The Energy Department has proposed a $96.8 million cleanup plan to remove radioactive material from a shuttered reactor at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, halting a proposal to instead enclose it in concrete.
The proposal, made Thursday at a meeting of the lab's citizens advisory committee, was hailed by environmentalists and other concerned people who had criticized the agency's plan, announced in December, to entomb the reactor for up to 87,000 years.
"I am pleased that local families will not have to wait 87,000 years wondering about the safety of their drinking water," said Rep. Tim Bishop, who had helped organize discussions to consider new ways to deal with the reactor.
The graphite reactor operated from 1950 to 1969. The removal of graphite and the cleanup of mercury that contaminated the nearby Peconic River is part of the final process of decommissioning the reactor at the Brookhaven National Lab.
The plan, which would remove more than 99 percent of the radioactive graphite from the reactor, still requires review from regulatory agencies as well as a public comment period starting in June.
The project should take two to four years, said Frank Crescenzo of the Department of Energy's Brookhaven office. Some surrounding soil would also be taken away under the plan.
Both New York senators and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy also hailed the decision.
Brookhaven Lab, located in eastern Long Island, employs more than 2,800 scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff, and has an annual budget of $463 million.
Major programs include nuclear and high-energy physics, physics and chemistry of materials, environmental and energy research, nonproliferation, neuroscience and medical imaging.