The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has been in operation since 1949. It is a government reservation located in the southeastern Idaho desert. It is almost 85 percent of the size of Rhode Island with 890 square miles.
The laboratory was established as the National Reactor Testing Station and for many years was the site of the largest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. The U.S. Navy’s first prototype nuclear propulsion plant, along with 51 nuclear reactors, were built there.
During the 1970s, the laboratory broadened its uses into such other areas 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.
The laboratory is more than a just a remote location to test reactors and build large projects; it is the ideal place to study nature, with the varied wildlife and plantlife of its high-desert terrain. The site also is protected from outside intrusion.
In 1975, the Idaho National Laboratory became the nation's second largest National Environmental Research Park. That has allowed it to serve as an outdoor laboratory for environmental scientists to study Idaho's native plants and wildlife in an intact and relatively undisturbed ecosystem.
The area consists of flat to gently rolling, high-desert terrain that is about 5,000 feet above sea level. About 94 percent of the land is undeveloped and is home to more than 269 vertebrate species, including 47 mammals, 210 birds, 11 reptiles, and one amphibian. More than 400 species of plants have been identified.
Today, the INL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to meeting the nation's environmental, energy, nuclear technology, and national security needs. It is a multiprogram, federally funded research and development center.