s)
  12. 12. Coupled Fast Reactivity Measurement Facility (1968 - 1991)
  13. 13. Critical Experiment Tank (1958 - 1962)
  14. 14. Engineering Test Reactor (9/57 - 12/81)
  15. 15. Engineering Test Reactor Critical Facility (5/57 - 1982)
  16. 16. Experimental Beryllium Oxide Reactor (never operated)
  17. 17. Expermental Breeder Reactor No. 1 (8/51 - 12/63)
  18. 18. Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 2 (9/61 - 9/94)
  19. 19. Experimental Organic Coolded Reactor (never operated)
  20. 20. Fast Spectrum Refractory Metals Reactor (3/62 - 1968)
  21. 21. Gas Cooled Reactor Experiment (2/60 - 4/61)
  22. 22. Heat Transfer Experiment No. 1 (11/55 - 1956)
  23. 23. Heat Transfer Experiment No. 2 (7/57 - 3/61)
  24. 24. Heat Transfer Experiment No. 3 (1958 - 12/60)
  25. 25. High Temperature Marine Propulsion Reactor (1952 - 1964)
  26. 26. Hot Critical Experiment (1958 - 3/61)
  27. 27. * Large Ship Reactor A (10/58 - 1/94)
  28. 28. * Large Ship Reactor B (7/59 - 1987)
  29. 29. Loss of Fluid Test Reactor (1973 - 7/85)
  30. 30. Materials Testing Reactor (3/52 - 4/70)
  31. 31. Mobile Low-Power Reactor No. 1 (3/61 - 5/64)
  32. 32. Natural Circulation Reactor (9/65 - 5/95)
  33. 33. Neutron Radiography Facility (continuing)
  34. 34. Nuclear Effects Reactor (8/68 - 6/70)
  35. 35. Organic Moderated Reactor Experiment (9/57 - 4/63)
  36. 36. Power Burst Facility (9/72 - 1985)
  37. 37. Reactivity Measurement Facility (2/54 - 4/62)
  38. 38. Shield Test Pool Facility (early 1960s)
  39. 39. Special Power Excursion Reactor Test No. I (6/55 - 1964)
  40. 40. Special Power Excursion Reactor Test No. II (6/60 - 1964)
  41. 41. Special Power Excursion Reactor Test No. III (6/58 - 1968)
  42. 42. Special Power Excursion Reactor Test No. IV (7/62 - 8/70)
  43. 43. Spherical Cavity Reactor Critical Experiment (11/72 - 1973)
  44. 44. Stationary Low-Power Reactor (8/58 - 1/61)
  45. 45. * Submarine Thermal Reactor (3/53 - 10/89)
  46. 46. Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP) 10A Transient No. 1 (early 1960s)
  47. 47. Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP) 10A Transient No. 3 (4/64 - 4/64)
  48. 48. Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP) 10A Transient No. 2 (1965 - 1/66)
  49. 49. Thermal Reactor Idaho Test Station (last operated in 1964)
  50. 50. Transient Reactor Test Facility (2/59 - 4/94 *restart planned)
  51. 51. Zero Power Physics Reactor (4/69 - 4/92)
  52. 52. Zero Power Reactor No. 3 (10/55 - 11/70)

The alphabetical listing of the Idaho reactors above is from the DOE website.

Until recently, INL was part of the U.S. Department of Energy nuclear weapons production complex. INL however, continues to manage significant quantities of plutonium and other nuclear bomb grade materials. INL is also a nuclear reactor test site, thus its original name National Reactor Test Site. Fifty-two reactors have been built at INL, which represents the largest concentration of reactors at any single site in the world. Currently, only three reactors operate on a regular basis.

Big Southern Butte

INL Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage

The INL is described as DOE's Lead Nuclear Energy laboratory. In 1995, the INL was designated as the Department of Energy Spent Fuel Laboratory as stipulated in the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement. The Settlement Agreement even listed the tasks this entailed which included research, shipment and disposal technologies for all DOE spent fuel, coordinated and integrated under DOE-ID. But no one seemed to notice when this was defunded in 2009.

The INL's spent fuel inventory was described in the Blue Ribbon Commission's report as about 300 metric tons heavy metal (MTHM). The quantities of spent fuel at INL include a wide variety of Department of Energy-generated spent fuel, some foreign and domestic spent fuel, and the Navy's submarine and carrier spent fuel.

The INL remains at risk for becoming the interim spent fuel storage site, not just for the Department of Energy spent fuel already at INL, but for over 68,000 MTHM of commercial reactor spent fuel. The Department of Energy is being sued by commercial utilities for not taking the fuel.

The interim storage of commercial fuel would be above ground storage. However, the risks include terrorist acts and the risk of long term neglect due to economic collapse. The waste would come here under the guise that it would leave when a deep geologic repository is available. But, we all know the serious political difficulties finding people who want this waste buried near them to poison future generations.

If the stored fuel is not repackaged periodically, the metal cannisters and concrete eventually release the radioactive material. So, the spent fuel waste, the gently and not-so-gently "used" fuel, as the INL likes to call it, that comes to Idaho may stay here. Unless repackaged and confined, it remains poised for releasing radiological material for thousands of years.

Bunny scratches its ear

The U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board held a meeting in Idaho Falls on the management and disposal of DOE spent nuclear fuel in 2014. INL contractors did their best to put on show, yet they could not help disclosing that the lack of funding and disarray of programs for several years had made it difficult to assemble presentations. See meeting transcript at US NWTRB report.