Discover Brookhaven

Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor

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Remotely operated robot known as a BROKK manipulator

In April 2005, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Lab, and the regulatory agencies agreed on a final cleanup plan for the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor (BGRR), the world’s first reactor built solely to perform scientific research on peaceful uses of the atom. The reactor, which operated from 1949 to 1969, is part of a complex that includes several small support buildings.

The cleanup plan, developed with substantial input from the Community Advisory Council (CAC) and other community members, called for dismantling and disposing of the 700-ton, 25-foot-high graphite core of the reactor known as the pile. The 5,000 tons of concrete and steel shielding that surround the core were also to be dismantled and sent to a disposal facility along with the graphite pile.

In addition to the reactor’s pile and shield, which contained more than 99 percent of the remaining radiological inventory in the BGRR complex, several other significant interim cleanup actions were part of the remediation of the BGRR complex. These actions included:

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Removal of the aboveground air ducts

  • Pile fan sump removal: This 27,000-pound concrete box was removed in 2000. It was used to collect rainwater and other drainage from the reactor’s fanhouse and exhaust stack. Sampling showed that water had leaked from the sump into surrounding soil.
  • Aboveground concrete air ducts: In 2000, these 50-year-old ducts, which carried reactor-cooling air to the fanhouse, were cut into nine sections using diamond-wire saws. The duct sections, each of which weighed up to 168,000 pounds, were packaged and sent off site to a licensed disposal facility.
  • Fanhouse: Five large cooling fans were removed from this structure located near the reactor in 1999. These fans weighed in excess of 26,000 pounds each, and were used to pull exhaust air out of the reactor pile.
  • Below-ground air ducts, exhaust filters, and primary liner cleanup: Cooling air left the reactor pile through below-ground steel-lined ducts that contained copper coolers and a filter system. In a project completed in 2004, the project team removed the filters and contaminated portions of the liner using a remotely operated robot. This project was a major radiological challenge, and demonstrated the use of innovative technologies that minimized worker exposure and allowed safe completion of the project.
  • BGRR fuel canal, canal house and water treatment house removal: These above- and below-ground structures, which handled spent reactor fuel and cooling water, were demolished and removed in a project completed in 2005. Contaminated soil found below the fuel canal was also excavated, and the area was backfilled and covered with an asphalt cap.

After completing detailed work plans that incorporated controls to protect human health and the environment, the graphite pile was successfully dismantled in 2010 and the Fan Houses were demolished. Removal of the thermo- and bio-shield was completed in 2012. To complete this work, the U.S. Department of Energy dedicated nearly $74.6M.

The BGRR and all of its associated buildings were determined to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Due to the potential for removing a significant number of features, the Lab and DOE working with the New York State Historic Preservation Officer, agreed to a series of mitigations that significantly documented the history of this important reactor. The mitigation project documented the decommissioning process as part of the historic record of this important reactor.