Contact: Mona S. Rowe, or Kara Villamil
Upton, NY - Today, the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory began pumping water out of the spent-fuel pool of the High Flux Beam Reactor. This action will stop the tritium leak from pool and marks a major milestone in addressing tritium contamination in groundwater on the BNL property. Congress has explicitly authorized and funded this activity.
Over a period of about two weeks, approximately 65,000 gallons of water will be pumped from the spent-fuel pool and transferred via a double-walled underground pipe to double-walled storage tanks on the BNL property. Suffolk County Department of Health Services has inspected the piping and the tanks, as well as a leak detection system for the tanks and transfer piping. In addition, the tanks were successfully pressure tested and certified by Underwriters Laboratory.
In January of this year, monitoring wells immediately south of the HFBR showed tritium in the groundwater at concentrations above the state and federal drinking water standard. BNL subsequently determined that tritiated water was leaking at a rate of six to nine gallons a day from the spent-fuel pool located in the basement of the HFBR building.
After installing over 140 monitoring wells and analyzing over 1,000 samples in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the County's Department of Health Services, BNL was able to define the contamination, which is confined to the Lab property. Both EPA and the County have stated that the contamination poses no danger to BNL employees or the public.
In May, groundwater pumping was begun as an interim action to prevent further spread of the contamination above the drinking water standard. Between May and September, BNL removed spent fuel elements from the spent-fuel pool and shipped them off site, in preparation for pumping water out of the pool.
The final remediation of the tritium contamination will be decided as part of the federal Superfund process. Community members will have opportunities to participate in review of and comment on remediation plans.
The Superfund process also institutes a formal procedure for state and federal oversight of the remediation. The Department of Energy has begun a formal environmental analysis that will help determine the future of the reactor.
When the tritium contamination was discovered early this year, the HFBR was already shut down for routine maintenance. The reactor has remained shut down.
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