BGRR Lower Canal and Water Treatment House Removal


BGRR Lower Canal and Water Treatment House Removal

Canal House, Building 709


The Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor decommissioning project was divided into seven sub-projects as a result of the BGRR Decommissioning Project Removal Action Alternatives Study, January 2000. The projects were scheduled beginning with the easiest and moved to the more difficult, and from the items taking the least time to complete to those that would require more time to plan and execute. This action was part of sub-project Step 4.

Most of the BGRR cleanup projects took place under federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Removal Actions. These were cleanups where known contamination was dealt with as quickly as possible to remove the potential for it to affect human health or the environment, in the absence of a Record of Decision (ROD). A ROD is a CERCLA decision document that requires more detailed and time-consuming characterization and analysis of contamination sources and possible cleanup options. The BGRR ROD was finalized in 2005.


Building 709 included the spent fuel canal, the deep pit area under Building 701, the canal walkway, several sumps, the Canal House itself, the Water Treatment House, and the fuel rod storage vault.

The Canal House contained the shallow portion of the spent fuel canal which was connected into the deep pit area under Building 701. When the reactor was refueled, spent fuel was placed underwater in the deep pit to cool; it was then moved underwater to the Canal House. There it was prepared and loaded into casks for shipment to DOE's Savannah River Site. The rod storage vault was used from 1950 to 1958 to hold empty aluminum rods after the spent uranium fuel was removed. The Canal House provided protection and containment for the canal and cask handling areas.

The Water Treatment House, Bldg. 709A, was attached to Building 709. It contained cells separated by walls that contained water filtration and purification equipment to maintain canal water chemistry and clarity. It provided weather protection and confinement for radioactive wastewater treatment. Interior portions of both buildings were contaminated with cesium-137 and strontium-90 and with uranium and plutonium from spent-fuel element cutting operations.

Historical radiological surveys confirmed contamination in the concrete and asphalt areas surrounding the canal structure and Water Treatment House. The contamination was from spills during operations and from water leakage from the canal. It was believed to have leaked at the construction joint between Building 701 and the canal.

Description of Removal Action

Characterization of the lower canal showed it was radiologically contaminated with cesium-137, strontium-90 and to a lesser extent, isotopes of uranium, plutonium, and americium. Soils beneath the canal also were found to contain SR-90 and Cs-137. Prior to determining the extent of the cleanup activities to be taken, loose surface contamination was removed or fixed, and the canal and floor areas were sealed. Prior to the approval of the Removal Action, an Engineering Evaluation/Cost Assessment was prepared to evaluate alternatives for the canal and surrounding soil.

Between 1985 and 1986, contaminated piping and equipment was removed from the canal, Water Treatment House, storage vaults, and sumps. The drains in the east yard area were sealed in 1997. In 1998, contamination in the surrounding areas outside the canal building was capped with asphalt to prevent surface contamination form moving deeper into the soil. Paint flaking from canal walls was removed in 2000. In 2001, debris was cleared from all accessible areas in the canal facilities.

Under the Lower Canal and Water Treatment House, Equipment, and Associated Soils Removal Action Memorandum, additional cleanup here included:

  • Removal of the remaining equipment in the canal and Water Treatment House
  • Partial removal of the floor and walls of the canal
  • Removal of the Water Treatment House foundation and superstructure and contaminated underground piping systems
  • Removal of all the contaminated sumps
  • Removal of contaminated concrete, asphalt and surface soils surrounding the canal
  • Installation of new drainage control systems that included an asphalt cap
  • Installation of three groundwater monitoring wells

Community Outreach

There were numerous opportunities provided for stakeholders to provide input as BNLs efforts to seek community participation continued to expand. As with previous Removal Actions, the Roundtable meetings held in 1999 helped to determine the extent of the BGRR cleanup activities. Additional input was received on the Decommissioning Project Removal Action Alternatives Study during the public comment period from January 20 through February 28, 2000 and the two information meetings which took place on February 1 and 26, 2000.

Input from the BGRR Working Group, which had been established in June 2000 (and met monthly through August 2003), was ongoing. And for this project, BNL prepared an Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis that assessed various alternatives for remediating the canal area and identified a preferred alternative. The EE/CA was issued for public comment on August 15, 2001 and public meetings were held on August 28 and September 18, 2001. The comment period for the EE/CA was extended through October 19, 2001 at the request of the community.

In addition, fact sheets were prepared and mailed to 2,300 stakeholders, a presentation was given to BNL's Community Advisory Council (CAC) in October 2001, the Brookhaven Executive Roundtable was kept up-to-date at bi-monthly meetings, the BGRR website was expanded to include weekly progress reports, and updates were included in the cleanupdate newsletter, the Monday Memo (an online newsletter to employees), and the Brookhaven Bulletin.