Originally created 05/14/98

SRS limited releases, say researchers

During the heyday of Cold War bomb production, Savannah River Site often had several significant radioactive releases every year.

But none appears to have been large enough to harm people living near the plant, an independent researcher with the SRS Dose Reconstruction Project said Wednesday.

"There were concentration limits for tritium in the environment and in water, and the site has largely stayed within those limits," Robert Meyer, a research staffer with Radiological Assessments Corp., said Wednesday during an SRS Health Effects Subcommittee meeting in Augusta.

Although researchers have yet to calculate the actual radioactive dose to the population -- making firm conclusions premature -- it appears Augusta-Aiken area residents had little to worry about, he said.

"I believe that's going to be our conclusion," Dr. Meyer said.

The subcommittee gives advice and recommendations for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on SRS-related public health issues. Dr. Meyer was there to give committee members an update on the dose reconstruction project, now in its seventh year.

During the soon-to-be-completed second phase of the project, he and other researchers have been poring over thousands of log entries, memos and reports from SRS to document the history of releases from the plant. The records date from the 1950s and had to be declassified before they were made available to researchers.

Researchers also have interviewed retirees from the plant, some of whom had saved decades-old records that proved helpful, Dr. Meyer said.

"What we're looking for is the original information, the handwritten data, because that's the least likely to have changed before it's published," he said.

Such log entries and memos detailing past releases are then compared with published incident reports to spot discrepancies.

The goal is to determine, once and for all, how much radioactivity was released into the air and water over the years and what effects it had on the local population. Similar studies are under way or have been completed at other facilities within the Department of Energy's vast nuclear weapons complex.

Radiological Assessment Corp. is expected to present a more than 600-page report to CDC in late June detailing hundreds of planned and accidental releases from SRS since the late 1950s.


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