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Department of Energy refuses to restore environmental monitoring to Georgia communities near nuclear site

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ContactCourtney Hanson
courtney@wand.org
404.524.5999

Department of Energy refuses to restore environmental monitoring to Georgia communities near nuclear site

ATLANTA-The Department of Energy (DOE) announced Tuesday that it does not plan to restore environmental monitoring to Georgia communities surrounding the Savannah River Site (SRS), a US nuclear weapons complex notorious for its Cold War legacy radioactive waste.

This monitoring, which was cut in Georgia 2003, tests drinking water, rain, crops, fish, air and more near SRS in order to protect residents in poor and rural areas, including Georgia’s Burke and Screven Counties, where many people rely on water from private wells, home-grown crops and fish from the Savannah River.

“The DOE’s obstruction to environmental monitoring in Georgia is a gross example of environmental injustice,” Bobbie Paul, Georgia WAND Executive Director said. “Radiation does not acknowledge state boundaries. The people living downwind and downstream of SRS deserve to know what’s in the water, air and food that they consume.”

In 2010, then DOE Assistant Secretary, Dr. Ines Triay pledged that monitoring would be restored to Georgia with a 5-year contract independent of any restrictions from SRS.   In February 2011, SRS and DOE reached a deal with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for $700,000 annually with the agreement that the check would be delivered to Georgia within 30 days. The money was never sent and in July 2011, DOE reported they would only fund $300,000 annually, less than half of what the program received annually when the its funding was cut in 2003. Now, the offer is off the table.

The DOE, which still funds $1.5 million annually for monitoring in South Carolina, said funding it in Georgia would be redundant, and that the money is not available. But Georgia citizens living near SRS are concerned about their safety.

“I’ve lost sisters, brothers, cousins and friends to cancer. Every family I know has lost somebody,” Annie Laura Stephens, president of the Burke County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who grew up and lives near SRS, said. “We’ve tried to have meetings to find out what’s going on in our area, we’re still in the dark. It seems that nobody is listening but Jesus.”

The most recent Georgia monitoring data (from 2002) released in 2004 by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division shows elevated levels of radioactive tritium in Georgia communities surrounding SRS. The report showed dangerously high levels in river water, drinking water, fish and leafy vegetation.

Known by local residents as ‘the bomb plant’, SRS is currently tasked with waste management, waste clean-up after reprocessing, plutonium disposition, and tritium production for nuclear weapons. It is a national superfund site, and has a legacy of contamination spanning back to the Cold War, which is why environmental monitoring was originally implemented there.

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