High Flux Beam Reactor Record of Decision

April 2009

High Flux Beam Reactor Record of Decision

HFBR Complex


By 1955, it was clear that BNL's first reactor, the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor (BGRR), could not provide high enough neutron fluxes for the experiments being proposed. By 1958, the conceptual design for the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR) had been approved by the Atomic Energy Commission. The HFBR first achieved a self-sustaining chain reaction on October 31, 1965. The HFBR operated from 1965 to 1996 and was used solely for scientific research, providing neutrons for materials science, chemistry, biology, and physics experiments. The greater neutron flux cut down the time needed to do experiments, making the reactor available to more users.


During a routine maintenance shutdown in 1996, tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen and a by-product of reactor operations, was found in groundwater south of the HFBR. Investigations revealed that the source of the tritium was a small leak in the pool where spent reactor fuel was stored. Operations at the reactor were suspended while the Department of Energy considered what action to take. In November 1999, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson announced that the reactor would be permanently closed.

Prior to finalizing the Record of Decision (ROD) for the HFBR, BNL conducted several interim cleanup projects under the requirements of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to remove immediate threats to human health and the environment. The interim cleanup actions completed for the HFBR included:

  • Shipping all spent fuel to the Savannah River Site in 1998.
  • Dismantling and disposing of the cooling tower superstructure in 1999.
  • Removing and recycling more than 10,900 gallons of tritiated heavy water, the primary coolant for the reactor, in 2001.
  • Removing shielding blocks and chemicals between 2000 and 2005 for reuse elsewhere at the Laboratory and at other facilities, with the remainder sent to Hanford for disposal.
  • Removing scientific experimental equipment and transferring it off-site in 2003 for re-use by other operating research facilities such as MIT and the NIST Research Reactor.
  • Modifying the confinement structure and spent fuel pool 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.
  • Decontaminating and cleaning the Cold Neutron Facility was decontaminated and cleaned in 2006. It has been transferred to another BNL site organization for reuse.
  • Dismantling and removing the cooling tower basin, the Guard House, the Pump/Switchgear House, the Water Treatment House, and the Stack Monitoring Facility in 2006.

The Feasibility Study for the HFBR was completed in 2007 and the HFBR ROD was signed on April 1, 2009.

HFBR Record of Decision

Initially not included under BNL's CERCLA cleanup, the Department of Energy and the IAG agencies reached agreement to include the HFBR under the CERCLA umbrella. The HFBR is located in the central portion of the BNL site. The reactor complex covers about 13 acres. It consists of the domed reactor Confinement Building, Building 750, several smaller ancillary buildings that include the 704 and 802 Fan Houses, red-and-white stack, and the Cold Neutron Facility. Portions of the Confinement Building structures, systems and components are contaminated. Some underground piping systems are also contaminated with radionuclides such as tritium, cobalt-60 and iron-55. The contamination in the ancillary facilities, which were also used by the Graphite Research Reactor, consists of cesium-137, strontium-90, and tritium. There is some soil contamination within the complex primarily near the fan house and stack.

The following is a press release on the HFBR Record of Decision:

DOE Reaches Agreement on Brookhaven Lab Reactor Cleanup - Record of Decision finalizes decommissioning plan for High Flux Beam Reactor

UPTON, NY - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) have agreed on a final cleanup action (called a remedy) for the inactive High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR) at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). The agreement, known as a Record of Decision (ROD), describes the remedy for the HFBR and reflects significant community and regulatory agency input. The document is available online and at Stony Brook University, Brookhaven Lab, and EPA libraries. The final remedy incorporates many completed interim actions, several near-term actions, and the long-term segmentation, removal, and disposal of the remaining HFBR structures, systems, and components, including the reactor vessel. In total, this work will cost an estimated $144 million.


The HFBR was a research reactor that operated at BNL between 1965 and 1996. Used solely for scientific research, the reactor provided neutrons for experiments in materials science, chemistry, biology, and physics. The HFBR complex consists of a domed reactor confinement building, several smaller ancillary buildings, and a 100-meter-tall red-and-white striped exhaust stack. During a routine maintenance shutdown in 1996, tritium was found in groundwater south of the reactor. Investigations revealed that the source of the tritium was a small leak in the pool where spent reactor fuel was stored. HFBR operations were suspended, and, in 1999, DOE announced it was permanently closing the reactor.

As a result of past operations, the HFBR complex contained approximately 65,000 curies of radioactive material -- primarily iron-55, cobalt-60, nickel-63, europium-154 and europium-155 -- most of which were created during reactor operations when neutrons from the reactor struck the metal and concrete of the reactor internal components, control rod blades, reactor vessel, thermal shield, and biological shield. Smaller amounts of radionuclides and non-radioactive hazardous materials are in the confinement building and ancillary structures, as well as in the soil under the buildings.

Interim, Near-Term, and Long-Term Actions

Several actions have been taken since 1999 to prepare the HFBR for permanent decontamination and dismantling, including shipping spent fuel elements and water from the spent fuel pool to an off-site facility for disposal, modifying the confinement structure and the spent fuel canal to meet Suffolk County Article 12 requirements that control and prevent pollution of the countys water resources, and disposing or reusing shielding, chemicals and scientific equipment from the site. In 2006, ancillary buildings in the HFBR complex were dismantled and removed. Over the past few months, the reactors beam plugs and control rod blades were also removed and are being transported off site. As a result, the radiological inventory of the HFBR has been reduced by 35 percent, to approximately 42,000 curies. These completed activities are part of the work specified by the ROD.

Along with these prior steps, 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. Completion for a number of these near-term actions has been accelerated to 2011 as a result of funding made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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 and thermal and biological shields). 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 these reactor components.

Environmental remediation at Brookhaven Lab is carried out under requirements of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980. CERCLA requires that the selected cleanup remedy must protect human health and the environment. The cleanup remedy also must be cost-effective, comply with other laws, and, to the greatest extent practical, use permanent solutions, alternative treatment technologies, and resource-recovery options. The community involvement process is an integral part of making cleanup decisions under CERCLA. A public comment period for The Proposed Remedial Action Plan for the High Flux Beam Reactor was open from January 10 through March 17, 2008. Two information sessions were held on March 4, 2008, and a public meeting was held on March 6, 2008. Comments received during the public comment period and DOE responses are included in the ROD. Past operations at the Laboratory have resulted in soil and groundwater contamination. Remediation work is conducted under the framework of an interagency agreement among the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Department of Energy owns the Brookhaven property, and oversees and funds the cleanup program.

Community Input

The community involvement process is and has been an integral part of making cleanup decisions at BNL. Community involvement and participation were sought for all significant documents and decisions associated with this ROD. The HFBR Feasibility Study and the Proposed Remedial Action Plan (PRAP) were made available for public review during a 68-day public comment period (January 10 through March 17, 2008), but community input and participation in the process began almost a decade earlier.

The tritium leak and contamination of the groundwater sparked significant public interest and concern over activities at BNL. In response, a Community Advisory Council (CAC) consisting of 32 representatives of local business, education, civic, employee, environmental, and health organizations was formed in 1998 to advise the Lab Director on this issue, and other environmental, safety, and health issues. The CAC, which meets monthly, was involved in the decision-making process for the HFBR from the earliest days, including the DOE decision to permanently shut down the HFBR in 1999, the stabilization activities, and the interim actions that were completed at the HFBR from 1999 through 2007. The CAC has been meeting regularly since 1998 and continues to serve as an essential component of the Lab's outreach efforts. In fact, the public comment period for the PRAP was specifically designed to cover three of the CAC's meetings, to give the CAC the opportunity to review the PRAP in detail and provide comments.

BNL's Environmental Restoration Project staff made numerous presentations to the CAC beginning in 1999, from the decision to close the reactor through the release of the PRAP. Periodic presentations and updates have kept the CAC abreast of actions taken to stabilize the HFBR, so that it could be maintained in a safe condition while awaiting decommissioning. The CAC had the opportunity for early input into the draft remedial alternatives. In 2005 and 2006, it was given presentations on the history, operations, and characterization of the radiological inventory of the HFBR. The CAC had the opportunity to raise concerns, including those with regard to leaving the control rod blades in place, and issues surrounding maintenance of the confinement building. The CAC had a workshop and a tour of the facility in August 2006. Numerous updates on the progress of the project were given in 2007. The public comment period was designed to cover three regular CAC meetings: January 10, February 14, and March 13, 2008. CAC members reviewed the PRAP and had the opportunity to have all of their questions answered by a panel of subject matter experts. At the March CAC meeting, the CAC reached a consensus recommendation on the cleanup plan that was submitted to DOE on March 17, 2008.

In addition to CAC input into the decision-making process for the PRAP, the Community Relations Office sought input from other stakeholders including the general public, employees, elected officials, the Brookhaven Executive Roundtable (BER), and civic associations. The BER was updated on the project throughout 2007 and given a presentation on the PRAP in January 2008.

In July of 2005, elected officials whose districts encompass the Laboratory were contacted by phone and faxed an overview of the pending planning process for decommissioning the HFBR. The elected officials were contacted again in January 2008 and notified of the release of the PRAP.

Between April and May 2006, a survey was taken of individuals and organizations that might have an interest in the red-and-white stack, which was scheduled for demolition. Forty contacts with a historical or navigational interest were identified and surveyed to determine their level of interest in the decision-making process regarding possible demolition of the stack. Of the 40 contacts, 13 expressed interest in being contacted in the future with detailed information. The 13 contacts from the initial survey were sent letters announcing the start of the public comment period, together with the PRAP fact sheet, on January 8, 2008.

In April 2006, 26 letters were sent to local civic associations informing them that the decommissioning process was underway. As a result, presentations were made to the Manorville and East Yaphank Civic Associations. In January 2008, letters were again sent to these and other civic associations, together with copies of the PRAP fact sheet. Four civic associations requested additional information. Presentations were given to the Manorville Taxpayers & Civic Association, the East Yaphank Civic Association, the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations, and the Middle Island Civic Association. The January 2008 East Yaphank Civic Association newsletter and the February 2008 Mastic Beach Property Owners Association newsletter included information on the HFBR decommissioning, the public comment period, and information sessions and the public meeting. The newsletters reached more than 300 residents south of the Laboratory.

A Notice of Availability announcing the availability of the PRAP for review and comment was published in Suffolk Life newspapers on January 9, 2008 and in the Suffolk County edition of Newsday on January 10, 2008. Also on January 10, a news release, "DOE Seeks Public Comment on BNL Reactor Cleanup," was sent to the BNL media list (more than 80 recipients). A PRAP fact sheet was mailed to more than 200 individuals. An additional 300 copies were distributed to the CAC, BER, and regulators, and at civic meetings and in the lobby of Building 400.

BNL launched a new web site for the HFBR in January 2008. The web site gave background information on the HFBR and the decision to decommission it, and provided links to information on characterization, transportation, surveillance and maintenance, and groundwater monitoring. Also included was a Community Input page that listed information on the public comment period and the information session and public meetings, and explained how to submit comments. The URL for the web site was included in the PRAP, the PRAP fact sheet, and other publications.

BNL employees were provided with numerous opportunities to learn about the PRAP and to submit comments. An article about the decommissioning plan was published in the January 11, 2008 edition of the employee newsletter. An article also appeared in the January 7, 2008 Monday Memo, which is distributed to all employees. On February 14, 2008, an Environmental Restoration Project staff member gave a presentation to the Envoys, a group of Lab employees who meet regularly to learn about the Lab and give feedback to the Lab on the perspectives of community organizations they are involved in. Additionally, broadcast e-mails were sent out and the BNL home page carried information on the March information sessions and public meeting.

Information sessions on the HFBR PRAP were held on March 4 from noon to 2 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., and the public meeting was held from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 6, 2008 at BNL. The times and dates for the information sessions and the public meeting were listed in the PRAP, the PRAP fact sheet, and on the HFBR, BNL, and CAC web pages. Advertisements for the two information sessions and the public meeting were published in the Suffolk County edition of Newsday, in Suffolk Life, the North Shore Sun, the News Review, Southampton Press, Long Island Advance, and the Port Times Record the week prior to meetings. The public comment period closed on March 17, 2008.

Documents / Links

HFBR Feasibility Study

HFBR Record of Decision