The Savannah River Site was designated as the first National Environmental
Research Park (NERP) by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1972. NERPs
were established to provide tracts of land where the effects of human
impacts on the environment could be studied. There now are seven NERPs
at DOE reservations throughout the United States.
NERPs are unique outdoor laboratories where ecologists,
engineers and land managers work together to improve our understanding
of how human activities affect the environment. These areas also serve
as islands of habitat where native species thrive and endangered,
threatened, and sensitive plants and animals are protected.
The existence of ongoing human activities such as
energy production, industrial, and cleanup operations provide unique
opportunities for study. However, portions of each NERP are protected
from the effects of human activities as much as possible. NERPs are
an important national legacy. Their continued existence will enable
us to provide sites where new technologies can be developed that will
help counteract the impacts of human activities both on the SRS and
in other industrial areas throughout the United States and the world.
History of the NERP
In 1970 the Office of Science and Technology delivered
to President Nixon ten recommendations concerning federal lands. The
tenth recommendation instructed Federal agencies to accelerate their
efforts to set aside locations for ecological research and wildlife
As a result of this recommendation, the Savannah River Site became
the first National Environmental Research Park, or NERP. This opened
the site to scientists from other government agencies, universities
and private foundations for use as a protected outdoor laboratory
where long-term projects could be conducted to address questions about
human impacts on the environment.
The value of the SRS NERP clearly is demonstrated
in the more than 2,000 published scientific findings based on work
done on-site. Resident scientists have produced a series of over 20
NERP technical reports describing and cataloging the plants, animals,
ecological communities, and habitats of the SRS. Also, more than 200
doctoral dissertations and masters theses have proven the value
of this national treasure in educating environmental scientists and
in providing us with a broader understanding of how to minimize adverse
impacts of human activities on the environment.
The Savannah River Site
Along the western border of the state
of South Carolina lies the Savannah River Site, a Department of Energy
nuclear production facility. Spanning more than 300 square miles,
the SRS plays a key role in the nations defense mission by housing
nuclear materials and waste processing facilities, as well as research
laboratories. Roughly 85% of the site is forested and over 20% of
the site is
valuable wetlands, including more than 200 Carolina bays.
At the height of the Cold War in the early 1950s,
the Atomic Energy Commission, now the Department of Energy, acquired
the vast land area for the SRS. Here, the government built reactors
to produce nuclear materials for weapons, and the site served a critical
role in maintaining Americas military defense during the years
that followed. Today, the site still serves important functions in
national defense, waste processing, environmental remediation and
ecological research. Unlike a national park, the SRS NERP serves as
an outdoor laboratory for environmental research on energy technologies
and the effects of human activities on the natural environment. In
the years since the park was first named, the SRS has come to demonstrate
the compatibility of nature, human technology and environmental research.
Greg Rudy, Manager of the DOE-SR Operations
says, "As the countrys first National Environmental Research
Park, the Savannah River Site advanced the science of ecology while
fulfilling its major defense missions. This foundation is essential
as the Site continues its national defense and environmental work
and prepares to take on new nuclear missions in support of our Nations
international nonproliferation efforts in the post Cold-War era."
Especially valuable components of
the Savannah River NERP are the DOE Research Set-Aside Areas, representative
habitats that DOE has preserved for ecological research. These 30
areas, encompassing more than 14,000 acres, are protected from most
routine site operations, and active management is not allowed. Largely
unaffected by industrial activities, the Set-Aside Areas serve as
natural reference areas or "controls" for environmental
research and monitoring efforts. Set-Asides provide baseline areas
for comparing the effects of human activities and valuable information
on how contaminated areas should look and function after they have
been cleaned up.
- Assess and predict impacts of human
activities on natural ecosystems.
- Manage for sustainable natural
resources (timber, wildlife, soil, water, and air).
- Develop environmental restoration
and cleanup methods and standards.
The Savannah River
Site National Environamental Research Park