Lisa and I took a tour of the Savannah River Site near Aiken, SC. The facility was started in 1950 to produce nuclear materials for weapons during the Cold War. The SRS complex covers 310 square miles. Six small towns, with 6000 people, were taken over to built the site.
Originally known as the Savannah River Plant, the facility became the main site for handling tritium and was also an important source for plutonium. The five nuclear reactors are now shut down, but they still process and store radioactive materials on site. At one point, they employed over 25,000 workers. Today, they have about 12,000. A new Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant is currently under construction. Naturally, the buildings are spread out around the site for security and survivability. They have a paramilitary security service provided by Wackenhut.
They told us to arrive a half hour early to get through security, but they didn't actually start checking us in until the scheduled time of the tour. We had a talk in a conference room about the history of SRS, and were given a lovely gift bag with a pamphlet about the facility, SRS note paper and a pen, plus my favorite item: a small spray tube with hand sanitizer. I think it was infused with tritium, which explains why my hands glow in the dark now. (Just kidding.)
After the introductory talk, we took a bus tour around the complex. I was surprised to find out that they have an ecology group on site. The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory is operated by the University of Georgia (I know, wrong state). They showed us some of the local animals such as salamanders and snakes. According to their research, the nuclear work has not produced many negative effects on the local wildlife, beyond what any large scale development would have done. I confess that I was a bit disappointed that they had not found any ten-foot spiders or giant insects.
It was an interesting day out. Not bad for a free tour.