Experimental Reactor Prepared for Deactivation, Demolition

Source: EM Update | Vol. 13, Issue 20; Contributor: Carol Hendrycks | May 25, 2021

Crews prepare the Experimental Gas-Cooled Reactor for deactivation. The eight-story facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory stands 216 feet tall.

EM crews are preparing to deactivate the former Experimental Gas-Cooled Reactor (EGCR) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) before removing the contaminated facility and opening the DOE land for reuse.

The EGCR is one of 16 inactive research reactor and isotope facilities EM is addressing at ORNL. This massive cleanup effort is happening simultaneously with other cleanup projects underway at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

EM’s cleanup at these sites is eliminating risks, enabling modernization, protecting current research and science missions, and opening land for new research and national security facilities.

At the EGCR, Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management and cleanup contractor UCOR are working to make the facility safer for deactivation and demolition crews by removing combustibles, abating loose asbestos-containing materials, and creating multiple emergency exits.

The UCOR team used an innovative technology to create an additional exit from the building. Workers used a waterjet process with a garnet-based abrasive — similar to an intense pressure washer but using a sharp, angular mineral agent — that was able to cut an opening in the facility’s thick carbon-steel outer shell. This method avoided hazards associated with torch cutting, and it was less labor intensive than using standard hand tools.

EM and UCOR are also collaborating to perform the work in a cost-efficient manner. They identified an opportunity to reuse unique equipment across multiple projects, saving nearly $3.5 million. UCOR moved transport platforms — large elevator-like devices installed outside facilities — to this project from the Biology Complex.

While the Biology Complex stood six stories tall, the EGCR stands eight stories and requires these special platforms for the deactivation phase to access upper levels and move crews, equipment, and supplies more easily.

EM and UCOR have moved the facility to a “cold and dark” state. This process is a crucial step prior to deactivation that requires isolation of all potentially hazardous energy sources. The EGCR deactivation phase is slated to begin this summer.

In 1956, Congress directed the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which would later become DOE, to build the EGCR, a gas-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor — the first civilian reactor of its kind in the U.S.

The 107,922-square-foot facility, standing 216 feet tall, was intended to be more than an experimental reactor. It was to be a prototype for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s nuclear power generation. TVA is a corporate agency of the U.S. that provides electricity for business customers and local power companies, serving 10 million people in parts of seven southeastern states.

However, in 1965, when the facility was 90-percent complete, the AEC decided to go in another direction and stopped construction of the EGCR.

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