Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor Began Operation

August 1950

Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor Began Operation

Constructing the BGRR on Headquarters Hill.


The Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor (BGRR) was BNL's first big machine and the first peace-time reactor to be constructed in the United States following World War II. The reactor's primary mission was to produce neutrons for scientific experimentation and refine reactor technology. The BGRR was modeled after the X-10 reactor at Oak Ridge, TN. Construction was completed in 1949 and it first achieved criticality in 1950.

The BGRR could accommodate more simultaneous experiments than any other reactor. Scientists and engineers came from all over the U.S. to use the BGRR. Its neutrons were used for studying atomic nuclei and for studying the effects of radiation on materials. It was also an excellent training tool.

The BGRR was initially fueled with natural uranium, however, in 1958 a new fuel using enriched uranium was introduced. The reactor pile consisted of a 700-ton, 25-foot cube of graphite fueled by uranium. A total of 1,369 fuel channels were available with roughly half in use at a time. The power was controlled by insertion and removal of boron steel control rods. The BGRR was air-cooled by five fans that provided air flow through the core.

It is estimated that 25,000 irradiations were performed during the lifetime of the reactor. Its accomplishments include development of new methods, materials, and experimental techniques in physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, engineering, and the training of personnel. At the BGRR, new motor oils, new methods for dating art treasures, and new crops through seed irradiation were developed and a chemical extraction process for the radioisotope technetium-99m was refined. It provided 18 years of service before being placed on standby on June 10, 1968 and was permanently shut down a year later.

Decommissioning the BGRR

Deactivation of the BGRR was initiated in September 1969. In March 1972, the last fuel element was removed from the reactor. Shipment of the fuel to the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site was completed shortly thereafter.

During a site-wide top-to-bottom Facilities Review in September 1997, standing water was discovered in a vertical pipe connected to the below-ground ducts that had been used to cool the BGRR. The radiologically-contaminated water was removed, processed, and disposed of offsite in December 1997. To reduce the potential threat of contamination leakage to the environment Removal Actions and additional interim actions were taken to reduce the radiological footprint of the BGRR.

Planning for final decommissioning of the BGRR began in 1997. Roundtable meetings were held with stakeholders and possible cleanup alternatives were developed. Throughout the planning process, interim remediation actions were completed to reduce or eliminate potential threats to human health and the environment. Removal of the graphite pile is expected to be completed in 2010.

Documents / Links

Learn more about the BGRR

Learn about BGRR research