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Demolition and Final Decommissioning of UB’s Buffalo Materials Research Center

Frequently Asked Questions

Published September 5, 2014

What is the Buffalo Materials Research Center (BMRC)?

Presently, it’s an empty building on UB’s South Campus, located near the Winspear Avenue campus entrance. 

Over the next few months, the building will be completely demolished. Then, the site will be filled in and returned to a green field.

From 1960 to 1994, the BMRC housed a nuclear reactor used in medical research but it has not been used for this research for 20 years.  All nuclear fuel and loose radioactive waste was removed from the building in 2005.  Since then, the building has undergone the final phases of “decommissioning,” which included the removal and transport of contaminated materials from the building.

The demolition of the building this fall is part of the final phase of decommissioning.

What does “decommissioning” of a nuclear facility mean?

Decommissioning, an activity managed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), is the process of safely closing a nuclear power plant (or other facility where nuclear materials are handled) to retire it from service after its useful life has ended.

Decommissioning begins after the nuclear fuel and loose radioactive waste are removed.

The process primarily involves decontaminating the facility to reduce residual radioactivity and then releasing the property for unrestricted or (under certain conditions) restricted use. This often includes dismantling the facility or dedicating it to other purposes.

For more information on the NRC’s decommissioning process, go to http://www.nrc.gov.

What will happen during demolition of the building?

The building will be torn down to its foundation.  This includes demolishing entirely the concrete building and removing embedded pipes and structures that couldn’t be accessed in the earlier phases of the decommissioning. This phase also includes testing the soil around and underneath the site to verify that  it is not contaminated. When the process concludes, the site will be free of radioactive contamination, and it will be returned to a green field.

During a previous stage of decommissioning, the university safely removed from the building equipment and materials that had become contaminated with radioactive material when the facility was in operation from 1960 to 1994.

Similar projects have been successfully undertaken in recent years at Cornell University, the University of Michigan and other university-based research reactor facilities.

Are there still contaminated materials in the facility?

The facility’s radioactive fuel was completely removed in 2005 as part of the facility’s decommissioning process. Over the past several months, all contaminated materials were safely removed and transported from the building.

Some of the building’s structural columns currently have very low-levels of contamination, but there is no danger to the campus community or to the neighborhood bordering the South Campus.

What are the risks to the campus and the community as UB demolishes the building?

The health risks are minimal. Over the past several months, 99 percent of all contaminated materials were safely removed and transported from the building. There is a plan in place, working with an experienced contractor, to demolish the building as safely and as quickly as possible, and in accordance with federal and state guidelines

Some of the building’s structural columns have very low-levels of contamination, but there is no danger to the campus community or to the neighborhood bordering the South Campus. There are safety measures in place to ensure that the few contaminated structures are dismantled, handled and transported to minimize any risk of exposure, following federal guidelines.

A person passing by the demolition site will not receive any additional radiation exposure than what occurs normally in the environment.

What safety measures are in place?

All activities will be performed under strict NRC decommissioning guidelines

Some of the safety precautions to be taken include dust control with water misting to prevent building dust from being carried offsite; canceling work if it’s too windy; monitoring air quality every day and ground water quality frequently.

Many of these precautions are similar to asbestos removal.

What will be done with contaminated materials removed from the facility and site?

All contaminated waste will be safely shipped to appropriate disposal facilities outside of New York State.

Is there contamination of the groundwater surrounding the site?

No. An analysis of the site has determined there is no contamination to groundwater underneath the building. Ground water that gathers on the site as the building is demolished will be collected and tested, but do not expect there to be any contamination of ground water.

Is there radioactive contamination of the site outside the building’s boundaries?

No. An analysis of the site did not discover any radioactive contamination beyond the boundaries of the physical building.

What types of construction activities and noise are expected from this project?

The university will take steps to minimize noise, dust and vibration resulting from the building’s demolition. The team of specialized personnel who will be taking down the building will most likely be working 10-hour days.

The project begins on Monday, Sept. 8, with the first week devoted to preparation of the site: Putting up signage, fencing off the area and shoring up areas where columns will be removed. The demolition of the building and removal of the debris by truck will begin on Sept. 15.

Each day of work will begin around 7 a.m. and stop at around 5 p.m. If the team needs to work longer hours into the evening, they will be asked to work on ‘quieter’ tasks that don’t require power tools.

Weather will be a factor on the number of hours-per-day and days-per-week worked. If the weather is inclement for several days rendering work impossible, that time will need to be made up to finish the project on time

Truck traffic may create more congestion than community residents, students, faculty and staff are used to. This truck traffic will mostly impact Winspear Avenue and adjacent major roadways.  The University Heights and South Campus community are asked to be patient and to expect to move slowly if travelling in that area during the day.

Will the construction activities impact research conducted at the adjacent Kapoor Hall?

Because of its proximity to the project site, Kapoor Hall is the academic building that will be most affected by the noise and vibration of power tools

The project team has set up vibration monitors to test the “seismic” vibrations that may interfere with instruments used to complete the precise measurements necessary for delicate pharmaceutical research that occurs within Kapoor Hall.

Who will oversee the day-to-day decommissioning process?

The decommissioning project is a campus-led project managed by UB's Facilities Planning and Design group. Special consultants will be brought in to handle specific phases of work for which little local expertise exists.

How does the NRC regulate and control the decommissioning process?

The NRC’s inspector will be on site frequently and during significant project milestones to ensure that guidelines are being met.

To what standard will the MRC site be cleaned?

After the building is demolished, UB will be subjected to a number of regulatory inspections to determine that the site is free of contamination. The site will be returned to a green field after the NRC performs a final inspection and declares the site is clean and in compliance with guidelines developed by the NRC and the Environmental Protection Agency.

What is the cost for this project?

New York State provided funding to UB’s capital plan to pay for the project. There is no funding from other sources. It is estimated that the entire decommissioning process will cost about $12 million.

Why did UB decide to demolish the building?

The facility’s nuclear reactor has not been in operation since 1994 and the facility’s radioactive fuel was completely removed in 2005. The university was not performing sufficient research involving nuclear materials to warrant maintaining such a facility. UB received permission from federal and state authorities to take down the building and return the site to a green field.

Why not rehabilitate and reuse the facility instead of taking it down?

This option was considered by the university. An extensive analysis determined it was far too costly to rehabilitate the facility. The building’s structural components would need to be scraped and nearly completely torn away before the facility could be rebuilt. It is more efficient to take down the building.

Whom do I contact if I have concerns or questions about the project?

Representatives from UB’s Office of Community Relations and Office of Environmental Health and Safety are available to answer questions about the project from campus and neighborhood community members.  A public forum will be announced soon. Any questions in the meantime should be directed to the Office of Community Relations at community@vpsa.buffalo.edu or 716-829-3099.