BNL Finds Tritium in Groundwater South of HFBR

January 1997

BNL Finds Tritium in Groundwater South of HFBR

High Flux Beam Reactor


BNL announced to employees on January 17, 1997 that tritium had been found in the groundwater in the central portion of the BNL site south of the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR). The reactor, which had been shut down for routine refueling in 1996, remained shutdown while the source of the tritium was investigated. It was determined that the spent-fuel pool had been leaking for more than a decade. All spent fuel from the reactor was packaged and shipped offsite between May and September 1997. The spent-fuel pool was drained of 65,000 gallons of tritiated water which was transferred to double-walled storage tanks then shipped offsite.

After a three-month investigation that included the installation of more than 100 monitoring wells and analysis of more than 1,400 water samples it was determined that the plume extended some 3,585 feet south of the HFBR and was located between 40 to150 feet below the land surface but was completely within the BNL site. Both the EPA and Suffolk County Department of Health Services agreed that it posed no threat to BNL employees or to public health, nor did it affect any drinking water supplies.

As part of the Laboratory's outreach effort to answer community questions, address concerns, and get feedback on proposed treatment strategies, four Tritium Informational Workshops were conducted off-site in March and April 1997. The workshops, attended by nearly 300 residents, were held at the Dowling NAT Center in East Yaphank, the Dayton Avenue School, Manorville, the Manorville Firehouse, and the Longwood Public Library, Middle Island.

In May 1997, a Pump and Recharge Interim Remediation Plan was prepared by BNL and approved for implementation by DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to stop southward movement of the plume. Under the plan, the groundwater was to be pumped out, passed through carbon filters to remove any chemical contamination that might be present, and transported via pipeline 3,000 feet northward to an existing recharge basin in the center of the BNL site. It was determined that once the water re-entered the ground it would take 19 years to reach the BNL site boundary. By that time, natural decay and dilution would diminish tritium levels to nearly undetectable levels. The Pump and Recharge System began operation on May 12, 1997.

In addition to the "fast track" remediation described above, BNL and DOE also evaluated long-term remediation options to address the highest concentrations of tritium in the plume found nearest the HFBR. Additional cleanup was conducted under the existing federal Superfund program as part of Operable Unit III. In 2000/2001, a low-flow pumping system extracted approximately 90,000 gallons of water from the aquifer that was disposed of off the Lab site.

Documents / Links

OU III Record of Decision