DOE prepares experimental Oak Ridge reactor for deactivation

November 2, 2020, 9:38AMRadwaste Solutions

OREM and cleanup contractor UCOR are set to fully deactivate the Experimental Gas-Cooled Reactor at Oak Ridge for eventual demolition. Photo:DOE

With work recently completed on the removal of a former uranium enrichment complex at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), the Department of Energy is shifting focus to other remediation projects around the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. On October 27, the DOE announced that the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) is set to begin cleanup of the Experimental Gas-Cooled Reactor at the site.

OREM and cleanup subcontractor UCOR are in the planning stages to fully deactivate the reactor for eventual demolition. The reactor is one of 16 inactive research reactors and isotope facilities that OREM is addressing and cleaning up at Oak Ridge. The cleanup effort will happen concurrently with other OREM cleanup projects underway at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.

Quote: UCOR project manager Susan Reid said, “We are taking full advantage of the highly skilled workforce that recently completed cleanup at ETTP. Their familiarity with the hazards, the type of facilities, and lessons learned make them ideal for this work and add cost efficiency to our project.”

Background: In 1956, Congress directed the Atomic Energy Commission to build a gas-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor—the first civilian reactor of its kind in the United States.

Construction of the facility was a result of Congress pushing to keep pace with research advances in Great Britain, where the Magnox power plants used dual-purpose reactors that were able to produce plutonium for bombs while simultaneously generating nuclear power.

The Experimental Gas-Cooled Reactor at ORNL was intended to be more than an experimental reactor. It was also to be a prototype for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s nuclear power program. In 1965, however, when the facility was 90-percent complete, the AEC decided to go in another direction and stopped construction.

The reactor was never put into service, but the control, service, and turbine buildings were later used as development space for other research and programs. The facility would go on to house ORNL’s Fuel Recycle Division.

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