Originally created 02/02/05

Federal money sought for monitoring river



Georgia's Environmental Protection Division is preparing a new plea for federal assistance that could reinstate a defunct program to monitor radiation levels in the Savannah River and nearby Georgia counties.

Unless this pitch is successful, though, a program that included sampling of fish, soil, milk, air, rainwater and vegetation from the Georgia side of the river will remain drydocked because a $300,000 extension expired Dec. 31, said Kevin Chambers, an EPD spokesman.

Six small boats used for monitoring radiation in the river have been removed from the water and are stored at Yuchi Wildlife Management Area in Burke County, Ga.

The U.S. Department of Energy, which operates Savannah River Site in South Carolina, had supported the program with grants totaling $1.8 million from 2001 to 2003--and allocated $300,000 more last year to enable EPD to maintain a scaled back version of its radiation program.

DOE's explanation for canceling its support was that the grants were meant to help Georgia establish its own radiation program, but were not intended to be a perennial funding source.

Georgia officials disagreed.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's request for reconsideration was rejected by then Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who said Georgia's program was "redundant" because of comparable monitoring already conducted in South Carolina.

Mr. Chambers said Georgia officials are evaluating monitoring data gathered during the past decade to determine exactly what Georgia's needs are to avoid any unnecessary duplication.

"We are now working on a renewal grant application, and as part of that process, our director (Carol Couch) has asked that an analysis be done of the monitoring work conducted over the past 10 years," he said. "Once we do that we'll figure out how much money we need to ask for."

The formal request to DOE should be ready later this month, Mr. Chambers said.

Historically, the amount of tritium and other radioactive materials escaping from Savannah River Site has continued to decline, mirroring a trend that began in 1990 when many of the site's production activities were scaled back or halted.

In 1990, for example, annual releases of atmospheric tritium totaled about 250,000 curies, and it has dwindled gradually to about 50,000 curies during 2003, according to the site's 2003 Environmental Monitoring Report, the most recent complete year available.

SRS still pays for monitoring programs administered by South Carolina's Department of Health & Environmental Control and contributes financially to tritium monitoring in the Savannah River near the city of Savannah.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.