Celebrating 70 years of Environmental Stewardship


Celebrating 70 years of Environmental Stewardship

SREL’s first graduate students collecting samples on the SRP.

Seventy years ago today, Eugene Odum, a zoology professor at the University of Georgia, stepped onto the large landmass of contiguous, agricultural fields allocated for the development of the Savannah River Plant.

With foresight and a focus on environmental stewardship, the Atomic Energy Commission, known as the AEC, charged Odum with the task of conducting ecological surveys of the plants and animals before the plant’s operations began.

That research would later serve as a baseline for comparative study to assess if the operations on the SRP were altering the natural environment surrounding the facility.

Odum received a much smaller grant than he anticipated, but he was not discouraged. He had an innovative plan—he recruited three graduate students to assist with the research. In doing so, he ignited an education program that has produced more than 500 graduate students to date.

A man of great insight with a holistic view of the environment, Odum was “known as the father of modern ecology.”  His plan included investigating how radioactive elements would travel through ecosystems and alter plants, animals, land and aquatic systems.

On Saturday, June 23, 1951, Odum and his students started their research in Field 3-412. Their actions led to the start of an ecology laboratory — the Laboratory of Radiation Ecology on the SRP.

In 1964, that laboratory would become known as the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

SREL has continued to serve the role as the independent assessor conducting ecological research on the landscape now known as the Savannah River Site.

That role has grown to advisor in providing guidance and strategies for remediation methodologies to executing expertise in various areas of ecology. The lab also informs the public through public outreach and education.

SREL’s areas of research expertise have grown to include wildlife ecology, disease ecology, biogeochemistry, and forestry and conservation.

That expertise has also led to over 3,000 published articles in peer-reviewed journals and to research partnerships around the world.

The lab’s international footprint includes research in Chernobyl and Fukushima as a result of the pioneering work that Odum began in the field of radioecology, studying the impact of radionuclides on ecosystems.

As issues emerge, like climate change, SREL will continue to adjust to address environmental concerns that impact our world. With a footprint of over 70 continuous years of research on the Savannah River Site and a database of research from the very first day in the field to today, SREL is in a unique position to do so.