History of the first 50 years of the Idaho National Laboratory
September 4, 2010 7:06 PM   Subscribe

It has gone by many names. "National Reactor Testing Station" (1949-1975), "Energy Research and Development Administration" (1975-1977), "Idaho National Engineering Laboratory" (1977-1997), the "Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory" (1997-2005), and now the "Idaho National Laboratory" (2005-present). It has been the site of more than 50 nuclear reactors, which has resulted in a fair bit of environmental impact. In 2000, the US Department of Energy published (and has since made available on the web) a history of the laboratory over its first 50 years: "Proving the Principle."
posted by rmd1023 (11 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Well, that didn't take long. I honestly had never heard about this place until sonascope's comment in yesterday's thread about Rocketdyne.
posted by carping demon at 7:34 PM on September 4, 2010

Great post. Thanks.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 8:26 PM on September 4, 2010

By the way, the world's first (by some accounts) nuclear power plant is there, and they give tours! While there you can also check out a prototype for a nuclear-powered aircraft engine!
posted by zsazsa at 11:00 PM on September 4, 2010

Wow, thanks for posting this. I've wanted to read Proving the Principle ever since learning about the SL-1 accident.
posted by Lazlo at 11:47 PM on September 4, 2010

Proving the Principle is a great read. Chapter 10 has a photo of S5G, where I went to prototype training as a plant mechanical operator and chemist.

Most of us lived in Idaho Falls or Blackfoot, about an hour away from the site. They had a fleet of greyhound-like buses run routes through town and out to the site every 4 hours around the clock. I can still picture riding the bus out hwy 20 as they all met up about the same time, so many buses it felt like being on a train. We only really knew what went on at the NRF site and could only daydream about what was going on in the other ones. And wonder what had gone on out the barbed-wire blocked, disrepaired little roads that submerged into the tumbleweeds a few hundred yards off the highway.
posted by ctmf at 8:38 AM on September 5, 2010

Holy crap, the Wikipedia article has a link to the coolest photo of Cherenkov radiation I've ever seen.
posted by spitefulcrow at 10:54 AM on September 5, 2010

Ditto on Proving the Principle.

I'm so envious of the scientists that got to work on these projects in the 40s and 50s, when you could just drive out to the middle of the desert and blow shit up.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:23 PM on September 5, 2010

I live in Idaho Falls, and I think "the Site" still the biggest employer here. You would never guess from listening to the local politicians, though. According to them the region just pulled itself up by the bootstraps despite that meddling gummint.

The chapter on the nuclear aircraft engines is fascinating. I didn't know that the engines are on display - I usually only drive through the Site when I'm on my way to Craters of the Moon or Sun Valley. I found a link about Test Area North, where the engines were developed, and another about the nuclear aircraft program.
posted by gamera at 3:42 PM on September 5, 2010

I see what you did there... GAMERA!

From the end of the article at the "another" link.

In the end, after expending no less than $469,350,000 on the nuclear powered program and having a concept aircraft flying, the U.S. Air Force shelf the program in the late 1960s, thus ending any major attempt by the United States to utilizing nuclear propulsion to impulse an aircraft in combat.

That's right, folks. $469,350,000. Pre-inflationary dollars.

We are SO fucking stupid.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 4:13 PM on September 5, 2010

Is Proving the Principle available anywhere as a single .pdf suitable for ebook readers anywhere?
posted by Thoth at 11:52 PM on September 5, 2010

I don't know what they were doing at Test Area North when I was out there in the 90s, but I slept through my stop on the bus once and ended up at TAN. The guards at TAN were NOT AMUSED in an excessively spy-movie dramatic way. I was held until my chief from NRF came to get me in person and vouch that I really was who my various forms of photo ID said I was.

My chief was also not amused, in a more realistic way. I never did that again.
posted by ctmf at 10:45 AM on September 6, 2010

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