DOE Media Contacts: Carol A. Morrison (Chicago), 630/252-2014;

Michelle Del Valle (Washington, D.C.), 202/586-5056

NRC Media Contact: Victor Dricks, 301/415-8200

BNL Media Contact: Mona S. Rowe, 516-344-2345

For Immediate Release May 28, 1998

NRC to Conduct Review of High Flux Beam Reactor

The U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will conduct a comprehensive safety and compliance review of the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR) at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The agreement fulfills a departmental commitment to seek NRC review of the reactor's safety, compliance with existing DOE safety requirements, and potential issues associated with external regulatory oversight of the Laboratory. The resulting report will provide input into the department's decision whether to permanently shut down the reactor or resume operation.

The NRC will perform a safety assessment of the HFBR operation over the range of power levels at which the reactor has previously operated. The assessment will include: observation of selected activities; audits of program activities, procedures, and records; and discussions with laboratory personnel.

NRC's review is expected to begin in June 8, 1998, culminating in a report to the Congressional House Committee on Appropriations before the end of the year.

Historically, the reactor has been used for research in chemistry, physics, technology development, advanced materials, the environment, biology, and medicine. The reactor was shut down for routine maintenance in December, 1996. Subsequently, a plume of tritiated water which had leaked from the reactor's spent fuel pool was discovered south of the reactor. The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services confirmed the contamination posed no danger to BNL employees or to the public.

Fuel from the storage pool has since been removed and shipped off-site. In addition, the contaminated water was removed from the spent fuel pool to eliminate the source of the plume, and water from the leading edge of the plume is being pumped to a recharge basin to prevent it from reaching the southern site boundary. Further clean up of the plume will be addressed under the ongoing Superfund program.

In June 1997, the department requested reprogramming for clean up of the tritium plume. The House Committee on Appropriations approved the request and also directed DOE to provide $225,000 to NRC for: identification and assessment of significant safety issues; assessment of compliance with DOE safety requirements; and an inventory of potential issues pertaining to external oversight of the laboratory.