In the fall of 1950, news broke that South Carolina would become the home of a 300-square-mile atomic weapons site that would employ thousands of people and put the state at the forefront of nuclear technology.
Politicians crowed and many citizens rejoiced. The Savannah River Plant, to be built in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties, promised a bright future for a poor state.
Construction began early in 1951.Within 10 years, the site was producing plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons.
A 1955 story in The State billed the Savannah River Plant “a possible wonder of the world.’’
But as the site continued to produce weapons materials, increasing criticism rose over its impact on the environment and the need for continuing the work there. By the early 1990s the government had ramped back production of nuclear weapons materials at the end of the Cold War.
The Savannah River Site, as it is called today, remains a major employer, with 10,000 to 12,000 workers. It is now largely undergoing cleanup and has several new missions, including a mixed oxide fuel plant that is to convert excess plutonium into nuclear fuel.
Some of the world’s deadliest nuclear waste remains at SRS and the federal government spends about $1 billion year on overall cleanup efforts.