United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Beltsville Agricultural Research Center

1.0 Site Identification

Type of Site: Complex Decommissioning Site
Location: Beltsville, MD
License No.: 19-00915-03
Docket No.: 03003530
License Status: Active License
Project Manager: Mark Roberts

2.0 Site Status Summary

The Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) is a unit of the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  It is located on a 2670-ha [6,600-ac] parcel of land in northwestern Prince George’s County near Beltsville, Maryland.  Initially established in 1910, a wide range of agriculture research is conducted, such as soil, water, and air conservation; plant sciences; animal sciences; food safety; human nutrition; and integrated farming systems.  Over the years, wastes from the research activities, including low-level radioactive chemicals, have been disposed using various means.  On site, there is a low-level waste radioactive burial site.  Established in 1949, it is an approximate 0.6-ha [1.5-ac] landfill where both liquid and solid wastes were disposed.  Disposal of liquid wastes ceased in 1984, and disposal of all wastes ceased in 1987.  Access to the landfill is restricted.  Inside BARC, there are more than 800 buildings (laboratories, greenhouses, barns, office buildings, and some residences), but agricultural fields, livestock grazing areas, orchards, and forests cover the majority of the site.

The low-level radioactive burial site at BARC was permitted under a USDA broad scope license issued by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and AEC regulations in effect at the time. The site was later permitted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the predecessor of the AEC. The NRC license is No. 19-00915-03 and is held by the USDA Radiation Safety Division. The site was established in 1949 and accepted waste until 1987. Buried wastes include radioactive isotopes; scintillation fluids; contaminated metal, glass, and plastic; contaminated animal carcasses; animal wastes; and other research-related wastes. Most of the radioactivity buried in the pits was in the form of tritium (3H), carbon-14 (14C), and nickel-63 (63Ni). The burial site contains 50 designed pits that are approximately 3 m [10 ft] by 3.5 m [12 ft] and 3 m [10 ft] deep. There are approximately 2 m [6 ft] of buffer space between the pits, and 1.5 m [5 ft] of clean backfill on top of each pit. The top of the backfill is level with the ground surface. Depth to groundwater is approximately 7.5 m [25 ft] below the ground surface. USDA submitted a decommissioning plan in August 2009 to the NRC for the BARC low-level radioactive burial site and submitted a revised final decommissioning plan in February 2012. The plan is to excavate soils and wastes, classify and separate them, and dispose of the wastes in off-site treatment or disposal facilities. The activities will be performed consistent with an NRC-approved Decommissioning Plan.

3.0 Major Technical or Regulatory Issues

There is soil and groundwater contamination in and below the low-level radioactive burial site at BARC due to migration of some of the buried waste through the soil.  Tritium (3H) and chloroform (CHCL3), and other chemicals, have been found in groundwater samples downgradient from the burial site.  Although radioactive contamination was identified in downgradient monitoring wells, concentrations are below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Levels.  In 1994, BARC was placed on the EPA National Priorities List, which is used to guide EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation.  Four sites in BARC, including the low-level radioactive burial site, were placed in the Comprehensive Environment Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study process.  No CERCLA remediation investigation study will be conducted until the site is decommissioned.

4.0 Estimated Date For Closure


Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, February 19, 2014