Friday, July 06, 2007

Savannah River Ecology Lab Closing Investigated

From Michael's Notes comes another chapter in the now familiar litany of science sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. This one deals with the closing of the Savannah River Ecology Lab (SREL) in Georgia.

For 56 years, the SREL has been documenting the effects of the Savannah River nuclear site on the surrounding environment, including the effects of low level radiation. But last year, the DOE (Department of Energy) decided to drastically reduce funding for the lab, essentially forcing its closure. Despite intensive lobbying, no amount of leverage seemed able to reverse the decision.

Michael speculates on what might be behind the government's insistence on shutting down one of the nation's premier research labs for wetlands ecology.

Why cut off funding for SREL? Did they discover everything that needed to be learned about how nuclear site activities affect wetlands and wildlife? No, but one line of research looked at the environmental effects of coal waste. Although it is a nuclear site, steam generation for the operation is coal-fired. And so, coal fly ash - containing many toxic heavy metals - is released in the area. The research was reportedly showing how these contaminants could have devastating effects on amphibian populations. According to a “Friends of SREL” website, the U.S. produces 126 million tons of coal waste annually, and coal is already under fire as a major source of greenhouse gases. The coal industry cannot welcome more bad press about coal. Reportedly, coal industry lobbyists threatened legal action. So, one presumes that Big Coal got on the phone to Cheney, and next thing you know, no more SREL.

Is it possible that the DOE had ulterior motives in the decision to close the SREL? Congress has launched an investigation, which is currently being undertaken by Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX 22nd) as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment in conjunction with the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. A hearing is currently expected sometime in July.

For more about the SREL, visit Save the Savannah Ecology River Laboratory.

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