Thursday, July 19, 2007

Closing of SREL?

On Tuesday, July 17th, new hearings were begun in congress about why the Department of Energy (DOE) has made a decision to withdraw funding for the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL). A previous blog entry here and an earlier entry on Reed Cartwright's blog, De Rerum Natura, explored the petty politics at DOE and the University of Georgia which are threatening this world-reknowned scientific laboratory.

Tuesday's hearing of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology were cut short because a key DOE official, Clay Sell, had a scheduling conflict. Two scientists, Ward Whicker of Colorado State University and Jerald Schnoor of the University of Iowa, testified to the research accomplished by SREL scientists working at the Savannah River Site. A passionate speech in support of SREL was also delivered by Congressman John Barrow (D-GA), who is not a member of this committee. Congressmen Brad Miller (D-NC) chaired the hearings and was particularly impressive for his handling of minority procedural objections by James Sensenbrenner (R - WI). Congressman Nick Lampson (D-TX) has also carried water on this issue and made pointed remarks about the obstruction of congressional inquiry by both DOE and Republican politicians. The entire hearing is being streamed as a video on the committee's webpage.

In addition to statements and questioning of DOE officials, the forthcoming hearing in August will feature the testimony of former SREL director Paul Bertsch. Dr. Bertsch resigned in June as director of SREL, and there are rumors that both the DOE and university president Michael Adams were behind his resignation. The laboratory remains open with reduced funding, committed to the completion of research by graduate students caught in the middle of degree programs.

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