Save the SREL

Reed Cartwright found out that a vital ecological research facility may be closed. The Savannah River Ecological Laboratory is operated by University of Georgia on land owned by the US Department of Energy. The DoE had a plutonium processing facility there, which is now closed. The unpopulated areas surrounding the facility has always been used for ecological research since the DoE started operations, and the site was designated as a National Environmental Research Park in the '70s.

The ecological research was initiated because the DoE wanted a way to evaluate the risks and dangers of their activities, which means that there are long term datasets that have been maintained on the site – data that would lose value if the research were interrupted. Understanding how natural populations change over time, and how communities change over time, is a major question in ecology, and datasets adequate to test theoretical models are too rare to allow SREL to be shuttered. Ecologists at the site conduct research on a wide range of questions, many answerable only on a facility like SREL.

As the letter Reed received indicates (I've posted it in the extended entry), the Department of Energy has not released funds allocated to SREL. Political appointees in DC are holding up those funds for reasons which seem unclear.

As the White House pushes for new nuclear weapons, SRS has been suggested as a site for testing new nuclear triggers. It could be that they just want keep people away from all parts of that controversial program. SREL's independent assessments of the activities at the Savannah River Site (SRS) may also be at issue. The site is also part of a federally mandated cleanup program, and SREL's monitoring of those activities may have bothered an administration famously averse to oversight.

One thing this can't involve is money. Relative to what the government spends, the $5 million that SREL gets every year is a drop in the bucket. We get a lot of benefit for that money,

There's no reason that important scientific research on the ecology of the southeastern US should be shut down over any of this. Read the letter below the fold, and contact your congresscritter. Be polite and be firm – this is an important issue, and there's no reason that the DoE shouldn't give SREL the money that Congress allocated for them.

Subject: Other: End Approaching for SREL Environmental Research, Outreach and Education
Date: Wed, 2 May 2007 01:04:40 -0400 (EDT)

The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s 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.

Jeffrey M. Allison
Manager, Savannah River Operations Office
Savannah River Site
Aiken, SC 29801
Phone: (803) 952-6337
Fax: (803) 952-8144

Samuel W. Bodman
Secretary of Energy
Forrestal Building, U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585
Phone: (202) 586-6210 or (1-800-342-5363)
Fax: (202) 586-4403

Representative Gresham Barrett
Aiken Office
233 Pendleton Street, NW
Aiken, SC 29801
Phone: 803-649-5571
Fax: 803-648-9038
For email go to and click Contact Gresham

Senator Lindsey Graham
Midlands Regional Office
508 Hampton Street, Suite 202
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
phone: (803) 933-0112
For email go to and
click on e-mail

Representative John Barrow
699 Broad Street, Suite 1200
Augusta, GA 30901
Phone: 706 722-4494 Toll free: 800 890-6236
Fax: 706 722-4496
For email go to and click Contact John

In general, to find a congressman/woman:

To find a senator:

South Carolina Senators:

Georgia Senators:

For those who live in/near Aiken SC: or

For those who live in/near Augusta GA:

For those who live in/near Columbia SC:

For those who live in/near Athens GA:

University of Georgia administrators who should know about your
support of SREL:
Michael F. Adams
President, University of Georgia
Telephone: 706/ 542-1214

Arnett C. Mace, Jr.
UGA Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost
Telephone: 706/ 542-5806

Please also cc your letters to:

Many have asked if SREL has a prepared letter for people to send to
the Secretary of Energy and congressional representatives regarding
the SREL budget situation. We do not have a form letter, mostly
because we feel individual letters carry more weight. However, we
have received copies of numerous letters that have been sent to us
from individuals having a variety of connections with SREL. If you
would like to see these letters, please e-mail:


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If you are interested in reading more about the SREL closure, go to:

You can read the written promises from DOE to SREL related to FY07 funding levels--promises that have been broken. More will be added over the next several days.

The only way to save SREL is for YOU to contact Congress and DOE and let them know what a short-sighted decision this would be.