Discover Brookhaven

High-Flux Beam Reactor

HFBR

High Flux Beam Reactor

The High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR) was a research reactor that operated at BNL between 1965 and 1996. Used solely for scientific research, the HFBR provided neutrons for experiments. During a routine maintenance shutdown in 1996, radioactive tritium (see groundwater section) was found in groundwater. HFBR operations were suspended, and in 1999, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the reactor would be permanently closed.

After careful planning and input from regulatory agencies and the community, a decommissioning plan for the HFBR has been finalized. A Feasibility Study was completed and a Proposed Remedial Action Plan (Proposed Plan) was presented to the public for comment in 2008. The Proposed Plan provided the community with concise and complete information on the project; it identified the preferred alternative and the rationale for its choice. DOE reviewed the public comments and made a final decision on the cleanup remedy. The public comments and DOE's responses to them were compiled in a "responsiveness summary," which is part of the Record of Decision (ROD) that documents the final cleanup remedy.

In early 2009, as part of the remedy specified by the ROD, the reactor's beam plugs and control rod blades were removed and are being transported off site for disposal. As a result, the radiological inventory of the HFBR has been reduced by 35 percent. The remedy also specifies additional near-term actions, which include dismantling the remaining ancillary buildings, removing contaminated underground utilities and piping, and preparing the confinement building for safe storage. The ROD requires that these near-term actions be completed no later than 2020. The work is estimated to cost $144 million. Completion for a number of the near-term actions has been accelerated to 2011 as a result of funding made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. For further information on the Act, please visit DOE's Environmental Management website.

The ROD also lays out a plan for the long-term segmentation, removal, and disposal of the remaining HFBR structures, systems, and components including the reactor vessel, thermal shield and biological shield. These long-term actions will be conducted following a 65-year "safe storage" period to allow for the natural reduction of high radiation levels to a point where conventional demolition techniques can be used to dismantle them.

Many completed interim actions, several near-term actions, and the long-term segmentation, removal, and disposal of the remaining HFBR structures, systems, and components were incorporated into the final remedy. The interim actions completed between 1998 and 2006 that were included are: 

  • All spent fuel was shipped to the Savannah River Site in 1998.
  • The cooling tower superstructure was dismantled and disposed of as waste in 1999.
  • More than 10,900 gallons of tritiated heavy water, the primary coolant for the reactor, was removed and recycled in 2001.
  • Shielding blocks and chemicals were removed between 2000 and 2005 and are being reused at the Laboratory and at other facilities or were sent to Hanford for disposal.
  • Scientific experimental equipment was removed and transferred off-site in 2003 for re-use by other operating research facilities such as MIT and the NIST Research Reactor.
  • The confinement structure and spent fuel pool were modified in 2004 to meet the requirements of Article 12 of the Suffolk County Sanitary Code. Article 12 regulates toxic and hazardous materials storage and handling.
  • The Cold Neutron Facility was decontaminated and cleaned in 2006. It has been transferred to another BNL site organization for reuse.
  • The cooling tower basin, the guard house, the pump/switchgear house, the water treatment house, and the stack monitoring facility were dismantled and removed in 2006.

Environmental remediation at Brookhaven National Laboratory is carried out under the requirements of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980. CERCLA requires that the selected clean-up remedy must protect human health and the environment. The clean-up remedy also must be cost-effective, comply with other laws, and technologies, and resource-recovery options. The community involvement process is an integral part of making cleanup decisions under CERCLA.