Idaho Falls and Idaho National Laboratory: A Historic Past, a Bright Future

Published online: Jul 06, 2021 Articles, East Idaho Business Joel Hiller, INL Communications & Outreach
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Idaho National Laboratory has been part of the Idaho Falls area for 71 years. Established in 1949 as the National Reactor Testing Station, its founders hoped that harnessing fission in the Idaho desert for peaceful electricity would provide a solution for the nation’s long-term power needs. At the time, the population of Idaho Falls was about 19,000.

Since 1949, the lab has been inextricably linked with the growth and development of the area, along with the rise of nuclear power. Over the years, 52 nuclear reactors have been developed at INL, and the lab has become one of the largest employers in southeast Idaho. Meanwhile, the population of the Idaho Falls area has more than tripled, with the metropolitan area population reaching 145,000. Annually, the lab receives more than $1 billion in funding from the Department of Energy, much of which remains here in the community and contributes to other businesses and industries. 

As of 2021, INL employs more than 5,000 scientists and support staff in dozens of facilities throughout its 890 square miles. As Idaho Falls has grown, so has the lab’s mission. INL not only performs vital nuclear energy research to help reduce carbon emissions, but it also engages in other clean energy work and national security functions. Some of the most exciting developments in science today are happening right here in our own backyard.

It’s no coincidence that Idaho is also experiencing more rapid growth than any other state in the country. Our natural splendor, economic prosperity and low cost of living bring more people here every year. Diversity of experiences among the people here also enriches the community.

The future of INL is as exciting as that of Idaho Falls. With the growing need for clean energy, advanced nuclear reactors are closer than ever to becoming a reality. These reactors will be able to provide power for communities of different sizes throughout the country, and they will be able to work in conjunction with other energy sources. Where wind and solar are prevalent, advanced reactors can provide power when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Where low-cost natural gas is abundant, nuclear plants can provide other products like hydrogen and heat to help industry perform their work with the aid of emissions-free energy. 

These advanced reactors are being developed by innovative private companies, many of which are partnering with the Department of Energy to perform the required safety and efficiency testing and build the first commercial plants. INL is bringing unmatched expertise and resources to these efforts in a way nobody else can. The lab is partnering with many of these companies to support critical activities such as developing and testing new reactor fuels, and we expect to see new reactors built at INL before the end of the decade.

Just as Idaho Falls is garnering national attention as one of the most attractive places to live in the country, INL is entering a new and exciting period of activity that will benefit our way of life and bring more prosperity to our community. The coming years will be among the most exciting in the lab’s history and will draw even more attention to our home.  

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