BGRR Record of Decision
The Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor (BGRR) was Brookhaven Lab's first big machine and the first peace-time reactor to be constructed in the United States following World War II. The reactors primary mission was to produce neutrons for scientific experimentation and to refine reactor technology. The BGRR operated from 1950 to 1968.
The BGRR was shut down in September 1969. In March 1972, the last fuel element was removed from the reactor and shipped to the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site. Planning for the BGRR's final decommissioning began in 1997.
Prior to a Record of Decision (ROD) being finalized, the Laboratory conducted several interim BGRR cleanup projects known as "Removal Actions" under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Removal Actions are cleanups where known contamination is addressed as quickly as possible to remove the potential for it to affect human health or the environment. While the Removal Actions were taking place, the Laboratory conducted a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS), which requires more detailed and time-consuming characterization and analysis of contamination sources and review of possible cleanup options. The Feasibility Study was completed in 2004 and the BGRR ROD was finalized in 2005.
As part of the RI/FS, the Laboratory completed an extensive characterization of the BGRR complex to determine the nature and extent of radiological and non-radiological contamination. Areas containing approximately 8,095 curies of radioactive contamination were identified. The contaminants of concern included tritium, carbon-14, nickel-63, cesium-137, cobalt-60 and iron-55. Non-radiological contaminants included PCBs and asbestos. The RI/FS assessed the risks posed by the contamination and evaluated potential remedial alternatives for cleanup of the contaminated structures and subsurface soils of the BGRR.
After extensive regulator and public review and comment, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation agreed on a $96.8 million cleanup plan for the BGRR. The plan documented the previous cleanup activities conducted under Removal Actions and called for dismantling and disposal of the 700-ton, 25-foot high graphite reactor core and the 5,000 tons of concrete and steel shielding that surrounded it.
Stakeholders were provided with numerous opportunities to provide input into the BGRR cleanup. As with previous Removal Actions, the three Roundtable meetings held in 1999 helped to determine the extent of the BGRR cleanup activities. Additional input was solicited and received on the Decommissioning Project Removal Action Alternatives Study during the public comment period held from January 20 through February 28, 2000 and two information meetings held on February 1 and 26, 2000.
In addition to stakeholder input, early input was sought from the DOE's Brookhaven Executive Roundtable (BER). The BER was formed in 1997 to provide a forum for frequent, routine, and executive level communications about BNL. Its membership included representatives from federal, state, and local regulatory agencies and government officials. In 1998, BNL established a Community Advisory Council (CAC). The CAC was formed to advise the Laboratory Director on health, safety, and environmental issues of concern to the community. The CAC was given regular updates on the Laboratory's cleanup projects including the BGRR. A total of 18 presentations on the BGRR were given to the CAC between 1999 and 2004.
Recognizing that it would take some time to complete the RI/FS and determine the final disposition of the BGRR, the Laboratory sought additional interaction with the public. A BGRR Working Group was established in June 2000 and met monthly through August 2003. The BGRR web pages were expanded and Weekly Status Reports were posted so that interested readers could follow the project's progress.
Other opportunities for input were linked to Removal Action Memoranda from several BGRR cleanup projects and from information meetings held on August 28 and September 18, 2001 during the public comment period on the Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis (EE/CA) for the BGRR's Lower Canal and Water Treatment House. The Laboratory published Notices of Availability for the EE/CA and mailed fact sheets to more than 2,000 stakeholders. Articles reporting on these cleanup initiatives and their progress appeared in external and internal publications including the cleanupdate newsletter, the Monday Memo, and the Bulletin.
During 2003, the Laboratory sought input from the CAC on a DOE proposal to define cleanup expectations. The Risk-Based End State vision was intended to allow DOE to more efficiently and effectively complete its environmental cleanup program. The BGRR was one of several cleanup projects included under this proposal. One of the cleanup alternatives in this proposal called for leaving the reactor pile and bioshield in place to allow residual radioactivity to decay over a period of 87,000 years. The CAC took issue with this proposal and as a result, Congressmen Tim Bishop and Stephen Israel held a special meeting with them to hear their concerns firsthand. This meeting was held at the Laboratory on December 22, 2003. The final Proposed Remedial Action Plan did not recommend the 87,000-year option.
The Feasibility Study and a Proposed Remedial Action Plan on the BGRR were completed and released for public comment on August 2, 2004. Two information sessions were held in August 2004 and a public meeting was on August 24, 2004 to gather input from the community. The 30-day comment period ended on September 3, 2004. The ROD detailing the cleanup plan was finalized on January 31, 2005 with the support of the CAC.
Dismantling the BGRR's graphite pile and surrounding bioshield began in February 2010. Click on the BGRR listing located in the Topological Index to learn more about the BGRR cleanup projects.
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