Savannah River Ecology Laboratory to launch radionuclide outreach program

Aiken, S.C. – The University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory will begin working this summer with the community of Shell Bluff in Burke County to help its residents understand the impacts of nuclear industrial operations in the surrounding area.

The Shell Bluff community, near Waynesboro, is in close proximity to both the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, and Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle.

The three-year program, a collaboration with Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, an Atlanta-based non-profit, will engage and address residents’ concerns regarding the real and perceived risk of environmental contamination from nuclear industrial operations in the surrounding area.

The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory will be responsible for program development and implementation, including pre- and post-survey of community leaders and residents; monitoring for the presence of radionuclides, metals and other contaminants; providing data results; and educating and informing the community through extensive outreach activities.

Olin E. Rhodes Jr., director of SREL, said the program will have a strong educational component.

“This outreach program will be data-driven and heavily focused on informing residents of our findings,” he said. “We will be present and actively involved in the Shell Bluff community—listening, sharing what we find and communicating the scientific findings in a manner that can be understood.”

Rhodes said the program will employ two staff members, a community outreach coordinator and a postdoctoral researcher.

Georgia WAND will serve as liaison to the community. The group will take the lead in organizing and facilitating initial meetings with community leaders and residents.

“It has been 15 years since Georgia had independent environmental monitoring for radiation in Burke County,” said Becky Rafter, executive director of Georgia WAND, who emphasized the non-profit has been a long-time advocate for the residents of Shell Bluff.

“We applaud SREL’s leadership. This program is an important step forward in understanding the environmental issues in Shell Bluff. And we are hopeful the program will raise community awareness, increase engagement and build trust and relationships among different sectors and communities within the CSRA and across the state.”

The residents will have an active role in the structure of the program, from providing input on monitoring locations to identifying specific sources of concern to be included—soil, water, air and food.

The program is supported by a cooperative agreement between the Department of Energy and SREL.