$28 million to complete BNL project

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06/03/2010 12:00 AM |

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) met with representatives of the Department Energy Tuesday at Brookhaven National Laboratory to announce that the lab will receive an additional $28 million in Recovery Act funding to complete the dismantling of the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor by this fall.

The remaining steps include the removal of a 300-foot stack at the site and a concrete shield that once surrounded the reactor’s core, already removed. Also to be dismantled are concrete air ducts, equipment from an associated ventilation building and exhaust filters, and other contaminated pipes and structures.

The reactor, which was in use from 1950 to 1968, was “the world’s first reactor designed and built solely for peaceful uses of atoms,” according to BNL, After 18 years of service, the reactor was shut down because it “no longer provided the high neutron flux levels preferred by researchers.”

“Today, we’re accelerating a significant milestone in the environmental restoration of Brookhaven National Laboratory,” said Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday. “Thanks to Recovery Act funding designated for the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor decommissioning, the Department of Energy and BNL were able to accelerate and complete the most difficult part of the decommissioning process.”

About 700 tons of radioactive graphite were completely removed from the reactor’s core last month, Mr. Poneman said. The project provided jobs for about 175 workers, he said.

“There’s no question in my mind that the Recovery Act is accomplishing its goals,” Mr. Bishop said, adding that it has put “at least 3 million” people to work.

BNL has received a total of $70.5 million through the Recovery Act to clean up the reactor and other radiologically contaminated facilities and structures. The project is scheduled to be completed in September, 2011.

An estimated 25,000 irradiations were performed over the reactor’s lifetime, according to BNL, on specimens ranging from seeds to art treasures. The reactor produced large quantities of neutrons — a type of subatomic particle — that scientists used to study the structure of atoms. The research has led to advances in physics, materials science and medicine.

At the reactor’s core was a 25-foot cube made up of more than 60,000 individually machined graphite blocks. These blocks — which slow down the neutrons within the reactor — became radioactive over time. As a result, removing them posed a significant engineering challenge to the decommissioning team, which began its work in February using a remote-controlled excavator and crane.

“The reactor is about 33 feet deep and all of the graphite is gone,” said Bruce Lein, a BNL training service manager who prepared workers for the graphite removal process. “The excavator we used scooped it out, like digging soil, and the crane was used to lift the waste boxes.”

Mr. Lein said all of the waste has been shipped to the Nevada Test Site.

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