50 years of bombmaking: waste may threaten Georgia water

Nov. 29, 2000
Concerned that radioactive pollution from the sprawling Savannah River Site in South Carolina may seep into Georgia's groundwater, state environmental regulators plan to set up a three-person station in Augusta to track the contamination.

By CHARLES SEABROOK

JACKSON, S.C., Nov 26, 2000 (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)—Concerned that radioactive pollution from the sprawling Savannah River Site in South Carolina may seep into Georgia's groundwater, state environmental regulators plan to set up a three-person station in Augusta to track the contamination.

Gov. Roy Barnes and Georgia's environmental officials worry that radioactive tritium, which already has seeped into the ground under the 198,000-acre SRS, will migrate under the Savannah River and contaminate Georgia's vast aquifers, which provide drinking water for thousands of Georgians.

The pollution is the byproduct of 50 years of top-secret, often frenzied efforts to make the basic ingredients of hydrogen bombs — plutonium and tritium. Their production has left portions of SRS among the most contaminated places on Earth.

On Tuesday, government officials and SRS employees —current and former —will mark the 50th anniversary of the day the government announced the plant would be built. In separate ceremonies, the more than 6,500 men, women and children who were forced out of their homes to make way for the plant also will be honored. Two towns in South Carolina —Ellenton and Dunbarton — and several smaller communities were demolished to make way for producing the H-bomb ingredients.

The production of the materials, however, also generated millions of gallons of highly radioactive wastes and other pollution. Cleaning it up and restoring the damaged environment may cost more than $40 billion.

Georgia officials are asking the Department of Energy, which owns SRS, for more than $2.7 million to track the contamination. DOE has balked over the dollar amount. It says the low levels of tritium found by Georgia officials in monitoring wells in Burke County are from atmospheric depositions and disputes the state's contention that the radioactive material is coming from SRS through the groundwater.

Copyright 2000 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution