Originally created 09/17/00

SRS opens its doors to family, fun



Thousands of children finally got a chance Saturday to see where their parents worked.

Savannah River Site held the first of two Family Days 2000. For only the third time in the federal nuclear-weapons site's 50-year history, employees were allowed to bring their families on tours of SRS facilities.

Site officials expected more than 20,000 people to attend Family Days, which conclude today. SRS retirees also could participate in the event, part of the site's yearlong 50th anniversary celebration.

"We do this so seldom that it's really special when we do it," said Fran Poda, a site spokeswoman who organized Family Days. "Kids see their mom and dad leave in the morning, and they see them come home at night, but they have no idea what they do. This gives them that opportunity."

It was the simple things that pleased Ariella Simmons, 7, as she toured one of the site's newest and most advanced plants, the Defense Waste Processing Facility.

"We saw my dad's desk," said Ariella, whose father, Robert, is an engineer at the plant.

Six-year-old Jacob Marker was more interested in seeing what makes the massive facility tick.

"I liked when I got to see the colors," Jacob said. His father, James, a shift technical engineer at the plant, explained that his son was referring to the orange glow, from overhead lights, that shines through the thick windows looking into the plant's radioactive areas.

By noon, about 1,000 people already had visited the snakes, turtles, bugs and alligators of the site's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, said Gary Wein, a lab scientist. Lab officials expected as many as 5,600 people to tour before the event's close today, Dr. Wein said.

"It's been great," he said as he knelt by an aquarium occupied by a two-toed amphiuma. "There have been a lot of kids, and everybody's having fun."

Another popular stop was the headquarters of Wackenhut Services Inc., the security firm that serves as the site's police force.

By 10 a.m., hundreds of people already had gathered to visit Wackenhut's drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs and to view equipment such as the force's two BK-117 jet helicopters.

"I think it's pretty small," said Allison Lott, 12, peering into the back of one of the aircraft. "I don't see how anybody could fit in there."

"I have a little toy helicopter like that," added her 8-year-old brother Travis.

Nearby, members of Wackenhut's "special response team" - similar to a police SWAT team - showed their equipment to 8-year-old Clint Lenard and his cousin Tyler Jennings, 7.

Tyler needed little time to pick out his favorite part of the tour, which, as is typical of 7-year-old boys, was "the guns." Clint was less discriminating.

"I like all of it," said Clint, who was touring the site with his mother, Margaret, who works in the site's F-Area Tank Farm.

"They don't understand what we do here," Ms. Lenard said. "You try to explain it to them to the extent that you can. This way, they can actually go and see it firsthand, and have some interesting things to do."

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.