The University at Buffalo will hold a public meeting on Thursday to discuss the demolition of its former nuclear research reactor on the South Campus on Main Street.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in Allen Hall on the South Campus.
Work is scheduled to begin this month and conclude in 2014 at a total cost of $20 million, said David Vasbinder, UB’s associate director of environment, health and safety.
Vasbinder – along with representatives from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will oversee the decommissioning process – will explain the project, as well as answer questions or concerns from the public.
“The health risks are minimal,” Vasbinder said. “A person passing by the demolition site will not receive any additional radiation exposure than what occurs normally in the environment.”
Located in a nondescript, white circular building off Winspear Avenue, near the old football field, the facility opened in 1961 at a cost of $1.15 million.
But high operating costs and advanced age of the nuclear research reactor forced UB to shut down the facility in 1994 and ship the spent reactor fuel to an Idaho storage facility in 2005.
Only recently did UB receive the state money it needed for the project, as well as the approval from federal and state authorities to tear down the building that housed the reactor and return the site to a green field.
It’s a very controlled process, Vasbinder said.
First to go will be any contaminated materials, such as the facility’s heating and cooling system, reactor tanks, water from the tanks and research equipment used when the facility was in operation.
The contaminated waste will be shipped to appropriate disposal facilities outside New York.
“Once we get all those materials out of there we’re left with low levels,” Vasbinder said. “Only at that point do we start to take down the building.”
UB hired ENERCON Services Inc. as a consultant and contracted with LVI Services to perform the work. Testing will be done throughout the process.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be inspecting us throughout the process to verify that what we’re doing is what we’re supposed to be doing,” Vasbinder said.
Frequently asked questions about the project are posted at the UB website.
The building, including office space, is nearly 25,000 square feet with the containment facility constructed of reinforced concrete several feet thick.
The reactor generated 2 million watts of power, far smaller than commercial reactors, and had been used to produce short-lived radioisotopes for medical research. Buffalo Materials Research Inc., a private company, managed the reactor from 1984 to 1994 and used it to conduct scientific tests on behalf of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
UB’s reactor generally operated without controversy, although the 1989 leak of 1,000 gallons of water from the reactor prompted some calls to shut it down.
It was one of 50 reactors on campuses across the nation, when UB began the decommissioning process in 1994.