Documentary examines environmental impact of SRS, Vogtle nuclear activity

A newly released documentary highlights health and environmental concerns on two of the area’s largest employers – Plant Vogtle and Savannah River Site.

 

Containment, an independent documentary from producers Robb Moss and Peter Galison, takes a closer look at nuclear activities through the eyes of local citizens and activists. The film features Savannah River Keeper Executive Director Tonya Bonitatibus and Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements.

Filmmakers travelled the river with Bonitatibus along the banks of SRS, only feet across the river from Burke County and Plant Vogtle.

“We have Savannah River Site which is one of the few places that can downgrade nuclear weapons material. We are one of the last remaining dinosaurs, but the problem is that it is a dinosaur. So our people are getting contaminated. We are not doing things the very best that we could,” Bonitatibus said.

She added both sites currently store nuclear waste materials, including shipments to SRS from foreign nations like Japan and spent nuclear fuel from electricity production at Vogtle. Once fuel is spent in Vogtle’s reactors, it remains at the facility in storage casks.

The spent nuclear fuel at the plant, and other facilities like it across the nation, awaits designation and construction of a national nuclear repository.

The film highlights dangers that nearby residents face through contaminated food sources. Filmmakers visited the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab at SRS to speak with scientists about wildlife that moves from the site into areas where humans catch and eat it.

In previous water quality reports, SRS presentations have shown no surface water contamination in the Savannah River. Bonitatibus disagreed.

“It’s in the groundwater, and the groundwater is the river water. If you go to any of the creeks during the day, especially spring and summer, fishermen are there collecting fish and eating them. Those fish don’t just stay in the river but are in the creeks further on the site,” she said.

In the film, she said there are no trespassing signs along the bank. Bonitatibus noted that what the signs don’t tell people is there is a contaminated nuclear site behind them.

Bonitatibus said one of the dangers of Vogtle is how much river water it needs to use in order to keep the nuclear materials used in electricity production from overheating. She said it’s frightening to think about what might happen if the river flow changes and the water source is no longer enough to keep that material cool.

She said, “I think we really need to look at the good and the bad of everything. We have to talk about it and admit there’s a problem before we can find a solution. The jobs are good, people need to work, but they also need to drink water.”

The documentary is available to stream from the Public Broadcasting Service website at www.pbs.org/independentlens/videos/containment-full-film.

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