We mailed out our bi-annual print newsletter recently. If you haven't gotten a chance to read it, check it out below! Or download the file here to share.
"Every time it rains on Burke County, or on any of the communities surrounding SRS, residents, homes, pets and crops could be getting large radioactive doses of tritium."
In its July 25 issue, the Augusta Chronicle published a story titled Project aims to educate on radiological monitoring. The article is centered on one of the first educational meetings of Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s REMOP program, held in Waynesboro this week. SREL is an extension of the University of Georgia and studies wildlife and ecology at the Savannah River Site. REMOP stands for Radiological Education and Monitoring Program, but both the program name and Chronicle headline are a bit of a misnomer. And the story, shallow in detail, leaves a lot to clarify.
The program is actually several years in the making, including a contracted needs study conducted under the watch of the Environmental Protection Agency. But as SREL director Dr. Gene Rhodes said during the study presentation, the Department of Energy, whose radioactive material is the largest contributor to local environmental contamination, does not fund public health projects.
REMOP is educating the people of Shell Bluff and Burke County using data collected 15 years ago. The DOE stopped monitoring groundwater wells and other sites in Burke County in 2002. That decision left local communities without any kind of information to understand exactly what their homes, drinking water, gardens and bodies are being exposed to.
Cesium and mercury are two of the most dangerous chemicals found in creeks, groundwater and tributaries to the Savannah River from plutonium production, nuclear waste storage and other nuclear related activities at SRS. More common than those is a radioactive element of hydrogen known as tritium. Tritium is a key element in the current US nuclear weapons arsenal, and the SRS tritium enterprise is the only production and tritium capturing facility in the nation.
During processing, tritium is released to the environment through both irrigation techniques and atmospheric venting. Amounts have lessened since a new facility started operation in 1994, but annual monitoring reports provided by South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control show continued, intentional radioactive releases. Earlier this week, SRS announced that it tripled tritium production this year, but data is not yet available to determine how much additional tritium was released because of the uptick in production.
During the 1990’s, monitoring of groundwater wells in Burke County found tritium in local residents’ drinking water supply. The contamination, though, was found to be above the groundwater line in the wells, meaning the contamination wasn’t from underground releases. It was determined that atmospheric releases of tritium were being pulled down during rainfall.
Every time it rains on Burke County, or on any of the communities surrounding SRS, residents, homes, pets and crops could be getting large radioactive doses of tritium. The DOE says area dosage isn’t much higher than typical background levels and that a cross-country flight delivers a higher dosage of radiation. But, according to a 2014 article published by Scientific American, Some evidence suggests the kind of radiation emitted by tritium—a so-called beta particle—is actually more effective at causing cancer than the high-energy radiation such as gamma rays.
The REMOP program, while it may be well intentioned, is far from effective. Instead of studying the pathways tritium follows between nuclear weapons production and the kitchen tap, SREL is doing little more than providing technical jargon education about the poisonous materials potentially killing people from their own backyards. Burke County residents should demand more for the generations’ long burden they have borne in the name of national defense at Savannah River Site.
Thomas Gardiner, Guest Blogger
Thomas is an independent journalist with Apollo Consulting Services Group.
The reports read more like a script for a theater of the absurd, where the expenditure of billions of more dollars on a failed experiment is called a deal for the ratepayers.
ATLANTA, GA- More than 40 years have passed since the beginning of the 12-year construction of Plant Vogtle nuclear units 1 and 2 near Waynesboro, GA, and some concerned citizens said they can’t believe they are still protesting.
Construction on Vogtle expansion units 3 and 4 began in 2009, at a time industry experts called the nuclear renaissance. The new nuclear units were originally slated to come online in 2016. Thursday, a year beyond deadline, the Public Service Commission heard testimony about construction delays, bankruptcy woes, and an unfinished plan to complete construction.
Westinghouse, the contract company that was building the AP1000 reactors, filed bankruptcy in March, spinning Vogtle into a vortex of uncertainty. The project is owned by several Georgia utility companies with primary ownership under the banner of Georgia Power, subsidiary of Southern Company.
By early June, Southern Company agreed to take over project management from defunct Westinghouse. In testimony Thursday, Southern Nuclear representatives told the PSC they have preliminary data that suggests productivity is up since the company took over. But some consumer advocacy groups aren’t convinced.
“Every time the project changed hands and a new contractor took over, the company testified that things were getting so much better,” said Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch. “Every time they tried to convince us that this was the time things were going to start going smoothly. We are still waiting.”
In his testimony, PSC staffer Steve Roetger said the bankruptcy and current circumstances weren’t entirely unexpected.
“We didn’t trust the company. We never felt they had a reasonable, fully integrated IPS [integrated project schedule]. We were driven to negotiate a deal where we forfeited the right to litigate to provide significant protections on the back end,” he said.
Since 2009, Georgia Power has been collecting a nuclear tariff from customers valued at 7 percent of their monthly bill. That tariff, authorized by the state legislature as “construction work in progress” costs allows the company to collect construction costs up front, before a single kilowatt-hour is produced by units 3 or 4.
That tariff isn’t just levied against residential and business customers, though. Nuclear construction costs are also collected from public schools, municipal governments, non-profits, and religious establishments like churches and mosques. Thursday’s hearing drew a number of concerned citizens to speak out against the plant.
“The reports read more like a script for a theater of the absurd, where the expenditure of billions of more dollars on a failed experiment is called a deal for the ratepayers,” said Georgia Power customer Barbara Antonoplos. “In the face of all this, the company emphatically maintains that the project is well managed. Despite warning after warning, the PSC still says ‘nobody could have seen this coming.’”
The PSC will hold elections for two of its districts in 2018. John Noel, former Georgia legislator and Atlanta based energy efficiency businessman, recently announced candidacy for the District 3 seat currently held by Commissioner Chuck Eaton. Noel, who has expressed concerned over Voglte’s construction progress, also spoke to the commission.
“With the landscape we are in right now, this is a time for us to be thinking Things are getting more and more efficient; buildings and lights. And it can all be done for pennies on the dollar compared to what we are spending now for units 3 and 4. As good stewards of environment, economy and personal finances, we should be focusing on how to better use the energy we have. As the Public Service Commission it is your duty to protect the ratepayers,” Noel said.
According to testimony, Vogtle is only about 40 percent complete, including engineering and procurement; construction progress is lower. The roughly $4 billion price tag at current is comparable to the original cost estimates to completion. With more than half of the project remaining and eight years already underway, some say the finish line is an indistinct concept years down the road.
“It’s impossible to know when the company will finish 3 and 4,” Coyle said. “Until they have a completed IPS, it’s just a guess. Now that Southern Nuclear has taken over, we don’t really know what will happen. They’ve only ever finished one nuclear construction project; Vogtle 1 and 2. That took 12 years to finish, was built over 30 years ago, and was way over budget. Cost overruns then were passed on to the consumers, just like they are now.”
Georgia Power did not respond to telephone or email inquiries regarding this week’s hearing and testimony.
Action Alert: Tell BOEM, NMFS and your Governor to oppose seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean
Proposals to conduct underwater blasting are threatening the East coast. The federal government says this practice will kill, harm and harass up to 138,000 marine mammals—without a projection on how many fish. The risk to commercial fisheries will hurt our local coastal economy, and seismic blasting is a step towards oil extraction in the Atlantic.
Our partners at BAPAC (the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast) have made it easy for you to tell BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) that you oppose seismic airgun blasting. Just click here.
You can also tell your Governor to oppose seismic airgun blasting by clicking here before June 23. Act now to help spare our East coast from this unnecessary risk.
The dam at New Savannah Bluff is in need of major repairs, for which there is currently no source of funding. The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) mitigation agreements require the construction of a passage for migratory fish species. In spring 2016, Savannah Riverkeeper and other stakeholders presented the idea to combine the two projects to federal lawmakers reworking the WRDA bill. The new WRDA language allows the Corps of Engineers to explore using Savannah Harbor Expansion Project mitigation funds designated only for the fish passage to address structural deficiencies in the aging Lock & Dam. They must now complete both an implementation strategy and an environmental analysis of all options to study their effects.
What Does the WRDA Bill Mean for Lock & Dam?
Congress has approved changes to language in the Water Resources & Development Act (WRDA), which funds and authorizes water resource projects throughout the U.S. The updated act does the following for the New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam:
1. mandates repair of the lock wall;
2. obligates the Corps of Engineers to maintain current pool for navigation, water supply, and recreation;
3. requires construction of a fish passage for endangered and migratory species;
4. transfers ownership of the park and recreation area adjacent to the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam from the Corps of Engineers to Augusta-Richmond County, with no cost incurred by the city.
What Does Savannah Riverkeeper Support?
Savannah Riverkeeper advocates for the construction of a rock weir in place of the current dam, which would:
1. meet the criteria for a fish passage;
2. maintain the functions of pool and flood control the Lock & Dam has provided for upstream users;
3. save millions in local funds by combining two projects; and
4. open the area to opportunities for river-based recreation and economic growth.
Will Augusta's River Region Risk Increased Flooding?
The Corps of Engineers are, for the first time, under legal requirement to maintain pool levels and will continue to do so in times of flood risk. It is of utmost importance to understand that the Lock & Dam provides no flood control above 30,000 cubic feet per second, which is the level at which Downtown and North Augusta begin flooding. Due to a system called No-Rise Certification for Floodways, in place by FEMA, there can be no increased risk of flooding to the area as a result of this or any approved project. Additionally, extensive planning and numerous studies must be completed before such a project could move forward.
How Can I Learn More?
There are many facets to take into consideration on this complicated issue, and Savannah Riverkeeper will attempt to address them point-by-point and keep the public informed as the process unfolds. We believe that this project holds an exciting opportunity for Augusta's River Region.
To contribute a question, please email email@example.com with the subject: Lock & Dam. Look for us in local news coverage and stay tuned for more answers as we hear from you. For more insight or to share with your school, club, or friends, download the info sheet below. You can also read a copy of our official comment submitted to the Corps of Engineers.
How Can I Take Action?
Studies are underway to determine a solution for the future of the New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requests input from local city officials, industry and the public in general before determining how best to meet the intent of the law and address the concerns of the local community.
Comments will be accepted until June 3, 2017.
Send comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing by mail to:
Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Planning Division: ATTN Mr. Nathan Dayan
100 West Oglethorpe Avenue
Savannah, GA 31401-3640
You can also sign the petition to tell the Corps of Engineers you support a river-friendly and fiscally responsible future for the Lock & Dam.