More on the Savannah River Ecology Lab pending shutdown that we mentioned here last week...

The following announcement was e-mailed to us by Joe Franke:

The Savannah River Ecology Laboratoryπs funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will be exhausted at the end of May 2007 and the lab will be forced to close. The DOE or its equivalent has supported SREL for ecological research and environmental education for 56 years.

During the past year, SREL has worked with Savannah River Site (SRS) representatives to implement a new 5-year cooperative agreement with task-based funding, similar to what has been used for the past 20+ years. According to written and verbal communications from DOE, the funds have been budgeted for SREL tasks that have been underway since September 2006 and the funds are actually at the SRS to complete these tasks, however, the funds have not been released to SREL. The decision to hold back funding from SREL is solely due to officials at DOE Headquarters in Washington DC who seem determined to cut off all DOE funding for SREL regardless of the nature of the tasks proposed and agreed upon with SRS managers.

SREL programs are more important than ever. Independent environmental evaluation is critical for SRS programs that will process new nuclear materials brought to the SRS and current SRS processes that will leave residual high-level waste in place forever. SREL researchers are funded by many other agencies, but the core mission of SREL remains independent environmental evaluation of SRS activities and long-term stewardship of the SRS. DOE Officials in Washington DC are forcing the local SRS managers to discontinue funding for an environmental program that has benefited the SRS, people of the Aiken-Augusta area, and the entire country for more than half
a century.

If DOE funding is not restored immediately, SREL will be forced to close. All SREL animals will need to be transferred or euthanized by the end of May. All tasks that SRS managers have identified as important to long-term environmental stewardship of the site will not be completed. About 100 people will lose their jobs, hundreds affiliated with or dependent upon SREL research will be affected significantly, and tens of thousands of teachers, students, and members of the public who are touched by SREL education and outreach programs will lose out. SREL employees and programs funded by non-DOE grants will also be forced to move due to lack of funding to meet DOE mandated safety and security requirements. Presentations to regional schools, libraries, civic groups, and other organizations will end in May, as will all funding for SREL student programs on the SRS. The independent, oversight studies SREL conducts and publishes on radiation effects, chemical releases, and environmental health will also be terminated at the end of May.

All citizens, including researchers, parents, teachers, and children, who want to urge DOE to release the funding for SREL to continue tasks agreed upon with SRS managers should contact individuals who could make this happen. The more people who express their concern, the more likely it is that action will be taken. You may contact the individuals listed below, write letters to newspapers, or inform anyone else you think should know. One suggestion is to write a short letter that you can email, surface mail, and fax. Then make a telephone call.

[Click here and scroll down for the list of suggested contacts]

Please also cc your letters to: friendsofsrel@srel.edu

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Commenting on our previous post, Jim Mackey says:

I am a former member of Savannah River Site CAB and was the Chair of the Strategic & Legacy Management Committee that dealt with that issue. You are correct however, no one has been able to change DOE's mind.

There are many factions to this issue most of all which was the nail in the coffin last week was that the University of Georgia has pulled their support and funding form SREL. It was to shore up seed money for their new medical university college in Athens Georgia and they knew about this and did not dignify it with explaining to SREL personnel that they were contemplating doing this action. I also suspect that DOE also knew what UGA was doing and they sort of used it.

DOE is complicit in this also because they used it to cap funding at 1.8 million which has been used up for infrastructure and they say they have "reviewed" (not peer reviewed as necessary) the proposals SREL has sent to them for approval now on a case by case basis, but DOE as of yesterday said that none of the current proposals meet the work needs of DOE-EM and are not deemed mission critical.

And speaking of radioactive contamination, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just reported to Congress on a nuclear spill at a facility in East Tennessee that makes fuel for nuclear submarines and commercial reactors.

The spill, involving 9 gallons of highly enriched uranium solution, occurred over a year ago in March of 2006 but is just now being reported. According to the article, it would never have been made public under new, post-911 NRC security guidelines if it weren't for a law requiring them to report such incidents to Congress. The full text of the report is here (PDF format).