U.S. Department of Energy won't help Georgia monitor radiation near Savannah River Site

The U.S. Department of Energy will not honor its 2010 offer to help Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division restore a program to monitor radiation levels in Georgia counties near Savannah River Site.

“Unfortunately due to budgetary constraints, the department cannot award every application and must therefore make difficult choices,” said Jim Giusti, a department spokesman at SRS. “The Georgia Department of Natural Resources grant could not be awarded.”

Georgia officials accepted an April 2010 DOE offer of federal funds to restore Georgia’s independent monitoring program, which was administered through the state’s Environmental Protection Division.

DOE supported that program from 2001-04 but discontinued funding in 2005, saying similar studies on the South Carolina side of the river were sufficient.

Discussions for restoring federal funding included an initial, annually renewable allocation of $750,000, but that sum was later reduced in light of leaner budgets.

By last October, the proposal that once called for $750,000 per year for five years had been whittled down to $300,000 per year for three years. Officials now say there will be no money at all.

The intent of the monitoring, which includes analysis of water, soil, vegetation and air, is to determine off-site effects from SRS – and to provide independent data to compare with extensive sampling already conducted by DOE on both sides of the Savannah River.

Anti-nuclear activists who lobbied for the restoration of the Georgia program said the Department of Energy’s about-face is disturbing.

“The DOE’s obstruction to environmental monitoring in Georgia is a gross example of environmental injustice,” said Bobbie Paul, the director of Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions. “Radiation does not acknowledge state boundaries.”

In 2010, then DOE Assistant Secretary Ines Triay pledged that monitoring would be restored to Georgia with a five-year contract independent of any restrictions from SRS.

“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,” Paul said. “Now, the offer is off the table.”

Giusti said SRS has a half century of experience at monitoring programs, which will remain intact to protect health and the environment.

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Results of SRS monitoring are annually provided to the public and published online at www.srs.gov/general/pubs/ERsum/index.html.

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