Dear Georgia WAND Community,
We are excited to share that we’ve accomplished an important milestone.
Georgia WAND has successfully negotiated a three-year monitoring and community outreach program, created in partnership with the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab to be funded by the Department of Energy / Savannah River Site. The Georgia Radionuclide Education, Monitoring, and Outreach Project (REMOP) is a data-informed, public outreach, engagement, and education program that will serve local communities in eastern Georgia, mainly the Shell Bluff community, living in the shadow of the nuclear weapons and energy industries.
Environmental monitoring analysis will include a full spectrum of radionuclides, as well as mercury, methyl mercury, and a suite of about 20 metals. Monitoring sites will be chosen based on community members’ needs and suggestions. The program will outreach to local residents about the sources, levels, and risks of radionuclides and metals in the environment in which they live, and a community education program will be developed based on community surveys and participation and the results of the monitoring analysis.
Georgia WAND has been working to re-establish independent, radiological environmental monitoring in Shell Bluff, GA for 15 years. This program is an important step in identifying environmental issues in Shell Bluff so that together we can figure out what to do about the problem. All testing data taken in Georgia from 1976 to the present, including data from Plant Vogtle, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, (the independent monitoring that ceased in 2003), and the Savannah River Site, will be laid out and analyzed to help the community decide where and when new air, groundwater, drinking water, surface water, produce, fish, soil, and other media will be tested.
This program helps overcome the nuclear industry’s general failure to educate the public about radiation and the specter of nuclear disasters. It demonstrates a genuine willingness for the industry to learn about community members’ needs and concerns, as well as to make more accessible responses about potential sources of radionuclide contamination within the environment. It is hopeful that this program will begin to build trust between people living around, and people working within, the nuclear industry.
To the east of Shell Bluff, in South Carolina, lies the Savannah River Site (SRS). In the 1950’s, SRS, a Department of Energy nuclear reservation, began producing materials used in nuclear weapons, primarily tritium and plutonium-239. Today, it has been the mission of SRS to focus more on environmental stewardship, environmental cleanup, waste management, and disposition of nuclear materials, although SRS does still have missions servicing the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.
Abutting the Savannah River just west of SRS is Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power plant in Shell Bluff that began operating its two nuclear reactors for commercial power in 1987 and 1989, respectively. Currently, Plant Voglte is expanding from two to four reactors. Upon completion, the two new reactors will be the first new reactors built in the US in 30 years, and they will be pulling millions of gallons of water each day from the Savannah River, the third most polluted river in the country.
Rarely, is there public attention brought to bear on the realities of the potential pathways to and risks from all sources of radiation within our society, both natural and industrial, in a manner that is tailored to directly affected communities that need such information most. It is the intent of this programt to develop a model framework, developed and implemented in partnership with local communities in Burke County Georgia, that can be used for the purpose of outreach and education to all such communities in need as well as engagement with community members.
Burke County, Georgia was selected as a focal point for the program due to the proximity of communities in this county to both the Savannah River Site and Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle. Due to funding reductions, environmental monitoring by the State of Georgia was curtailed in Burke County in 2003; and the closure of that program has been of great concern to community leaders and citizens in the county. By undertaking this project we hope to provide Burke County residents with the following: a clearer understanding of how their lives are potentially affected by the presence of nuclear industries in the region; programmatic responses to concerns about health and environmental effects; a mechanism for lateral sector/community engagement; and a validated model framework for how data-informed outreach education programs can be used for similar community outreach in other areas of the United States.
We are grateful for Bernice Johnson-Howard, Field Coordinator at Georgia WAND and a Shell Bluff resident, whose commitment to the people of Shell Bluff, leadership skills, persistence, communication skills, and tireless faith played a critical role in securing this project.
Throughout our work, we were bolstered by the powerful Georgia WAND women leaders who laid the foundation and forged the path to help make this success possible. Some of these women continue fighting with us in the Shell Bluff community and for environmental radiological monitoring throughout Georgia. The board and staff would like to acknowledge the extraordinary hard work of the following women: Annie Laura Howard Stephens, Bobbie Paul, Amanda Hill-Attkisson, Courtney Hanson, Che Johnson-Long, Johnna Szegda, Emilia Pasalic, and Nan Grogan Orrock, among others. And we stand on the shoulders of WAND’s past leaders, including Krista Brewer, Cherry Clements, Bobbie Wrenn Banks, Marianne Bond Webster, Ruth Boozer, and Ruth Schmidt.
We are grateful to our funders, including the Sapelo Foundation, EMSA Fund, the Colombe Foundation, Southern Partners Fund, Marianne’s Fund, the members of the Georgia WAND Silver Circle, the Bobbie Paul Legacy Fund, and our many generous and encouraging individual donors who support Georgia WAND day in and day out, providing critical financial investment in our journey and reinforcing our social justice-based approach to the work, which makes wins such as this possible.
And we thank our beloved coalition partners, the congregational who support us, SRS Citizens Advisory Board members, old and new allies across the region and country, and many more individuals and organizations. They are too numerous to list.
We invite all of our supporters to attend a press conference in Shell Bluff, announcing the program and introducing the SREL outreach and monitoring staff, later this summer.
On behalf of the entire Georgia WAND staff and board, thank you for your support!
Becky Rafter, Executive Director
Dianne Valentin, President, Board of Directors
Please support the critical work Georgia WAND at the intersection of the nuclear industry, environmental contamination, racial justice, and women’s leadership. We are making a difference – and we need your help. You can go to our website: www.gawand.org and click the Donate Now button. Or send a check to Georgia WAND Education Fund, 250 Georgia Ave SE, Suite 202, Atlanta, GA, 30312. Thank you!!
Georgia WAND Education Fund Inc is an independent, grassroots, women-led federally registered 501(c)3 nonprofit based in and serving the state of Georgia. Your contribution to our work is tax deductible.