© 2015 Elsevier B.V. Research reactors host a wide range of activities that make use of the intense neutron fluxes generated at these facilities. Recent interest in performing measurements with relatively low event rates, e.g. reactor antineutrino detection, at these facilities necessitates a detailed understanding of background radiation fields. Both reactor-correlated and naturally occurring background sources are potentially important, even at levels well below those of importance for typical activities. Here we describe a comprehensive series of background assessments at three high-power research reactors, including γ-ray, neutron, and muon measurements. For each facility we describe the characteristics and identify the sources of the background fields encountered. The general understanding gained of background production mechanisms and their relationship to facility features will prove valuable for the planning of any sensitive measurement conducted therein.